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Cautionary Tale for Real Estate Investors: Yesterday California Investor Sentenced to Prison for Bid Rigging at Foreclosure Sales.

There are many pitfalls for real estate investors who purchase distressed property.

In today’s market, good deals for real estate investors are getting harder to come by. With distressed property becoming a scarce resource and competition ever increasing, some real estate investors have resorted to less than legal  acts to boost their profit.

IMG_1684

Rosa Parks Circle in Downtown Grand Rapids

Investors should know that the Department of Justice as well as State Agencies are cracking down on unfair real estate practices.

 

As a follow up to a story that I have been keeping tabs on, just yesterday, the Department of Justice announced that a judge sentenced a real estate investor for his roles in a conspiracy to rig bids at public real estate foreclosure auctions held in Northern California.

This after a 3-week trial.

 

 

You can see the press release here

 

According to the press release: Alvin Florida Jr. was “sentenced to serve 21 months in prison and to serve three years of supervised release. In addition to his term of imprisonment, Florida was ordered to pay a criminal fine of $325,803.

Based upon the DOJ’s investigation – this was a large conspiracy “to rig bids to obtain hundreds of properties sold at foreclosure auctions. The conspirators designated the winning bidders to obtain selected properties at the public auctions, and negotiated payoffs among themselves in return for not competing. They then held second, private auctions at or near the courthouse steps where the public auctions were held, awarding the properties to conspirators who submitted the highest bids.”

 

What is particularly striking to me is that including today’s sentencing the DOJ report that:

68 individuals have pleaded guilty or been convicted after trial as a result of the department’s ongoing antitrust investigations into bid rigging at public foreclosure auctions in Northern California.

 

Question for Real Estate Investors:

What type of unfair practices do you believe is going on in your state? What are you seeing take place at foreclosure sales?

In Michigan the record numbers of foreclosed properties since 2008 has provided a market (albeit one that is slowing down) for flipping residential real estate. With this opportunity to profit has also created an opportunity for abuse and fraud.  The real estate legal landscape is complex enough, do yourselves a favor – follow the rules.

 

Questions? Comments?

E-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

http://www.dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

Real Estate Law Update – a Court Case Discussing Laches.

From a lawyer’s perspective, real estate disputes are often messy.

The parties are often driven by emotion. The facts are often complex.

Simply put – it is usually a mess.

2017-04-09 21.33.41

Often the doctrine of laches gets raised in such a lawsuit.

A few years back I wrote a post about the legal (technically, “equitable”) doctr ine of Laches and how laches is an often raised defense in real estate disputes.  

The argument usually goes something like this:

“Hey, Plaintiff! You should have brought your claim sooner! Because you were so late in suing me, there are specific related reasons that make it unjust for the court to hold me responsible!”

A June 2017 Michigan Court of Appeals decision came out, where laches was raised as a defense.

You can check out the case here:   DeGhetto v Beaumont’s, et al. (unpublished) No. 330972 (June 22, 2017).

In this case – the court opined that the facts were “muddled”.  (my interpretation – “a mess”)

But first, as a recap…

 

The Equitable Doctrine of Laches:

 

“Laches is an equitable tool used to remedy the inconvenience resulting from the plaintiff’s delay in asserting a legal right that was practicable to assert.” Public Health Dept v. Rivergate Manor, 452 Mich. 495, 507; 550 NW2d 515 (1996).

As such, “when considering whether a plaintiff is chargeable with laches, [a court] must afford attention to prejudice occasioned by the delay.” Lothian, 414 Mich. at 168. It is the prejudice occasioned by the delay that justifies the application of laches.Dunn v. Minnema, 323 Mich. 687, 696; 36 NW2d 182 (1949) .

 

Stated another way,

“the equitable doctrine of laches bars a claim “when the passage of time combined with a change in condition would make it inequitable to enforce the claim ag

 

ainst the defendant.” Township of Yankee Springs v Fox, 264 Mich App 604, 612; 692 NW2d 728 (2004) (Emphasis added.)

