A Realtor recently posed this question to me:

How often are the agents getting sued when/if a client falls at someone’s house during a showing? To me it seems unlikely but recently in a CE course they tried to scare us.

My answer follows:

Liability generally is fault-based: Did you do something negligent to endanger a client? The standard is the normal “standard of care” a buyer expects from his Realtor. If the Realtor has that duty, fails to adhere to it, and someone is injured as a result, then liability may ensue.

  • Does a Realtor have a duty to-pre-inspect for hazards on and about a property? To turn on lights, to check for loose floor boards, to smooth edges of carpet that have curled? To make sure a buyer does not stick their hand in the electrical panel?

I never have heard of a scenario in which the Realtor was accused of negligence of this type, but I assure you if someone is seriously hurt, the Plaintiff’s attorney will sue everyone involved and attempt to say you “fell below the expected standard of care.”

So, prudence would call for everyone (Realtors, lawyers, appraisers, contractors, investors) to each have commercial general liability insurance against these types of risks. For Ohio real estate salesmen, this insurance would typically be maintained by his broker, and that coverage would extend to the agent. Each agent should not need to obtain his own coverage.

It is generally not expensive, but it is helpful to have.

Beyond that, there are certain special coverages that are advisable: Errors and omission insurance (sort of malpractice insurance for real estate brokers and agents), fiduciary coverage in case your employees steal from you or steal client funds (or property), and auto liability coverage, which is auto insurance for those engaged in commerce on your behalf (driving to and from appointments, getting signatures on contracts or delivering contracts, delivering keys, etc.).

For every business owner and individual, we recommend selecting a qualified insurance agent, and sit with him as the business is created, and as it grows over time, to discuss the amounts, deductibles, and types of insurance to maintain. Someday, you may be very happy that you did.

 

Finney Law Firm just added a new attorney, Ohio’s newest attorney, when Jennings Kleeman was sworn in to the Ohio Bar by Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor today.

Jennings has joined our firm’s transactional group, which focuses on real estate, corporate and estate planning as our latest attorney. His initial focus will be on real estate and real estate title, both commercial and residential. Jennings served as a law clerk with Finney Law Firm before joining us an an associate. Read more about Jennings here.

Warm congratulations to Jennings Kleeman!

 

Over my years of practice, I have seen countless (and needless) debt and real estate title problems arising from divorce proceedings, some arising many years after the divorce decree goes on. In this blog entry, I address several of these.

For anyone going through a divorce, or who has already been through a divorce, I’d recommend “checking all the boxes” in this blog entry to avoid costly problems arising from a divorce. (Just because your divorce was years ago does not mean some of these problems won’t still raise their ugly head.)

  • First, on Day #1, cancel all joint credit cards and terminate all joint lines of credit. Time and time again, I have seen one spouse run up credit card charges on joint accounts, and run up lines of credit — maybe secured by a lien on the house — to the max either as the divorce is proceeding or after the divorce. Worse, they have spent it on jewelry, trips, cars, flowers and candy for the new girlfriend (classy!). On Day #1, and I mean Day #1, stop the soon-to-be ex-spouse’s access to joint credit.  Otherwise, when they go bankrupt or insolvent, you may be left holding the bag.
  • Terminate all accounts on which you are liable: The one that is most common is a cell phone account. But it might be a utility service (water, sewer, gas, electric), a joint account at a retailer, a business line of credit, etc. Close those accounts or take your name off of them. Do it in writing. Do it promptly as the divorce proceeds.
  • A common resolution of the division of the home (or other property) jointly owned by the divorcing husband and wife is that the divorce court orders one spouse to convey their 1/2 interest in such house or property to the other party. And associated with that that, the grantee then is ordered to refinance the mortgage on the house so that the grantor is released from the debt associated with the the-existing joint mortgage. That is fine as far as it goes, but countless times I have seen one or the other spouse not follow through on that. Here are some problems I have seen with this:
    • The ex-spouse who is supposed to grant the real property delays interminably and fails to do so. The grantee ex-spouse ignores the failure, sometimes for years. This is a huge mistake. Get that deed.
    • The grantee ex-spouse gets a deed, but tucks it into her dresser drawer and forgets about it. You have to record that deed immediately, otherwise intervening liens and bankruptcy of the grantor ex-spouse filings take priority! In the case I recall, the grantor spouse filed bankruptcy years later, and that 1/2 interest in the house went to the ex-spouse’s creditors rather than to the grantee. The problem was not fixable.
    • The grantee ex-wife was the signer on a line of credit for the grantor ex-husband’s business. That line of credit was secured with a lien on their marital residence that was ordered by the Court to be granted to the ex-wife. The ex-husband did in fact give the deed to the ex-wife, but ex-wife did not refinance the house as the divorce decree required (which would have almost certainly revealed the second mortgage securing the line of credit that she forgot). Thus, the second mortgage securing the line of credit was never released.  Thirteen years later, the ex-husband hit hard times financially, and ran up the line of credit — that was still secured with a mortgage against the ex-wife’s house. Ex-wife’s property is then subject to a six-figure second mortgage for the ex-husband’s post-decree debt, rather than free of that debt as it should have been. So, cancel all secured lines of credit immediately, and get a title exam on the granted house to assure title you are getting is clear.

