Many clients visit or call asking me to evaluate problematic business contracts or rental agreements. Often my they are surprised about what the contract terms actually mean. Worse, there are times we discover the contract or other party’s promises are fraudulent.
Please learn this lesson from my experience with so many clients: Don’t be cheap at the beginning of a deal – Visit me, Lic. Jim Browne, to review the business contract, home purchase or lease before you sign it.
At Goodin Abernathy / Legalmente Hablendo Indy, many of our Hispanic clients admit they wanted to avoid using an attorney to save money. I understand that idea – it’s reasonable to think that way. But ALL those same clients acknowledge that if they spent a little money for a legal review before entering their agreement, it would have saved them a lot of frustration, time and money.
Many Latinos enter Rent-to-Own contracts with the idea they are slowly buying their house. The concept, as they understand, uses their rent money to pay off the house. Before signing one of these agreements, make sure the seller also legally owns the house. Do they have the legal authority to sell you the property? Last year I saw an example involving total fraud. The seller did not own the property and collected my client’s $6,000.00 down payment. When they tried to move in, the locks were changed so they contacted the seller. He lived out of state and they did not have his address. He wanted more money for them to move in. Surprisingly, the young couple paid more money. Then, the seller asked for even more money and that is what finally made them think it was a scam. You should meet the seller in person and have their address. If they do not live in the same town or state where you are buying the property, take further steps to verify the ownership. You can check the county government’s records to match the seller’s name with the property’s title. Check if there are other mortgages, liens or taxes owed on the property. If there are, you need to make sure the seller is paying those obligations. If not, the seller will have your money and the lender will keep your house. You can find more information about rent to own fraud here: What you need to know about rent-to-own deals. Then see me for a specific review of your situation.
Business Lease Agreements
Individuals and small companies usually rent office space. One type of rental agreement, or lease, includes the terms for a “Triple Net” obligation. This means the renter makes a monthly payment. Then, at the end of the year, the landlord charges the renter additional money for other costs like property taxes, insurance, mowing, maintenance repairs, snow removal and other costs. This usually amounts to three or four times the cost of the monthly rent. If my clients don’t pay, the landlord changes the locks and denies them access to their equipment or business supplies.
Kitchen Table Contracts
Frequently, individual sellers and buyers sign a short contract over the kitchen table. My buyers think the contract is sufficient to protect their financial investments. Usually the agreement fails to address equipment inventory, describe the payment plan or handle many other practical terms they should have requested for a reliable purchase. Rarely do kitchen table contracts succeed.
Loans to Friends and Family
Monthly we get calls where a client asks if he can legally collect the money he lent a friend or family member. The first question is – Did you put the loan in writing? If not, the borrower may try claiming it was a gift. Besides friends and family, I see this a lot with individuals trying to buy or start restaurants. They will invest money to become owners but not have a written agreement. Usually they lose their money and are left empty handed. Get a written loan agreement signed. It should have terms like the length of the loan, repayment plan, interest, penalties, default provisions and litigation costs.
My clients who are subcontractors start jobs expecting to get paid. Sometimes, they do not ask for written terms and hope to get paid. During the job, they pay for materials and equipment, travel and the cost of their own workers. Then when the job is finished, the contractor that hired them claims the property owner or general contractor did not pay – and often that’s a lie. These contractors frequently disrespect my Hispanic clients, threatening litigation or immigration problems. I also see this a lot with apartment complexes. They hire my clients to paint, clean or remodel many, many units. The apartment managers change and the new managers avoid paying the money owed. Or, the apartment managers claim the work was poorly done.
You work hard for your money and envision improving a future for you and your family. Protect yourself against the risk of loss.
Paying for a legal review BEFORE you enter a contract protects you against much larger heartache and financial loss later. Our legal review will be simple and communicated in terms you understand. We will help you think through the contract language that protects your business. Then, if you need me, I’ll help you negotiate the contract for a better result.
Contact Attorney, Jim Browne, by phone at (317) 843-2606 or submit an e-mail inquiry through our website.
