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Posts Tagged ‘community development’

A Lawyer’s Reflections: The Way That Appears to be Right…But In the End Leads to Disaster.

Today I  took a photo of 50 Monroe in downtown Grand Rapids – right across the street from my office.

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The transformation of 50 Monroe, where my firm’s office used to be located for almost 20 years, is pretty fun to

watch.

I look forward to seeing the finished product.

As I posted a few days ago, there is a lot of development in Grand Rapids that makes downtown a fun place to be.

 

Now on to the topic of my post.

 

 

Lawyers are an easy target for scams…

 

 

 

I get strange e-mails all the time.

Most of these are allegedly from people from foreign countries, asking for legal services, or for me to assist with certain financial transactions that would compensate me significant money for little work.

 

This morning’s email.

Early this morning I received an e-mail from what appeared to be one of the attorneys at my office asking me if I was in the office and to respond to his e-mail and assist him with an urgent matter. The tone of the e-mail seemed strange.

Looking closer at the e-mail source, it was an impostor e-mail address.

Who knows what information my “colleague”  was going to ask me to provide him with because he “didn’t have access” that morning.

Nice try.

The lawyer scams are getting more creative these days.

 

Million Dollar Check.

Several years ago I received a nice check in the mail addressed to my law firm for approximately $1 Million.

It was related to a “request” from a foreign company (very far away, too far away to meet in person) to retain me as counsel in a business transaction in Michigan.

They wanted me to deposit the approx. $1 million check into our firm trust account, then disburse the check to the other party (less my legal fees, of course)
Fake Check for big bucks.

 

My first thought when the check came in…

Do they really think I am that stupid?

I know better.
Then it got me thinking, if I know better, then why do these scam artists really think I am going to fall for their  ploys?

Honestly, I receive countless of similar emails, fortunately, most of these emails get sent to my spam folder.

The answer becomes obvious when I peruse news headlines:

Estate planning lawyer gets 6 years in $46 million scheme preying on terminally ill

How awful is this headline? It breaks my heart just reading it.

 

Unwitting lawyer is suspended for arranging client loans to secure Nigerian inheritance

 

Just perform a google search and you can find other stories of lawyers in unethical situations…

“Attorney Pleads guilty to stealing $1.3 Million from clients”

“Traverse City Lawyer to Stand Trial, Accused of Embezzling from Elderly Clients”

 

The list goes on and on.

Well, there is, literally, my answer to my own question.

 

 

What is going on with our world?

As hard as it is for me to believe, these are real stories.

 

To answer my own question, the reason scam artists direct schemes at lawyers is because some lawyers fall for the schemes!

 

These con artists are relying on dollar signs trumping common sense and sound judgment in lawyers.

 

Proverbs 14:12 says “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.”

I personally don’t believe that most people, including the people in the referenced headlines, wake up one day and decide to commit a crime, or make a serious lapse in judgment (like wiring a million dollars to a company in Nigeria) that costs them and others dearly.

I think people start with small compromises, that lead to big compromises. The proverbial “frog in the boiling water

The compromises that “appear to be right” in their own minds, but leads to devastation.
A Call to Leaders. Self-Examination.

As leaders in our families, business, non-profit, church, community, we find ourselves in positions with some varying degrees of power.

That power can easily be abused.

In small ways that lead to big ways.

This is a good call for daily self-examination: am I placing safeguard in my life to keep me from taking small steps in the wrong direction?

 

Questions? Comments? 

e-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

http://www.dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauk

http://www.dwlawpc.com

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Business Law Update: A Booming Downtown Real Estate Market Means Businesses Should Pay Careful attention to Contracts.

June 5, 2018 1 comment

Happy Tuesday, all.

I took this photo yesterday from the skywalk between the Amway Grand Plaza and the DeVos Place Convention Center. I like walking downtown and watching the development unfold.

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It is an exciting time to be working or living in downtown Grand Rapids. Everywhere you look, real estate development is transforming the town.

Check out Experience Grand Rapids for a detailed list of all the current downtown development.

Not to rain on anyone’s parade (but that is kind of a lawyer’s job)…

With increased commercial activity comes increased opportunity to fall into legal pitfalls.

 

 

As I tell my clients – if you are in business for any amount of time, it is just a matter of time, you will probably get into a business dispute.