Therefore in deciding on the issue of Laches, a Court will ask two questions:

1. was there a delay in bringing the claim and, if so,

2. did it prejudice the Defendant?

Question: Why is laches relevant to real estate disputes?

Answer: Because many real estate claims are based in “equity” as opposed to “law”-  e.g. –an injunction, specific performance, action for quiet title…

 

The Case of DeGhetto v Beaumonts, et al.

The case involved homeowners and an Association.

The dispute was about the “ongoing viability of restrictive covenants o

 

n plaintiffs’ lots” and the ability of an Association to assess Association dues against Association members.

The Association believed it could enforce deed restrictions – the homeowners disagreed.

Certain disagreements arose, including l.iens recorded on some properties,

and thereafter the Homeowners sued the Association.

The Homeowners asked the Court to declare the deed restrictions were unenforceable, and that the Association had no rights to assess dues.

The Court admitted that the facts are a bit “muddled” – as is often the case in real estate disputes.

One of the Association’s defense was that laches should bar the homeowners’ lawsuit.

“Defendant argues that the doctrine of laches should apply to bar plaintiff’s suit
because there was a change in conditions that made granting relief to plaintiffs inequitable—plaintiffs’ sudden refusal to pay dues, which prejudiced defendant because it had relied on their payments for years.” DeGhetto. Pg 8

 

 

The Court of Appeals disagreed with the Association, holding that:

“Plaintiffs did not delay in filing suit. There was debate over whether the
dues were enforceable and two attorneys rendered different opinions on the matter. Plaintiffs asserted their right by filing suit after defendant indicated that the dues were mandatory as opposed to voluntary. Furthermore, defendant cannot show prejudice.” Id.

 
The Court held that Defendants did not satisfy the requirements to establish Laches.

As the Court held in Charter Township of Lyons v James E. Petty, et al. (unpublished) No. 327686 (Oct. 13, 2016):

“Prejudice is a mandatory element.” and

“The prejudice necessary to establish a laches or estoppel defense cannot be a de minimis harm…” Id. pg 5.

 

Lesson:

Laches is an often raised and valid defense, applicable in many real esta

te disputes. When raising a defense of laches in real estate disputes, Defendant must show Plaintiff delayed in bringing forth the claim.

Showing merely the passage of time is not sufficient.

Further, showing the presence of de minimis harm due to the passage of time is not sufficient.

Significant harm must be shown along with delay.

 

E-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

http://www.dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

Real Estate Investors and Property Managers Should Keep Track of this “Bed Bug Bill”

2015-11-05 11.34.56During the school year I mentor students at a local school in the West side of Grand Rapids. This school has a great supportive community behind it – as you can see from the photo I took a few years back.

I recall a conversation with one student whose family was transient – moving quite often and usually under unfortunate conditions.  This student recalled to me the time that he and his mom lived in an apartment for a brief time and had to leave because of bed bugs. The emotion on the kid’s face as he recalled the story was evident.  It was not a pleasant experience.

Last year a class action case against a Real Estate Owner reached a settlement involving payment of over $2 Million to 100 tenants – ABAJournal reported that story here

One of the primary complaints was that “the 26-unit building had a massive cockroach infestation.

Infestations can be an issue that every property manager or owner of residential investment real estate may face.

One June 9th Michigan House Bill 4719 was introduced – by Representative Brandt Iden -himself a Developer and Property Manager in South West Michigan. check out the text here – the Bill would amend the Michigan statute governing landlord tenant relationships to include addressing the control of certain pests – including bed bugs.

What the Bill seeks to do:

Impose certain duties on landlords regarding bed bugs:

1. Mandates specifically that the Landlord is to keep the rental space free from bed bugs and provide educational literature about bed bug infestations to new tenants.

2. Prohibits Landlords from renting out space that the landlord knows is infested with bedbugs

3. Provides specific requirements for a landlord to respond to a complaint of bed bugs:

  • within 7 days of receiving a complaint, Landlord shall order an inspection for bed bugs;
  • within 7 days of confirming infestation, Landlord shall begin control and schedule inspections of adjoining rental units.