Spring and summer are the most popular times for first-time home buyers to purchase their first house. It is also a popular time for current homeowners to upgrade or downsize depending upon their needs.
In Indiana, there is no requirement that a lawyer be involved with a real estate purchase. Most of the time there will not be a reason to involve another professional beyond your Realtor, Loan Officer, and Title Company. But what about those times when something does not feel right about the title work, home inspection, or closing documents? What if you are buying the property from via a For-Sale-By-Owner transaction? What exactly are all of the documents you will sign at closing?
At any point during a real estate closing from before signing the purchase agreement through closing, if you are uncomfortable or concerned, do not hesitate to contact Goodin Abernathy, LLP. Purchasing a home is one of the most exciting, but stressful times of a person’s life. We have the experience in resolving conflicts in real estate transactions and can sit down with you to discuss your concerns. Sometimes a simple discussion is needed, other times you may need one of our attorneys to become more involved.
Jim Browne: Hey, welcome to Goodin Abernathy. I’m attorney Jim Browne. We have a new member to our group, Garrett Lewis. He is a young attorney, and I thought we would spend a little time with him so you get to know who he is and what he can do for you. Come on in, Garrett.
Garrett Lewis: Alright, glad to be here Jim.
Jim Browne: Where are you from, Garrett?
Garrett Lewis: So, I’m actually from the South Bend area. I practiced there for a couple years before moving down here.
Jim Browne: What time of law did you focus on?
Garrett Lewis: We did Real Estate; we did Torts, which is contracts, defamation, things like that; and intellectual property, which is sort of copyrights, trademarks and patents.
Jim Browne: Do you have a typical client that you helped with the intellectual property?
Garrett Lewis: Yea, we dealt with small businesses. We had a few global businesses that we worked with and a lot of individual clients with patents and trademarks.
Jim Browne: What about people with inventions?
Garrett Lewis: All, all the time.
Jim Browne: Awesome.
Garrett Lewis: Yea, some that we knew weren’t going to anywhere right out of the gate and some that where very successful.
Jim Browne: Well, what’s that? I mean is that employment law type of work?
Garrett Lewis: Yea predominantly. Yep.
Jim Browne: And you are helping clients – individuals with their questions about discrimination? Tell us about that for a second.
Garrett Lewis: Yeah, so it sort of depends – when it comes to the ADA – businesses, for example, have legal obligation to provide reasonable accommodations and….
Jim Browne: so, there are seven core areas – age, race, religion, sexual discrimination, physical disabilities – those are things that you’re focusing on?
Garrett Lewis: Correct
Jim Browne: Great. You’ve already had a jury trial in that area… and what court was it in?
Garrett Lewis: So that was actually in the southern district in the…
Jim Browne: A federal court?
Garrett Lewis: A federal court, yea.
Jim Browne: And that trial, what was it about?
Garrett Lewis: So, that case was about a woman who was working at a grocery store for about 12 years and because of her chronic conditions and disabilities, she needed to be able to use a chair, as necessary.
Jim Browne: And the new employer said “No, you can’t use the chair.”
Garrett Lewis: That’s exactly right.
Jim Browne: So, it’s something probably a pretty easy fix.
Garrett Lewis: It was a very easy fix.
Jim Browne: You had a nice result with that jury trial?
Garrett Lewis: We did.
Jim Browne: You where able to learn some things.
Garrett Lewis: Yes.
Jim Browne: Give me one thing that stood out to you about that process.
Garrett Lewis: Well, first thing is you know maybe as a last resort everybody paid attention on the jury, which was nice – and whereas outside of the court room, Covid has sort of made remote working a little bit more convenient, inside the courtroom it’s made it much more of a challenge.
Jim Browne: I understand, so you’re preparing and you’re going to teach us old guys what to do about those technological challenges right?
Garrett Lewis: Yep.
Jim Browne: Well, I’m glad you’re on board Garrett. If you have questions about any of those areas of law please call us at Goodin Abernathy. A lot of your questions can be answered by phone, and we really care about the quality and responsiveness of our work, so please call us at 317-843-2606. You’ll get in touch with whichever attorney probably best suits the area of law you’re looking for, and we appreciate you tuning in to Goodin Abernathy.