Real estate development is no exception. The more transactions, the more opportunity for hiccups along the way.  A Court opinion I read last week brought this reality to  my mind.

 

Case Study

Last week an unpublished Michigan court of appeals case was released that highlights some contract drafting pitfalls. You can check out the May 31st unpublished decision of Greater Faith Transitions, Inc. v Ypsilanti Community Schools here

 

The case was about a commercial lease in which Landlord also granted Tenant an option to purchase the Building.

These “lease with options to purchase” can pose interesting questions – as the facts of this case illustrate.

Summary of the Facts

  • On August 13, 2013, plaintiff and defendant entered into a lease with option to purchase a property in Ypsilanti owned by defendant.
  • The parties intended the lease to be effective until August 31, 2018.
  • Under the lease terms, plaintiff was required to make monthly rent payments and to pay for all utility bills, including water bills.
  • According to plaintiff, it had attempted to enforce its option to purchase the property in a text to defendant on February 2, 2017, that stated:
    I tried to call you to make you aware of the fact that we’re buying the church this year.
  • On February 13, 2017, defendant sent to plaintiff a letter from its attorney and a Notice to Quit Termination of Tenancy, claiming that plaintiff was in default of the lease for repeated failure to pay water bills.

Plaintiff, tenant, sued its landlord, among other things, for interfering with its right to exercise its option to Purchase.  The trial court ended up dismissing Tenant’s lawsuit.

The tenant appealed.

The opinion of the Court of Appeals was interesting, essentially holding that the tenant’s claim for breach of contract was not ripe – since a contract was not yet breached. The tenant was not yet evicted.

(See opinion, page 2 – “Plaintiff claims that “Defendant’s improper use of summary proceedings to evict Plaintiff from the leased premises will breach the parties’ Lease
with Option to Purchase because Plaintiff will be deprived of its right to cure any defaults during the term of the Lease (i.e., through August 31, 2018) so that Plaintiff can exercise its option to purchase thereunder.”)

 

The ultimate ruling aside, the case, to me, provides a good opportunity to highlight a few drafting issues that can come up in commercial leases.

First, a general point I want to bring to the business owner’s attention:

Why Careful attention to Business Contracts is important – Freedom of Contract 

First and foremost, when entering a business contract each party should understand – they will be bound to the contracts they sign.

In a commercial lease context the courts’ mantra is “Freedom of Contract“.

The Court will look at the contract that the parties’ agreed to, and, absent extraordinary circumstances, enforce it by its term. (therefore in  a commercial lease you might see language such as the following “rent is due with no right of offset, setoff, counterclaim…”) In such instance, the landlord is telling the tenant that tenant has no right to withhold rent just because landlord may have breached a duty under the lease.

The Courts have recognized that commercial landlords and tenants are “free to contract”:

 

Drafting Issues.

Going back to the court opinion, it doesn’t appear to me from reviewing the opinion that the parties disputed that the tenant defaulted in failing to pay utility bills.

Question:

Did the lease have a provision that said that the “Option to Purchase” terminated if:

  • the tenant had been in default at any time?
  • or, only in Default at the time the Option was being exercised?
  • Or, did it say nothing on the subject of Default?

Another question:

was there a lease provision that strictly provided where “notices” must be sent?

e.g. – was it left up to the parties to interpretation whether or not notice delivered “via text message” was an appropriate method?

 

If these issues are plainly addressed in business contracts, then possibly, the parties avoid a lawsuit.

 

 

Questions? Comments?

e-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

http://www.dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauk

 

 

 

Staring Into the Eyes of a Fatherless Generation.

There’s nothing like a Michigan summer.

Memorial Day weekend means the beginning of summer – and, consequently, the end of the school year.

 

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Today was my last day of mentoring for the school year.  Unless my student moves  (which is always possible) I hope to see him in the Fall.

Most of my interaction with my student is asking questions and just trying to encourage him.

 

One question I asked him today while shooting basketballs during recess:

 

 

 

Do you think you will see your dad this summer?

His answer: I don’t know.

I will state the obvious: The fact that this elementary school aged boy doesn’t know if he will see his father for months is heartbreaking.

This reality is simply not how the world should be.

And, unfortunately, this story is typical.