4. Limits damages against Landlord for infestations unless caused by Landlord’s Negligence.

 

Impose certain duties on tenants regarding bed bugs:

1. Tenant shall inspect for bed bugs when first occupying the space;

2. Tenant shall not move “infested property” into a rental unit

3. Tenant shall notify Landlord within 2 days of notice of infestation.

4. Tenant responsible for damages due to bed bugs caused by Tenant, or guest.

 

 

The bill was referred to the Committee on Law and Justice.

 

My thoughts:

Bedbug infestation is a problem. It can cause tenants problems.  Unhappy tenants who withhold rent can cause landlord problems that end up in court.

 

This type of bill could provide clarity to landlords and tenants on their reciprocal duties and rights in such circumstances.

 

Questions? Comments?

email: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

http://www.dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

Real Estate Investors: Update on Bill Allowing Single Member LLCs To Evict Tenants without Legal Representation

 

A common scenario in my legal practice:2015-11-26-13-04-02

Investor purchases property in an LLC. Investor locates a tenant. Tenant falls behind in rent. Investor hires attorney to evict Tenant.

Why hold real estate in an LLC?

Most of my investor clients own investment real estate in a Limited Liability Company.

This is for liability protection.

 

Once a limited liability company comes into existence, limited liability applies, and a member or manager is not liable for the acts, debts, or obligations of the company. “Duray Dev., LLC v. Perrin, 288 Mich. App. 143, 151 (2010).

 

Why not hold real estate in an LLC?

Some investment property owners decide not to do so. The primary driving reason from my experience is cost.

Cost associated with setting up the LLC; and

Cost associated with hiring an attorney and evicting non-paying tenants.

Some landlords don’t want to hire an attorney to evict a tenant.

Under current Michigan law, since an LLC is a separate legal person independent of the actual owners of the LLC, unless such owner is a licensed attorney, an owner of an LLC cannot file a lawsuit on behalf of the LLC.

To do so would be the unauthorized practice of law.

You can practice law on your own behalf – just not on behalf of someone else.

Although, the saying goes – he who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client.

 

UPDATE ON PROPOSED House Bill 4463 – Would Allow LLCs to Evict without Legal Representation.

 

House Bill 4463 was introduced in March and referred to the  committee on law and justice.

 

 

The Bill would allow owners of a single-member LLC (or a married couple under certain conditions) to file their own eviction actions on behalf of the LLC without the need for legal representation.

If the Landlord is seeking money damages, the amount, not including taxable costs, must be under the small claims Court maximum.

I commented that I would be surprised if this bill passes, although other states have similar laws.

 

Call me surprised.

The Bill recently came out of the committee on law and justice and a substitute bill was referred for a second reading.
The Major Difference in the Substitute Bill

 

The major revision that came out of the committee affects property managers.

The Bill as introduced would have allowed property managers or agents to represent the LLC under certain circumstances – e.g. – having personal knowledge of the relevant facts related to the Property and tenancy.

That language was removed from the first version of the bill.

Under the substitute bill, Property Managers or other Agents would not be allowed to represent the LLC.

Further, this is a “burden shifting” mechanism in the substitute bill – the law would place the burden on the LLC owner to prove he or she is in compliance with the statute. That makes sense – since the legislature would be creating an exception to the rule – only lawyers practice law.

 

To Hire an Attorney or Not?

As I stated in my last post, this makes sense for Landlords who want quick and cost-effective resolutions. I understand that an Investor who is not making money on a tenant also doesn’t want to expend additional legal fees to evict a Tenant. This is particularly true since the most attorney fees that a Landlord can recover against a residential tenant is limited to the statutory amount (currently $75).

All business owners make this same business decision –

at what point can I handle a legal matter myself and at what point do I pick up the phone and call my lawyer?

 

However, I will refer readers back to the lawyer who has a fool for a client…

 

Questions? Comments?

e-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

http://www.dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

News for Residential Real Estate Investors: DOJ receives Verdict against Landlord Disability Discrimination.

img_1417Here’s a profound truth those in the real estate industry will readily acknowledge:

Owning and Managing Real Estate is uniquely challenging.