Most landlords and owners do not allow smoking in their rental units – and for good reason: the smell remains in the house long after the tenants move out; the tar and smoke buildup on walls, carpets, and ceiling; and it increases the risk of accidental fire to your rental home.
But what about vaping and e-cigarettes? Should you allow their use in your rental? Recent polls indicate 10% of U.S. adults and 15% of U.S. adults under the age of 40 use e-cigarettes. This equates to millions of users throughout the country, so allowing the use of e-cigarettes might spark more interest in your rental properties from that growing population.
Risks of Vaping and E-Cigarettes to Your Rentals
Before you sign up those vaping tenants, you should be aware of the risks of vaping and e-cigarettes to your rentals.
http://time.com/3915957/e-cigarettes-vaping-health-tobacco-addiction/ (hyperlink 10% of U.S. adults with this).
That Chain-Smoker Perfume
Just like traditional cigarettes, cigars, and pipes, e-cigarettes do produce emissions that leave behind a residue that can build up on walls, ceilings, and in vents over time. The vapors from e-cigarettes are significantly cleaner than those from traditional cigarettes, but it will still leave an oily residue with repeated and long-term use. While the stench and deep staining of nicotine are not as prevalent with e-cigarettes, it is likely there will be extra cleaning costs upon your vaping tenant’s move-out.
While e-cigarettes have a significantly smaller chance of burning down your unit than falling asleep on the couch with a lit cigarette, the danger is still real. In July 2017, FEMA issued a report that 195 separate incidents of explosion and fire were reported involving e-cigarettes in the preceding 8 years. Many of these explosions occurred when the e-cigarette was being charged. Often this charging is done when tenants are asleep and not in a position to realize the danger before significant damage is done to your unit.
https://www.usfa.fema.gov/downloads/pdf/publications/electronic_cigarettes.pdf (hyperlink FEMA with this).
What to Do?
Ultimately it will be up to each landlord to allow or exclude the use of e-cigarettes in its properties. However, whatever you decide, you need to be sure your lease is updated to address e-cigarettes and vaping, and to ensure your tenants are aware of the rules regarding vaping and smoking before you rent to them.
As reported by the Indianapolis Star, the Indiana State Police have discovered 119 methamphetamine labs in Delaware County in the first 6 months of 2015. The next highest was Noble County with 35. While methamphetamine is an illegal substance that has wrecked many lives in Indiana, methamphetamine is also a large problem for realtors, landlords, and buyers and sellers of real estate due to the contamination that occurs in the houses and buildings where the meth is cooked.
Most Sellers of a 1-4 unit residential property are required to fill out a Seller’s Residential Real Estate Sales Disclosure Form per Indiana Code Section 24-4.6-2, et seq. On page 2 under “Hazardous Conditions” the following question appears: “Have there been or are there any hazardous conditions on the property…such as…toxic materials…?” The Seller has the option to indicate “Yes,” “No,” or “Do Not Know.” Methamphetamine contamination would be considered a toxic material. With methamphetamine production, clean-up generally will involve, at a minimum, the removal of all surfaces that came in contact with the contaminants and removal of drywall down to the studs. If a Seller fails to clean-up the condition or sells the property without disclosing the methamphetamine contamination, they could be liable to a Buyer for the failure to disclose.
If a house has been contaminated, there are also insurance issues that will need to be determined. Does a landlord still have insurance coverage when a property is contaminated by a tenant? Is there coverage for lost rent while the house is being cleaned up? What about coverage if the health department or police order the house to be closed up until their investigations are completed? As with all insurance questions, individual policies must be read entirely to determine whether there may be coverage for the landlord in these situations.
If you have concerns surrounding property you own that may have had an undisclosed methamphetamine lab in it or have questions surrounding your insurance coverage, contact the real estate attorneys at Goodin Abernathy, LLP to discuss your case.