 

Fatherless Generation

I took these statistics from the Fatherless Generation

  • 63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes (US Dept. Of Health/Census) – 5 times the average.
  • 90% of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes – 32 times the average.
  • 85% of all children who show behavior disorders come from fatherless homes – 20 times the average.  (Center for Disease Control)
  • 80% of rapists with anger problems come from fatherless homes –14 times the average.  (Justice & Behavior, Vol 14, p. 403-26)
  • 71% of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes – 9 times the average.  (National Principals Association Report)

 

I look at these statistics, and ask myself:

is it worthwhile spending one hour a week during the school year with a boy who needs a positive male role model?

The answer every time is “Yes.

I am not writing this post to: a) pat myself on the back or b) guilt anyone who is reading this.

I am just trying to illuminate a reality.

I often hear people say they cannot believe the poverty, brokenness, homelessness, addiction, that families are experiencing right in our own City. of Grand Rapids

It is true.

It is also true, that we can’t do everything, but we can do something.

What about you?

Are you working to build a better community?

E-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

www.dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

Calling the Next Generation of Leaders.

March 22, 2018 Leave a comment

Good morning and Happy Thursday! It is a beautiful morning in downtown Grand Rapids!

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Yesterday was the annual meeting of the Trustees of Mel Trotter Ministries. It was one year ago that my term ended as Board Chair.

Last year I shared my reflections on this experience.

One of my great joys during this time was seeing the launch of Mel Trotter Ministries 2020 Strategic Plan.  Check it out to see some exciting things we see in the near future for MTM.

 

 

Detroit Nonprofit Day

Today,  I was reading about an upcoming event called Detroit Non-Profit Day

This is a one day conference on Saturday April 14th devoted to preparing non-profits for financial and sustainable growth.

Social entrepreneurs and those in the non-profit community should consider this workshop. You can sign up here.

Reflecting on Detroit NonProfit Day and  my experience at Mel Trotter as well as serving other nonprofits, got me thinking on nonprofit sustainability and prompted me to write this post.

This is an issue that all non-profits need to address:

how are non-profits going to stay viable in the future?

 

However, the issue I wanted to address in this post is sustainability in leadership.

 

My Call to Next Generation Leaders. We Need You.

I can appreciate the anxieties that many service-minded folks can experience when faced with volunteer/board service. Particularly the next generation/millennials.

Many feel inadequate and inexperienced.

I had a conversation recently with a friend – we serve on a committee together where the rest of the people around the table are successful influencers and leaders in the business community. My friend made the comment to me that “one of these things is not like the other.” He was pointing out the obvious – we, in both our minds,  stuck out like a sore thumb because our relative young age.

Simply put, when you are younger and sitting around a table full of gray-haired folks who have achieved much more than you, it is easy to let insecurity or doubt slip in.

This insecurity can be a road block for many in putting themselves out there for service.

If that’s you – here’s my call to you:

What you are experiencing is normal.

But get over it.

Fight through the temptation to be passive. Be bold and reach out to the organization that fits your passions.

Don’t do it for yourself – do it for the cause that you care about.

Because whether the organization acknowledges it or not – they need you.

They need your perspective, and they need you to get involved to gain experience and develop institutional knowledge in how their nonprofit works.

You only learn the strengths and the gaps of an organization by spending time in that organization in active service.

 

Here’s a selfish plug for Mel Trotter Ministries – interested in learning more about ways to serve or connect with the leadership? Join me for lunch.

At Mel Trotter Ministries, we are always looking for volunteers. We need people who have a heart for the hungry, homeless and hurting in West Michigan.  As we seek to end homelessness in West Michigan, one life at a time, it is a large task and we cannot do it alone.

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This is my call to everyone, but particularly our next generation of leaders – millennials and beyond.

Ask yourself:

 

How can I serve?

 

 

 

Millennials – I’m reminded of the Bible – 1 Timothy 4:12 –

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers

The fact remains – the millennial and younger generations are our future leaders.

Now is the perfect time to get plugged into one of the many opportunities to serve and lead.

Please take this as your personal invitation from me –

Take the initiative.

Get engaged.

Just show up.

 

e-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

Michigan Law Update: The Neighborhood and Commercial Corridor Food Initiative. Community Revitalization Now Includes Downtown Grocery Stores.

January 17, 2018 Leave a comment

 

Several years ago ago I took my family to New York City. (and took the below photo).

Even amidst the chaos of protecting my 4 young children from darting out in2015-11-26-13-04-02to oncoming traffic – we absolutely loved the City.

 

We loved the walk-ability of City life –

that you could walk down a block to a grocery store and get all of your household needs.

 

I love downtown Grand Rapids.

 

(Below, photo I took this morning from my office)

If Grand Rapids wants to encourage urban living, it needs to continue to support growth in downtown grocery stores.

 

This is not a novel concept.

There has been recent exciting development in Grand Rapids on this front – see Meijer opening a grocery store on Bridge Street.

Also, Russo’s International Market opened last year as well.

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“Neighborhood and Commercial Corridor Food Initiative” – Public Act 229

Last March, House Bill 4207 was introduced in the Michigan house. Known as the “Urban Food Initiative.” (re-named “Neighborhood and commercial corridor food initiative”)

This Bill intended to provide incentives for community revitalization that would include a downtown Grocery Store.

Specifically, HB 4027 would make “Urban Food Initiatives” allowable to receive funds under the Michigan Community Revitalization Program

 

Passed into Law

On December 28th this House Bill was given immediate effect and assigned as Public Act 229 . 

 

The law provides incentives to “new neighborhood” food initiatives. That is why, per the new law:

a new neighborhood and commercial corridor food initiative…is not eligible for a community revitalization incentive if it is located within 1 mile of an existing retail supermarket, grocery store, or produce market…that offers unprocessed USDA-inspected meat and poultry products or meat products that carry the USDA organic seal, fresh fruits and vegetables, and dairy products for sale to the public.”

 

Hopefully this law will spur development of urban grocery stores in Grand Rapids, and beyond to places like Detroit. There is wonderful community development work going on right now in Detroit, as the article below highlights.

 

Healthy Food Options – Essential for Urban Living

Clearly having available and healthy food options in a downtown are necessary to City living. Check out this recent article from Non-Profit Quarterly about Communities of Color Developing Residents-Owned Groceries.

According to the Article:

“Grocery stores…often anchor “neighborhood economies, recirculating local revenues through wages and nearby businesses. They can also be neighborhood hubs, where people go to buy good food as well as employment centers and sources of community pride.”

“Alas, the lack of these hubs can be damaging, notes Malik Yakini, who directs the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network. Yakini is one of a host of activists across the country who are working to foster community ownership of food businesses in communities of color.”

 

We should be encouraging Malik Yakini and others and supporting community ownership of food businesses in communities of color. Hopefully the new law will attract such local ownership.

 

Parting Thoughts

A downtown grocery store is necessary if a City wants to attract urban living – it is also necessary to provide healthy food options for those living downtown without readily available transportation.

I think particularly of the under-employed and the homeless who receive services from organizations like Mel Trotter Ministries. In Grand Rapids, we are confronted everywhere with the need for Affordable Housing. It would be great to see grocery options as well.

I am also encouraged by the many businesses in West Michigan honestly asking the question: “How am I building a better community?

e-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

http://www.dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

 

Legal Update: Legislation that Real Estate Investors, Landlords and Veterans Should Keep Tabs on in the New Year.

January 4, 2018 Leave a comment

It is a beautiful and cold afternoon in downtown Grand Rapids today.

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We head into 2018 with some Michigan Bills that affect Real Estate Investors, Landlords and Veterans.

Veterans.

The Michigan Legislature is pushing hard to protect those who have served our country.

Yesterday MLive posted that the Michigan Legislature is taking up some 50 bills that will affect Veterans

One such bill I highlighted in a post last summer. On August 16, 2017 HB 4872 was introduced into the Michigan House.

The Bill would amend the “Elliott-Larsen civil rights act,” and would provide that veterans are included in the list of those protected by Michigan law against housing discrimination.

The Bill would define Military Service as:

“STATUS OF BEING AN ACTIVE DUTY MEMBER OF THE ARMED FORCES OF THE UNITED STATES OR A VETERAN WHO RECEIVED AN HONORABLE OR GENERAL
ADMINISTRATIVE DISCHARGE FROM ACTIVE DUTY WITH THE ARMED FORCES F THE UNITED STATES.”

The Bill brings two thoughts to mind:

  1. Our Veterans and those who served our country deserve to be treated fairly in housing and all other areas of life.
  2. This Bill brings up a fundamental question: are Veterans being discriminated against in housing? Does it happen?

 

According to statistics recently published in the Bridge with insight from Dennis Van Kampen of Mel Trotter Ministries, there are fewer homeless veterans than ever in Michigan today, but more homeless youth.

The Bill was sent to the committee on Military and Veteran Affairs. No action has been taken on this bill since I posted in August, but I will continue to track this bill.

I look forward to hear comments from the public on this issue: are we in Michigan protecting our Veterans access to fair housing?

 

“Nuisance Property”: Bill Would Protect Those in Affordable Housing from being penalized for calling 911.

On November 28, 2017 Senate Bill 667 was introduced.

The bill is intended to prohibit local units of government from penalizing tenants, occupants, or landlords of rental dwellings for contacts made for police or emergency assistance in certain situations.

Presumably, the Bill is intended to restrict those municipalities that have ordinances that punish landlords and tenants by labeling a rental property a “nuisance” when a certain number of calls to police or emergency assistance.

The Bill in its current form, generally, holds a “reasonableness” standard – meaning the emergency call must be reasonable under the circumstances – the person making the call must reasonably believe they, or a person they are calling on behalf of, is a victim of a crime; and the intervention is needed to prevent a crime, or respond to an emergency.

 

This appears to be one of several Bills that would potentially address the affordable housing crisis.

As a reference, I would highly recommend reading Matthew Desmond’s book “Evicted” It is no secret that Michigan, particularly Kent County, is experiencing an Affordable Housing Crisis.

One potential way to address this crisis is providing Landlords and Tenants security that their local government unit will not unreasonably label properties as nuisances if the police are called for real emergencies. It appears this Bill is attempting to address such a scenario.

 

Questions? Comments?

email: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

http://www.dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

Grand Rapids Combats Affordable Housing Crisis – Eviction Prevention Program

November 21, 2017 2 comments

 

You know winter is approaching when Rosa Parks Circle begins to freeze over and the ice rink begins to form. See the photo I took from my office yesterday.

In fact, the Ice Rink officially opens on Friday!

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Before we know it, downtown will look like a snow globe – see the photo, below, I took from last Christmas.IMG_1927
There is an Address Affordable Housing Crisis

As many of you know, Kent County, like much of the U.S. is experiencing a serious lack of Affordable Housing.

The City of Grand Rapids has made concerted efforts to address problem through an advisory board, which has come up with strategies for addressing the Affordable Housing Crisis

 

 

 

Kent County Eviction Prevention Program

Beginning January of 2018, the 61st District Court will begin a pilot program – the “Eviction Prevention Program” (EPP). Judges Faber and Distel are the initial judges presiding over the EPP.

The EPP was developed as a collaborative effort between the City of Grand Rapids, Salvation Army of West Michigan, The Kent County Court System, the Michigan Department of Human Services and with funding provided by Steelcase.

 

Purpose of the Eviction Prevention Program

The EPP is intended to keep those tenants in housing, who truly want to stay in their housing.

The program will not be appropriate for every tenant.

The EPP appears best suited for those on the margin of being homeless due to an emergency situation (as opposed to those tenants chronically behind in rent).

The EPP provides one-time rent assistance and would allow a Landlord to hold a possession and money judgment in abeyance, pending the Tenant’s payment of rent.

The program is, essentially,  intended as a one-time emergency for those on a fixed or low income, who are essentially faced with the difficult choice of either paying an outstanding medical bill, car repair bill, groceries, etc.., or pay their rent.

 

What Property Managers and Landlords need to know about this program:

Landlords – any tenants behind in rent which have been served a summons and complaint for eviction, beginning in January 2018, should be receiving information about the EPP along with the summons and complaint.

Tenants will know that this is a potential resource to keep them in housing.

What you need to know:

1. The program is entirely voluntary. Landlords can choose to opt out.

2. Not every tenant will qualify. A tenant needs to have income to make the next month’s rent payment.

3. The program is geared towards keeping tenants in housing. If a tenant wants out of your property, the program will likely not be the right fit.

 

Why I like this program.

This program provides an opportunity to keep people in housing who are on the verge of being homeless. The fact is, families are experiencing homelessness in Grand Rapids every day.

Practically speaking, the program works for tenants who have the potential to get caught up, who otherwise are good tenants.

The program is an opportunity for Landlords to get paid and to be part of the solution to the affordable housing crisis.

Housing is a community problem. It is encouraging to see the great collaboration between government, private sector, non-profit sector.

 

 

e-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

www.dwlawpc.com