I hear it from my Property Owner/Manager clients. I experience it when I am involved in negotiating in landlord/tenant disputes.

I believe that is why, at least in West Michigan, there is an opportunity for good property management companies – and a handful of companies I work with locally do it really well.

 

Some of the pitfalls property owners/managers have to watch out for are illustrated in a recent press release announce by the Department of Justice.

Yesterday the Department of Justice announced that it obtained a verdict in a disability discrimination case against a Landlord

 

 

According to the press release,

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Butte, alleged that Jaclyn Katz, the owner and manager of rental properties in Bozeman, discriminated against Kristen Newman, a tenant with physical and psychiatric disabilities, by charging her a $1,000 deposit as a condition for allowing her to keep her service dog, Riley.  At trial, Newman, her treating therapist and an independent expert testified that Riley assisted Newman in living with the symptoms of her disabilities, including providing emotional support, helping to predict migraines, and reducing suicidal thoughts.  Newman also testified that she repeatedly informed Katz that charging a deposit for a service animal was illegal and that Newman understood that she would have to pay for any actual damage caused by her service dog.

 

 

Not good.

A right to a Service animal is legally protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Michigan Law requires a public accommodation to permit the use of a service animal by a person with a disability.

Among other things:

“A public accommodation shall not ask a person with a disability to remove a service animal from the premises due to allergies or fear of the animal. A public accommodation may only ask a person with a disability to remove his or her service animal from the premises if either of the following applies:

(a) The service animal is out of control and its handler does not take effective action to control it.

(b) The service animal is not housebroken” MCL 750.502c

 

Landlords and property owners should heed the warning of General Deputy Assistant Secretary Bryan Greene of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.

“Many people with disabilities require the assistance of an animal to carry out major daily activities,” said  “Complaints alleging disability discrimination now account for the majority of the complaints HUD receives. HUD will continue to enforce the law and educate the public on the rights of people with disabilities in housing.”

.

I wonder, did the landlord/property owner ever consult with legal counsel on its practices?

There are some lessons to be learned for landlords, property owners, managers, and real estate investors.

 

Two takeaways from this news headline:

 

1. It is worth being proactive and engaging legal counsel. 

Issues arise. When in doubt, e-mail or call your attorney.

 

2. Residential Real Estate Investment is highly regulated.

If you are a landlord leasing out “residential” property as opposed to purely commercial property (business tenant), you are under much more stringent regulations. You must comply with Federal laws, like the Fair Housing Act and state laws, like the Michigan Truth in Renting Act. Make sure you are operating lawfully.

 

Questions? Comments?

email: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

http://www.dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

Real Estate Law and Affordable Housing Issues: Lawsuit Alleges Landlords Discriminating Against Families.

Here’s a profound truth those in the real estate industry will readily acknowledge:

Owning and Managing Real Estate is challenging.

I hear it from my Property Owner/Manager clients. I experience it when I am in court litigating or negotiating landlord/tenant disputes.2017-02-04-08-16-38-2

Here’s another profound truth:

In many parts of the country, including Grand Rapids, Michigan, we have an affordable housing crisis.

Some of the pitfalls property owners should be mindful of are illustrated in a recent Department of Justice Press Release.

The Department of Justice issued a press release today concerning a lawsuit  filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington “alleging that the owners and manager of three Edmonds, Washington apartment buildings refused to rent their apartments to families with children, in violation of the Fair Housing Acts.”

(The complaint is an allegation of unlawful conduct. The allegations must still be proven in federal court.)

According to the press release, the Federal government alleged in its complaint that the “in March 2014, defendant Appleby told a woman seeking an apartment for herself, her husband, and their one year old child that the apartment buildings were “adult only” and therefore not available to her family. The complaint also alleges that at various other times from April 2014 to November 2015, defendants advertised their available apartments as being restricted to adults only

Not good.

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin and disability.