These things are not automatically addressed by either a divorce filing or by the decree in a divorce. They have to be carefully implemented to conclusion. Everything bad that can go wrong in these steps does go wrong, time and time again. And while said ex-spouse may be on the hook for the breach of the divorce decree, that does not change the reality that the third party creditor has a right to get paid. And if the ex-spouse is flat busted, there will be no recovery from him or her. This is commonly the case.

At present Finney Law Firm does not handle most domestic matters.  But, these are some tips to form a discussion with your divorce attorney to assure all “I’s” are dotted and all “T’s” are crossed in divorce proceedings.

Please share this with a friend going through a divorce. It may save them headaches and a lot of money.

 

 

 

 

 

Many of my clients have issues with medical debt, credit card debt, student loans, repossessions, etc.  These are the typical types of debt that I encounter.  Occasionally I have a client who has none of those debt issues but has one particular area of concern:  A suspended driver’s license due to driving without insurance.

This client has usually had an automobile accident and at the time they, knowingly or unknowingly, had no insurance coverage.  The plaintiff in this scenario must get coverage for the accident from their own insurance carrier.  In turn, the insurance carrier turns to the debtor to recoup that loss.

Most times the debtor cannot pay this debt due to low income and the insurance company for Plaintiff puts a hold on the debtor’s driver’s license.  This is supposed to create such an inconvenience to the debtor that they will be encouraged to repay the debt.  However, what I see happening is the debtor can no longer operate normally in their daily life, cannot get to work, puts others out in order to get rides, or lives in fear of being pulled over on a suspended license.  This debtor could get caught in a Catch-22 where they cannot get to work due to the license suspension and therefore cannot make money to get their license back.  To add insult to injury, the Bureau of Motor Vehicle (BMV) will require reinstatement fees to be paid in addition to satisfying the debt to the insurance company.

There is light at the end of the tunnel for this debtor.  With a few caveats, this is a type of debt that is dischargeable in bankruptcy.  Not only is the debt to the insurance company dischargeable, but the reinstatement fees are also discharged.

Once a bankruptcy case is filed, the debtor is given a copy of portions of the bankruptcy petition as well as Notice of Bankruptcy filing.  The client will take the paperwork to the BMV who will send the paperwork to Columbus.  The BMV in Columbus will respond as to what will be required to reinstate the license in addition to the bankruptcy paperwork.  The additional requirements usually entail procuring an SR-22 from an insurance company (this is proof of meeting the insurance requirements of the state) and depending on how long your license has been suspended, retaking the driver’s test.  If you already have your SR-22 and do not have to take the test, you could have your license back same day.

There are, however, a few exceptions to the general rule of dischargeabiity. If the debtor was intoxicated at the time of the accident the debt may not be dischargeable.  Also, if the conduct of the debtor was proven to be intentional, dischargeability could be called into question.

If you are experiencing an economic downturn and cannot make progress on paying the debt to reinstate your license, contact Susan Browning (513.797.2857) at Finney Law Firm for a FREE consultation.

 

 

 

 

 

To appeal your taxes or not appeal your real property taxes, that is the question.

For some property investors, 2020 has been a difficult year: Many retail properties, hotels and office buildings have suffered from high vacancies, high rental defaults, and slow-to-no calls from new tenants. For these categories of income-producing properties, the enormous challenges presented by COVID-19 seem to have caused a significant reduction in property values.

Thus, it makes perfect sense to challenge those values in 2021, right?

Well, not so fast. Here are some considerations:

State of Ohio

  • Tax valuation challenges filed in Ohio in 2021 are for tax year 2020, and the “tax lien date,” the target date for valuation decisions is January 1, 2020.
  • That is, of course, months before the deleterious effects of COVID-19 impacted the USA real estate market.
  • Therefore, an Ohio property owner is likely to lose a valuation challenge brought in 2021 based primarily or solely upon a downturn starting in March of April of 2020.
  • Even worse, a property owner is entitled to bring tax valuation challenges only once in a “triennial,” the 3-year cycle which Ohio uses for Board of Revision cases.
  • Hamilton County, Clermont County, Butler County, Franklin County (Columbus) and Montgomery County (Dayton) all start new triennial cycles in tax year 2020. This means that if a property owner brings and loses a tax valuation challenge brought in calendar year 2021 in those counties, the valuation by law must stay in place through tax year 2022 (first challenged again in 2023).
  • On the other hand, if a property owner waits until first quarter of 2022 to file a challenge (for tax year 2021) in those counties, he will have a much stronger basis for valuation reduction (valuation target date is then January 1, 2021).
  • On the other hand, Warren County, Lucas County (Toledo), Stark County (Canton) and Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) (among others) are in their last year of the triennial in 2020, meaning a property owner can bring a complaint in 2021 (win or lose) and then turn around and bring a fresh challenge in 2022.

So, an Ohio property owner should carefully consider whether to bring a 2021 challenge. It could bring great rewards or lock in an articificllay high value for three years, potentially unnecessarily.

State of Kentucky

Kentucky is an entirely different matter. Challenges of value — which are started by PVA meetings the first two weeks of May — in 2021 are for tax year 2021. Thus, the full impact of COVID-19 on property values are at issue in challenges in 2021. It is much more straightforward.

Conclusion

For assistance with an Ohio or Kentucky property tax valuation matter, contact Casey Jones (513.943.5673) or Chris Finney (513.943-6655).

 

 

 

The COVID-19 pandemic crisis has spurred a second suspension of jury trials in Hamilton County, this one “until further notice.”

This applies to to both civil and criminal jury trials. As far as other proceedings (from conferences with the Judge to non-jury trials), it is “hit or miss” and each case and each Judge may have a different schedule. However, our experience is that things are proceeding, if slower than normal.

Read more on WLWT.Com here.

The State of Ohio has added two programs to further assist small businesses with the unprecedented business interruption associated with the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, (a) $125 million in Small Business Relief Grants and (b) $1.5 billion in refunds to small businesses from the Workers Compensation program. Details on both programs are below

  1. Small Business Relief Grant.

    The Small Business Relief Grant (“SBRG”) is designed to provide necessary relief to Ohio businesses that have been negatively impacted by the effects of COVID-19. The State has designated up to one hundred twenty-five  million dollars ($125,000,000) of funding received by the State of Ohio from the Federal CARES Act to provide $10,000 grants to small businesses to assist in ensuring the survival and stability of these crucial businesses.

    Some of the terms  are:

    • The applicant business is a for-profit entity (corporation, LLC, partnership, joint venture, sole proprietor).
    • The applicant business is an employer firm with at least 1 and no more than 25 Ohio employees paid via W2 wages as of 1/1/2020, determined either by a headcount or full-time equivalent employee calculation.
      • NOTE: A headcount calculation should include both part-time and full-time employees. A full-time equivalent calculation equals the total hours compensated for all W2 employees in calendar year 2019 divided by 2,080.
    • The applicant business has a physical location in Ohio and earns at least 90% of annual revenue from activities based in Ohio.
    • The applicant business has been in continuous operation since January 1, 2020, except for interruptions required by COVID-19 public health orders, and has the ability to continue operations as a going concern, taking into account a potential program grant.
    • The applicant business has experienced revenue loss or incurred unplanned costs substantially caused by COVID-19 and a grant is necessary to help it recover from the impact of COVID-19.
    • The applicant business is in good standing with the Ohio Secretary of State, the Ohio Department of Taxation, and any other governmental entity charged with regulating the business.
    • If applicable, the applicant business has fully utilized any other government support received (including both grants and loans) by the applicant business for business expenses incurred due to COVID-19 or that can be utilized for business expenses incurred due to COVID-19.
    • The link for the Ohio Small Business Relief Grant program from the Ohio Development Services Agency is here.

    There are also restrictions that may nullify your ability to obtain a grant.  Contact Jane Schulte at Finney Law Firm for more information on how we can assist you in navigating the application process.

  2. Workers Compensation refunds.

    • This is the second refund program this year, this time distributing $1.5 billion in excess funds held by the Ohio Worker’s Compensation program to Ohio employers. BWC started sending checks to up to 200,000 private and public employers in its system in late October after first applying the dividend to any unpaid balances. The dividend follows a similar dividend in April, where the average check size was $8,500.
    • The refunds are automatically calculated and the checks sent by the BWC. No action on the part of employers is necessary.
    • The announcement from the BWC is here.

 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday clarified the nationwide eviction moratorium that it had issued on September 4, 2020, lasting through the end of the year. That clarification (“Frequently Asked Questions”) is linked here.

Some important points from the FAQ:

  • The Order does not prevent owners from commencing eviction proceedings so long as the actual eviction (which we interpret to mean the set out) does not take place until January. As we see it, this means that evictions can proceed to writ, but the set out must wait until January.
  • As set forth in this blog entry, the protection to a tenant under the eviction moratorium is trigged when the tenant signs a CDC form that certifies all of the following (every adult residing in the unit must sign the form for the moratorium to take effect).
    • The individual has used best efforts to obtain government assistance for the payment of rent.
    • The individual falls below the above-income thresholds.
    • The individual can’t pay rent due to loss of income or medical expenses.
    • The individual is using best efforts to pay the rent or as much of it as he can.
    • Eviction would render the individual homeless.
  • An owner may cross examine (or perhaps conduct discovery as the Court would allow) as to the truthfulness of those certifications. Previously, the rule was ambiguous on this point, leading to inconsistent application throughout the thousands of jurisdictions handling executions in the nation.
  • Landlord are not required to inform tenants of their rights under the CDC Order.
  • The clarification reiterates that (a) tenants still owe their rent and (b) tenants have a duty to make partial rent payments as they are able.
  • The clarification reiterates the criminal penalties for tenants making material misrepresentations on the CDC form.

Friday’s FAQ pronouncement tilts the effect of the moratorium in favor of landlords. Given that the set out in Ohio typically is six-to-eight weeks after the start of the process (the 3-day notice), the real delay in recovering possession of a landlord’s property from a non-paying tenant is now under 30 days.

The scope of the moratorium is limited to situations where the default is solely the non-payment of rent. Our firm has successfully worked with landlords who need to recover possession of their property from hold over tenants, squatters, those causing physical damage to property, those involving illegal use and sale of drugs, too many occupants and other lease violations.

Please call our experienced landlord/tenant litigators if you have questions. Contact Julie Gugino (513.943.5669) for more information.

 

Many prospective clients of the firm are experiencing actual or threatened utility cutoffs due to income disruption caused by the COVID 19 crisis. Many calls to our office are exploring bankruptcy as an option to address their predicament. This article addresses alternate solutions and whether bankruptcy is a good option for utility disconnections.

Introduction

COVID 19 has had far reaching and unprecedented financial effects on our communities.  Due to layoffs, furloughs, and shutdowns, we have seen a showing of togetherness and unity (community concern) as our leaders have come to the aid of those less fortunate and provided financial assistance.  We have seen income assistance by way of unemployment payments, PPP, and COVID stimulus payments.  In addition, we have seen moratoriums on foreclosures, evictions and utility disconnections.  Fortunately, the two former have been extended until the new year.  However, many areas are seeing the end of a moratorium on utility shutoffs and an increase in disconnection notices.  The purpose of this blog is to make the consumer aware of what options may be available in and out of the bankruptcy arena.

Kentucky Utility Shutoffs

In Kentucky, the moratorium put in place on March 16, 2020 has been lifted as it applies to non-residential customers effective, October 20, 2020.  However, the Kentucky Public Service Commission is requiring utility companies to provide payment plans of at least six months to residential consumers who are behind due to COVID-19.  For those of you facing arrearages please contact your utility company to set up a payment plan.  In addition, these links will connect you with Kentucky Community Action and Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services where you will be directed to further resources.

Ohio Utility Shutoffs

Ohio, however, has lifted the moratorium as to utility disconnections and customers are beginning to receive shutoff notices.  This has prompted a spike in phone calls to our office regarding what can be done prevent disruption of utility service.  If utility arrearages are your main concern, it makes sense to attempt to remedy the situation outside of bankruptcy first and leave bankruptcy as your last resort.  First, contact your utility provider to inquire as to whether they offer a payment plan and what those payments might entail.  If the plan provided is not feasible for your budget, consider contacting a local social services agency to determine if you qualify for their assistance programs.  These links will connect you to Ohio’s website for Home Energy Assistance Program as well as their list of social service agencies by county.

Conclusion

As we all know, there is a sense of urgency when you receive a disconnection notice for your utilities.  If you find that you are not receiving the assistance you need, do not qualify for assistance or have insurmountable additional debt, bankruptcy may be an option.  Utility arrearages may be included in bankruptcy as a dischargeable debt.  One caveat is that once you file for bankruptcy, you will be required to place a deposit with the utility company to begin a new account.  In many cases, this is a small amount to pay in comparison to the mounting utility bills some debtors face.

If you are experiencing financial hardship and would like further information about the bankruptcy process, please contact Susan Cress Browning  (513.797.2857) at Finney Law Firm, LLC for a FREE CONSULTATION.  I will discuss your financial situation with you to determine what options you have and what is the best direction to take to resolve your debt issues.

 

 

We are excited to announce the launch of Finney Law Firm’s new website. We have worked hard to create a modern website that is easy to navigate and fun to use. Our website is optimized to work on your laptop, desktop, tablet, and smartphone. Our new social features make it easy for you to connect with our professionals and share content on all your favorite platforms. Please take a look: www.finneylawfirm.com and let us know what you think.

Responsive Design

One of our primary goals in creating our new site was to make our content accessible to all our clients and visitors. Our new website employs what is called a “responsive design” that dynamically resizes to fit your browser. This means that no matter what device you are using right now, our website will change to give you a great viewing experience.

Clean, Modern Design

We are committed to keeping you up to date on the latest legal and business issues. To reinforce this commitment, our new website delivers rich content in a clean and organized way. We have changed the organizational structure of our Blog and have narrowed down our categories for easier searching. Our website infrastructure has been developed to make this content easily accessible and fast to load.

Partnership with Holland Adhaus

We are thrilled to have found an agency that shares our values and integrity. Their honest and open communication every step of the way has helped us to enhance Finney Law Firm’s presence in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. Holland provides a comprehensive suite of marketing services for small businesses and large companies alike. Please visit www.hollandadhaus.com for more information.

Thank you for your continued support of Finney Law Firm. We look forward to servicing all of your legal needs and in particular, please check out our new Practice Area, Small Business Solutions Group, at this link: https://finneylawfirm.com/practice-areas/small-business-solutions-group/