As stated by Attorney Annette L. Hayes of the Western District of Washington
. ““Many families already face challenges finding affordable housing, and they should not also have to deal with unlawful discrimination.””

“Particularly in our tight housing market, landlords must follow the law and make units available without discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability or familial status.

The lawsuit makes allegations that must be proven in court. However, I wonder, did this Landlord consult with legal counsel on renting practices before posting advertisements for rent?

There are some lessons to be learned for landlords, property owners, managers, and real estate investors.

Two takeaways from this news headline:

1. Before renting, it is worth engaging legal counsel. 

Issues arise. When in doubt, e-mail or call your attorney.

2. Residential Real Estate Investment is highly regulated.

If you are a landlord leasing out “residential” property as opposed to purely commercial property (business tenant), you are under some stringent regulations. To be sure, these rules are there to protect consumers. You must comply with Federal laws, like the Fair Housing Act and state laws, like the Michigan Truth in Renting Act. Make sure you are operating lawfully. Make sure your lease is lawful.

 

Questions? Comments?

email: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

http://www.dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

Real Estate Law Update: A Discussion on Laches

December 14, 2016 Leave a comment

 

A few years back I wrote a post about the legal doctrine of Laches and how laches relates to real estate disputes.  

Since then, I consistently get a lot of hits on that post – and a lot of searches for “laches in real estate.

Why?

I don’t know. Maybe because its an unfamiliar term, unless you went to law school (even then).

Maybe because it is a valid defense to some real estate related lawsuits. (which it is if you read my previous post).

An October 2016 Michigan court of appeals decision came out on the subject, so I thought I would write about it.

The case:   Charter Township of Lyons v James E. Petty, et al. (unpublished) No. 327686 (Oct. 13, 2016).

But first, as a recap…

The Equitable Doctrine of Laches:

“Laches is an equitable tool used to remedy the inconvenience resulting from the plaintiff’s delay in asserting a legal right that was practicable to assert.” Public Health Dept v. Rivergate Manor, 452 Mich. 495, 507; 550 NW2d 515 (1996).

As such, “when considering whether a plaintiff is chargeable with laches, [a court] must afford attention to prejudice occasioned by the delay.” Lothian, 414 Mich. at 168. It is the prejudice occasioned by the delay that justifies the application of laches.Dunn v. Minnema, 323 Mich. 687, 696; 36 NW2d 182 (1949) .

Therefore in deciding on the issue of Laches, a Court will ask two questions:

1. was there a delay in bringing the claim and, if so,

2. did it prejudice the Defendant?

Question: Why is laches relevant to real estate disputes?

Answer: Because many real estate claims are based in “equity” as opposed to “law”-  e.g. –an injunction, specific performance, action for quiet title…

 

 

Recent Case Discussing Laches: Charter Township of Lyon v Petty, et al.

The Lyons case emphasizes “what type of harm (or prejudice) is a party required to show in order to succeed in a laches defense.”

 

This case was highlight by the Michigan Small Business Association (“SBAM”), since it clarified certain restrictions of small businesses operated on residential lands.

As SBAM reported:

“Two families that operated small businesses out of their homes have to cease their activity on their land because it violated Lyon Township’s zoning ordinance, which had designated the land “residential agricultural.”

 

However, for our purposes, the Pettys, who were operating their businesses on the property, argued that the township’s “decades-long pattern of ignoring their zoning violations, and the investments they made in their business as a result, precluded the township from taking enforcement action…” Id. pg 4.

The Pettys claimed Laches as one of several defenses to the Township’s enforcement of its ordinance.

The Court went through the legal analysis for laches and noted:

“Prejudice is a mandatory element.” and

“The prejudice necessary to establish a laches or estoppel defense cannot be a de minimis harm…” but “…property owners must establish ‘a financial loss…so great as practically to destroy or greatly to decrease the value of the..premises…” Id. pg 5.

 

Lesson:

When utilizing a defense of Laches in real estate disputes, showing merely the passage of time is not sufficient.

Showing the presence of harm due to the passage of time is not sufficient.

Significant harm must be shown.

 

E-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

http://www.dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka