Make no bones about it: Ohio property taxes are complicated.

And with today’s dramatic upwardly dynamic real estate market, it is more important than ever that buyers and sellers carefully consider the impact of a sales price that exceeds the Auditor’s valuation when writing a purchase contract’s tax proration provision.

Ohio’s complicated property taxation structure

First, taxes in Ohio are billed semi-annually, in roughly January and July of each year.  Those two bills are, respectively, for the first half and second half of the prior calendar year.  So, the January 2022 bill will be for the first half of 2021, and the July bill will be for the second half of 2021.  Thus, when a buyer buys property, the seller owes between seven and thirteen months of taxes in arrears. 

How tax prorations are typically addressed in “form” contracts

Typically, the purchase contract will provide for several things so that the seller credits these accrued but not-yet-due taxes to the buyer:

  • First, there will be a proration of taxes from the seller to the buyer from January 1 of the year of the closing, or July 1 of the year prior to the closing, through the date of closing.
    • (In what I consider to be a weird local custom, in the Dayton marketplace only, a “short proration” is many times utilized for residential and commercial transactions. The “short proration” ignores the first six months of arrearage, and prorates only on the part-half-year immediately prior to the closing. I do not know the logic behind this.)
  • Second, the amount of that proration in a form residential and commercial purchase contact is typically to be “based upon the most recent available tax duplicate.”  Many times the contract (and/or documents signed at the closing) specifies that the tax proration is to be considered “final.”
  • [NOTE: The new Cincinnati Area/Dayton Area Board of Realtors standard form of residential real estate contract issued in the fall of 2021 is emphatic on this topic: Tax prorations are based upon “the most recent available tax rates, assessments and valuations” and “all tax prorations shall be final at Closing.”]

What does “based upon most recent available tax duplicate” mean?

On this, issue of prorating taxes “based upon the most recent available tax duplicate,” consider a few things:

  • In Ohio, the starting point for the Auditor’s value is the actual value, i.e., what a willing buyer would pay a willing seller for the property.  It’s the same number used by buyers, sellers, appraisers and lenders for the property value, i.e., the actual sales price.  There is no other magical number. (Then, we speak in terms of 35% of that value as that is translated in the tax bill, but that number has no practical impact except to confuse people and does not change the analysis set forth in this blog entry.)
  • Secondly, the “most recent available tax duplicate” means the taxes to-be-paid, which is valuation times tax rate on the Auditor’s records as of the date of closing.
  • But both the tax valuation and the tax rate can change — with retroactive effect — all the way through the date the tax bill is issued in January of the following year, meaning well after the closing, or even by August or September of that following year when a tax valuation complaint before the Board of Revision is decided.  Indeed, if a valuation complaint is appealed all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court, taxes could be assessed with retroactive effect two, three or more years after a closing date.
  • (We primarily address valuation issues in this blog entry, but if a levy is on the ballot in May or November of any year, that rate increase also dates back to January 1 of that year, so a large tax levy can result in an inequitable tax proration as well.)

A sale price above Auditor’s value may result in a retroactive tax increase    

In today’s dynamic real estate market in which sales prices of certain properties are galloping upward at an astonishing pace, especially for apartment buildings, single family residences, and industrial and warehouse properties, that standard form language could leave an unsuspecting buyer holding the bag.  Here’s why:

  • First, County Auditors update their valuations once every three years, and the cutoff for those updates is around September 30 of that year. So, for a sale in a “triennial year” (six different triennial cycles for Ohio’s 88 counties) prior to September 30 of that year, the Auditor should, on his own, increase the valuation to the sales price retroactive to January 1 of that first year of the triennial (even if the sale is late in that year), but that increase only becomes reflected on the tax records when the valuation comes out with the January bill of the year subsequent to the applicable tax year.
  • But Auditors typically do not adjust values on their own after that date and in the “off” two years between the triennial valuation cycles.  So, Hamilton, Montgomery, Butler and Clermont Counties most recently updated valuations effective January 1, 2020, and those values came out with the January 2021 tax bills.  The Auditor’s of each of those Counties won’t “catch” a sale made after September 30, 2020 until the 2024 tax bills (values effective January 1, 2023).
  • Ohio law says that — with narrow and rare exceptions — the sale price is the correct property valuation. Thus, property owners have a difficult time arguing that the contract sale price is not the actual value of the property.
  • The contract sale price is reported to the Auditor with an “Real Property Conveyance Fee Statement of Value and Receipt” (“Conveyance Fee Statement”) signed by the purchaser at each closing.  It is a felony to falsify one of these forms.

It’s easy to ascertain if the sale price is above the Auditor’s valuation.  Each County publishes their valuations — current as of the date of contract signing — on its web site.

School districts can and do seek retroactive valuation increases

The biggest beneficiary of property taxes in Ohio is the local school board, which typically receives about two-thirds of the total tax bills into their coffers.

As a result, school districts hire attorneys skilled in property valuation matters to scour the Auditor’s records to find recent sales in their district that exceed Auditor’s valuation.  Then, they file Board of Revision complaints to seek an increase in valuation.  Some points on those complaints:

  • Those complaints are filed, as with property owner complaints seeking a reduction, between January 1 and March 31 of each year.
  • Those complaints by law seek a retroactive increase in taxes to January 1 of the prior year.  So, for example, complaints filed in the first quarter of 2022 will apply retroactively to January 1 of 2021, and the increased taxes are a lien on the property as of that prior year (e.g., January 1, 2021).
  • Almost universally, school districts limit their complaints to sales of a certain minimum variance from Auditor’s valuation (say, $50,000 or $100,000) and usually they ignore single family residential properties.
  • The buyer — the new property owner — should receive notice of the complaint, and could appear to oppose the increase.  But the an arm’s length sales price is, by law, the correct valuation and the Conveyance Fee Statement is usually prima facie evidence of both that contract price and the arm’s length nature of the transaction.

These school board complaints, if successful, have two effects: (i) in the tax year of the Complaint, it puts real cash in the pocket of the school district (the tax hike is very roughly about 3.0% of the valuation increase and the school district gets about two thirds of that one-time cash amount), and (ii) thereafter it ever-so-slightly reduces the burden on other property owners to have each property valued at its correct rate.

A post-closing surprise!

This means that buyers can get a surprise of a tax bill far in excess of the prorated taxes (otherwise by law owed by the seller) well after the closing date.  And typically contract language and perhaps papers signed at the closing make this difference unrecoverable by the buyer as against the seller.

How to address this issue in the contract

From a buyer’s perspective, if he wants to recover a proration that will fully compensate him for taxes due (by seller) accruing prior to closing, he must deviate from the typical contract language that a tax proration is to be “based upon the most recent available tax duplicate” to add “but updated to reflect the sale price in this contract” or something to that effect.  A further possibility with an entirely solvent seller whose operation would continue well after the closing would be to call for a re-proration after the actual taxes are known. But it’s far better to adjust at closing so a post-closing claim (or law suit) is not necessary.

If the issue is not addressed in the contract but brought up before or after closing, it may be difficult to argue to the seller that the contract does not reflect the seller’s actual tax liability as of the closing date.

From a seller’s perspective, it is better use the typical default language of “based upon the most recent available tax duplicate.”

Obviously, if the contract price is lower than the Auditor’s valuation, the default language” of “based upon the most recent available tax duplicate” would disadvantage the seller and benefit the buyer.  This frequently was so in the last (and every) real estate recession, and may be true with isolated sales occurring today, or for certain categories of real estate such as restaurants and hospitality, parking garages, and retail. When this happens, a seller may want to ask to prorate based on the actual sale price rather than the “most recent available tax duplicate” information.  In the alternative, the seller could preserve the right to pursue a reduction in valuation post-closing and receive any refund arising from an over-payment or excess proration.

Ohio courts have addressed this precise question: What happens when, after closing, additional taxes are retroactively assessed for periods prior to closing due to an increase in value? Under the default “based upon the most recent available tax duplicate” language, the answer is that typically these additional taxes become the buyer’s responsibility.

In Lone Star Equities, Inc. v. Dimitrouleas, 2d Dist. Montgomery No. 26321, 2015-Ohio-2294, the seller filed a Board of Revision (“BOR”) complaint seeking a reduction in the value of his property and received such reduction. The local school board then appealed that reduction to the Board of Tax Appeals (“BTA”). While the BTA appeal was pending, the seller sold the property to the buyer for significantly more than the value to which the property was reduced at the BOR level and gave the buyer a general warranty deed disclaiming all encumbrances. The BTA hearing was held approximately one year after the closing, and (because he no longer owned the property) the seller did not attend. The buyer was seemingly unaware of the proceeding and, thus, did not attend the BTA hearing either. The BTA ended up increasing the value to what it was before the BOR reduction (i.e., the value sought by the school board). This created a retroactive tax assessment of nearly $34,000 relative to periods prior to the closing. The buyer paid those taxes and then sued the seller for breach of contract, breach of warranty, and fraud to recoup the same.

The applicable tax provision in the Lone Star case read as follows:

  1. Taxes: All installments of real estate taxes, and any other assessments against the Property, that are due and owing prior to Closing shall be paid by Seller regardless if the tenant reimburses Seller for same. The taxes and any other assessments assessed for the current year shall be prorated between Seller and Purchaser on a calendar year basis as of the closing date.”

(Emphasis added). There was no language to indicate what would happen should a tax be retroactively assessed for periods prior to closing, but the buyer argued that the seller should be responsible for the taxes under the above contract language, and that he knew of the pending BTA matter and knew that the tax proration on the HUD-1 settlement statement wasn’t final and fraudulently misrepresented the same.

As to the breach of contract claim, courts have long held that any contract claims will “merge” with the deed upon closing. “The doctrine of ‘merger by deed’ holds that whenever a deed is delivered and accepted ‘without qualification’ pursuant to a sales contract for real property, the contract becomes merged into the deed and no cause of action upon said prior agreement exists. The purchaser is limited to the express covenants of the deed only.” Id., at ¶ 29, citing 80 Ohio Jurisprudence 3d (1988) 91, 93, Real Property Sales and Exchanges, Sections 58-59; Brumbaugh v. Chapman (1887), 45 Ohio St. 368, 13 N.E. 584; Fuller v. Drenberg (1965), 3 Ohio St.2d 109, 32 O.O.2d 91, 209 N.E.2d 417, paragraph one of the syllabus. Cf. Dillahunty v. Keystone Sav. Ass’n. (1973), 36 Ohio App. 2d 135, 65 O.O.2d 157, 303 N.E.2d 750.

In other words, after closing occurs, the parties no longer have viable claims arising out of the contract – they only have claims arising out of the deed. This largely shifts the burden to the parties, making it incumbent upon them to do their due diligence in making sure all of the respective contractual obligations have been met prior to closing. For example, if a contract addendum calls for the seller to make certain repairs prior to closing, but the seller fails to fulfill this obligation and the closing occurs anyway, the buyer cannot later sue the seller for breach of contract in failing to make the repairs. This is because the contract “merged” with the deed, and the deed did not call for any repairs. The court in Lone Star applied this doctrine of merger by deed to rule in favor of the seller as to the buyer’s breach of contract claim.

Perhaps two of the most common exceptions to the doctrine of merger by deed are (a) explicit contractual language dictating a specific contractual term shall “survive the closing” and/or “survive delivery of the deed” (this defies the doctrine’s “acceptance, without qualification, of the deed” requirement), and (b) fraud. In the Lone Star case, there was no contractual language indicating that the tax provision would survive closing and/or delivery of the deed. Likewise, the court found no fraud on the part of the seller.

One of the required elements to prove a fraud claim is “justifiable reliance.” See Lone Star, at ¶ 59, citing Volbers-Klarich v. Middletown Mgmt., 125 Ohio St.3d 494, 2010-Ohio-2057, 929 N.E.2d 434, ¶ 27; Burr v. Board of County Comm’rs, 23 Ohio St. 3d 69, 73, 23 Ohio B. 200, 491 N.E.2d 1101 (1986). A party cannot justifiably rely on any representation when he or she is on notice to the contrary. Because BOR and BTA proceedings are matters of public record, the buyer was put on constructive notice of the school district’s efforts to have the property’s taxable value increased, even if the seller had a duty to and failed to disclose these proceedings (which was not specifically addressed). Lone Star, at ¶ 65. Because neither of these exceptions applied, the contract merged with the deed at closing, and the buyer could not prevail on its breach of contract claim or its fraud claim.

Finally, the court addressed whether the retroactive tax assessment constituted an encumbrance insofar as it applied relative to periods prior to closing. Answering that question in the negative, the court found that “the tax lien does not attach and become an encumbrance on property until the time that a final determination of valuation is made, and the current property owner, not the former owner, will be responsible for the taxes that have attached.” (i.e., the “‘relation back’ concept in R.C. 5715.19(D) does not mean that the taxes would have attached as a lien prior to the closing.”). Id., at ¶ 53-55. Because the tax assessment did not constitute an encumbrance until after the closing when the BTA made its final determination as to the value of the property, it was not an encumbrance as of the date of closing and, thus, there was no breach of the general warranty deed covenants.

The Lone Star case is a cautionary example of what can happen should the buyer fail to do its diligence in checking for tax appeals and/or insist upon the language discussed in this entry to protect him or her in the event of a post-closing tax assessment. As a firm, we regularly represent both property owners and school districts in BOR and BTA proceedings, and we also have several seasoned real estate attorneys who can help you explore the tax implications of a transaction or post-closing tax assessment.

Conclusion

For help with your commercial or residential real estate contracting matter, including the intricacies of Ohio and Kentucky tax prorations, contact Isaac T. Heintz (513.943.6654), Eli N. Krafte-Jacobs (513.797.2853), or Casey Jones (513.943.5673) of our real estate group.

The real estate legal “pro tip” of the day is carefully assuring your property legal descriptions are updated after each partial conveyance  so that the description of the “residue” is property on record with the county offices dealing with real estate matters.

When commercial and residential property owners acquire property, the deed into the buyer or grantee must have a legal description attached that is acceptable in form to the County Engineer, Auditor and Recorder in Ohio.  If it is an existing property description (i.e., no change from when the seller took title to the property), there will be a legal description, and an already-created Auditor’s parcel associated with that land.  It is thus not an issue that would impair the new closing.  For new cut-ups and subdivisions, the developer/seller usually undertakes that process with the County Engineer, Auditor and Recorder before it is time for closing.  At least it should.

As we approach a closing, commercial or residential, however, where we occasionally run into problems with getting a deed recorded because of a “new” legal descriptions is a situation in which an owner has conveyed away a part of the property that was originally deeded to him during the seller’s ownership of the property.  Because of an eminent domain taking, a property line dispute with a neighbor, a conveyance of a sliver to an adjoining property owner, or a combination with an adjoining parcel, the legal description by which the owner took title is no longer current or accurate, and thus needs to be updated with the County Engineer, Auditor and Recorder.

This “updating” starts with two things: (1) A plat of new survey of the property showing the new boundaries, along with a “closure chart” that shows that the ending point of the legal description meets up with the starting point, and (2) a new legal description of the parcel to be conveyed.  Then, it must be processed through the County offices to update the records of each.  Finally, the deed should be ready for recording.  But until these things are completed a deed is not recordable.  Thus, it is hard to close a transaction unless and until the legal descriptions are thusly updated inasmuch as monetary liens and and other interests can slip in during this “gap.”

It is best to take these preliminary steps at the time of the act “cutting up” your parcel (i.e., concurrent with the eminent domain taking, the property line dispute with a neighbor, the conveyance of a sliver to an adjoining property owner, or the combination with an adjoining parcel), rather than waiting for a closing on a sale that might be years later, so that the time needed for a new survey and legal description, and processing with the Engineering, Auditor and Recorder do not delay your closing.  Also, it is a smart practice to see if the buyer of the parcel (at the time of the original cutup) will pay the cost and handle the paperwork associated with getting the new plat and legal processed by the County.

Contact Isaac Heintz (513.946.6654), Eli N. Krafte-Jacobs (513.797.2853) or Jennings D. Kleeman (513.797.2858) for help with your real estate legal needs.

While the real estate market seems to have slowed slightly, our title company, Ivy Pointe Title, continues to close a record-breaking number of transactions. Perhaps due to challenges that buyers are facing in making competitive offers and having those offers accepted, our firm has also noticed an uptick in the number of (actual or attempted) contract terminations prior to closing – this phenomenon, when unjustified under the terms of the contract, is often referred to as an “anticipatory repudiation.”

An anticipatory repudiation is “‘a repudiation of the promisor’s contractual duty before the time fixed for performance has arrived.’” Sunesis Trucking Co. v. Thistledown Racetrack, L.L.C., 2014-Ohio-3333, ¶ 29 (8th Dist. 2014), quoting McDonald v. Bedford Datsun, 59 Ohio App.3d 38, 40, 570 N.E.2d 299 (8th Dist.1989). For example, if you have a contract to sell your property to a buyer, and the buyer backs out three days before the closing for any reason not justified under the terms of the contract – or for no reason at all – an anticipatory repudiation of the contract has likely occurred. It is akin to a breach of the contract; however, because it occurs before “the time fixed for performance” (i.e., the closing), it is considered “anticipatory.”

Remedies

“If an anticipatory breach of contract is found to occur, the injured party has the option of (1) terminating the contract and suing the breaching party immediately, or (2) continuing the contract and suing the breaching party for damages after the time for performance has passed.” Sunesis, at ¶ 33, citing 18 Ohio Jurisprudence 3d Contracts, Section 238 (2011). It is worth noting that the “repudiation” must be unequivocal. If you are unsure whether a party’s statement amounts to a repudiation or whether they intend to still fulfill their obligations under the contract, you should seek “adequate assurances” as to whether they intend to comply.

An anticipatory repudiation may stem from a buyer submitting offers on multiple listings to increase the odds of one of their offers being accepted (certainly plausible in this market) or a seller receiving a higher back-up offer and having remorse over having accepted a previous, lower offer. In either event, the non-repudiating party has a right to enforce the contract or sue for their damages. For instance, in the above hypothetical, the seller could re-list the property and, if the property sells for lower than the contract price with the original buyer, sue for the difference.

Affidavit of Title

An additional mechanism that is often helpful for a buyer (where the seller repudiates) is an affidavit of title. Pursuant to Ohio R.C. 5301.252, a person having an interest in real estate by virtue of a contract may assert his or her interests via an affidavit recorded in the real property records. This effectively encumbers the real estate such that most title companies will not close a transaction on the property while the affidavit is pending. In other words, it prevents the seller from being able to sell the property to someone else where you have a valid and enforceable contract to purchase that same property – it forces them to “deal with” you and your contractual interest in the property. Importantly, the affidavit of title has various technical requirements and, if containing any untrue statements, could serve as the basis for a slander of title claim. Therefore, it is important to consult with an experienced attorney before utilizing this mechanism to make sure that it is properly prepared and recorded.

If you would like to know more about your rights relative to a real estate contract, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We would be happy to meet with you and explore your options.

 

Today, the First District Court of Appeals for Ohio unanimously (on all counts) ruled in favor of Plaintiffs Andrew White and Vena Jones-Cox that the City of Cincinnati’s charges to property owners with alarm systems are an unconstitutional tax.  That decision is linked here.  They remanded the matter back to Common Pleas Judge Leslie Ghiz for determination of class certification, refund of illegally-collected fees, and other matters.  Judge Ghiz originally had ruled that fee was a constitutional assessment imposed by the City.

Attorneys for the Plaintiffs are Maurice Thompson of the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law and Christopher P. Finney of the Finney Law Firm.

You may contact Christopher P. Finney (513.943.6655) for more information.

 

Attorney and founder of Finney Law Firm, Chris Finney, on September 28, presented “Seven Deadly Sins of Commercial Real Estate” to  the Ohio Association of Realtors annual convention in Columbus, Ohio.  The course addressed the costly mistakes (some common, some not-so-common) made by real estate sellers, purchasers and lenders, including due diligence mistakes, regulatory swamps and paying unnecessary taxes.

We are proud that the proficiency, experience and reach of Finney Law Firm in real estate and real estate-based litigation is being recognized throughout the State.

Frequently we are asked by clients whether they are permitted to do “x” on their property: Move lot lines, build above a certain height, use a certain type of siding or trim or modify building setback lines. What rules govern these concerns?

The answer is: Both governmental restrictions and private contracts or covenants.

Let us explain.

Governmental restrictions

Zoning code, building code, fire code, subdivision regulations, engineer rules, and on and on and on, there a host of governmental regulations that dictate the use of, development of and construction on private property. And for each of these restrictions, there is a procedure for altering or “varying” the strict compliance with the restriction. These might include a board of zoning appeals, a board of building appeals,  or even an administrative appeal in Ohio Common Pleas Court or Kentucky Circuit Court.

So, once you jump through the hoops to get governmental approval, you are good to go, right?  Ummm, wrong.

Private covenants

For most modern subdivisions, commercial and residential, and for older ones going back decades, there are a series of private covenants against the land that many times mirror and then exceed the requirements in the governmental regulations. These covenants are recorded in the land records — in Ohio the County Recorder’s Office and in Kentucky in the County Clerk’s office. These covenants — whether the property owner is actually aware of them or not — are binding on each property owner in the subdivision as if the owner himself signed them. They are, in essence, a contract to which each subdivision property owner has expressly agreed.  These covenants may be in a textual document (many exceeding 50-100 pages) and they may be on a plat of subdivision as a graphically-drawn easement or restriction or text on the face of a plat.  Each have equal weight under the law. (Consider: did you understand as a property buyer that you were entering into 100-page contract and were bound to each provision thereof?)

Take for example building setbacks.  Zoning might require a minimum front yard of 25′, but the private covenants may require 50′. As to front entry garages, zoning may allow them, but private covenants may prohibit them.

Under private covenants, the “varying” or waiver could require unanimous approval of all lot owners, could require approval of the homeowners association board or an architectural committee thereof. Some covenants can be waived simply by a signature of the developer. The bottom line is that they are a matter of contract.  What the restrictions are and how they are waivered or varied is a question typically answered in the document itself.

Effect of governmental variance on private covenants (and vice versa)

So, as a property owner, once you go through the entire governmental variance process to allow a front entry garage or a smaller front yard setback, does that then solve the covenant problem?  Absolutely not. These two sets of restrictions each stand alone and must be modified or waived independently.

Similarly, if a property owner were to pursue a variance from requirements from a homeowners’ association, would that “fix” the violation of the governmental restriction? Still, no.

Thus, it will many times require two sets of approvals to get around a restriction that is in both the zoning code and the subdivision covenants.

Conclusion

For assistance with a zoning or covenant issue, please contact Jennings Kleeman (513.797.2858), Eli Krafte-Jacobs (513.797.2853) or Isaac Heintz (513.943.6654).

This firm and the firm of Markovits, Stock & DeMarco have undertaken a complex piece of real estate class action litigation against Build Realty, First Title, George Triantafillou and many others involving hundreds of victims. After many years and much discovery and motion work, the Motion for Class Certification has finally been fully briefed for Judge Douglas Cole. Many of our readers are following that litigation and check in for updates.

Attached are the following pleadings relating to that motion:

We would expect (but cannot assure) a decision on this motion sometime before the end of 2021 and then will advise prospective class members thereafter.  In the meantime, if you have questions, please contact attorney Chris Finney at 513.943.6655.

Sometimes a client comes to the Finney Law Firm concerned about their neighbor’s rights to an easement over their land leading to the question: who has the duty to maintain and repair the easement? A big concern for these clients is the cost of the maintenance and repair of the easement. These easements tend be associated with driveways and sewer lines. This blog post is designed provide some general background as to what easements are and address the cost concern for individuals in similar situations.

Background on easements

An easement is an interest that may burden another persons’ land. The interest entitles the owner of the easement to use the land in some limited way. The extent of that interest is determined by the process which creates the easement.

There are two kinds of easements, the easement appurtenant, and the easement in gross. The easement appurtenant deal with two pieces of land (e.g., two neighboring parcels) and tend to be conveyed with a sale of the land. The easement in gross deal with one piece of land (e.g., one parcel and another person’ right to use the one parcel) and tend to not be conveyed with a sale of the land.

This blog post deals with easements appurtenant.

Creation

An easement may be created by deed, prescription, or implication from the particular set of facts and circumstances. Likewise, some courts allow for an equitable easement, which is referred to as an easement by estoppel. The owner of the easement’s land is called the dominant estate. The dominant estate benefits from the easement. The burdened land is referend to as the servient estate.

Who maintains and repairs?

Generally, it is the duty of the dominant estate to maintain and repair the easement. Likewise, the dominant estate must make the necessary repairs to prevent the dominant estate from created an annoyance or nuisance to the servient estate.

That said, the servient estate can expressly undertake the duty to maintain and repair the easement. This may be done in many ways (e.g., through a maintenance agreement, a grant in a deed, or operation of law).

What if the servient estate also uses the easement?

The servient estate may also use the land on which the dominant estate enjoys an easement. However, that use must be in a way that is not contrary to the dominant estate’s limited use of the land. When an easement is used jointly by the dominant estate and the servient estate, the cost of maintenance and repair of such easement must be apportioned between the dominant estate and the servient estate, based on relative use.

Conclusion

So, if you have a similar situation to those clients that come to the Finney Law Firm concerned about their neighbor’s rights to an easement over their land and who bears the maintenance and repair costs, then it might be time to call the Finney Law Firm.

 

“A mortgage is a conveyance of property to secure the performance of some obligation, which is designed to come void upon due performance thereof.”[1] The Ohio Revised Code characterizes mortgages as “liens.”[2] Mortgage liens are only applicable to real property, as with the land and the buildings attached to it.

Mortgagors (the party granting the mortgage) tend to grant mortgages to secure payment of money from the mortgagee (the party granting a loan in consideration for the mortgage).[3] The instrument evidencing the debt secured by the mortgage is generally referred to as a “note.” However, mortgagors may grant mortgages to secure the performance of other obligations, like an environmental indemnification.

Notes and mortgages, as contracts, are negotiable by the parties to them. As such, notes and mortgages include all sorts of obligations and remedies. That said, there are three basic remedies that a mortgagee can pursue to enforce the note and mortgage.[4] Mortgages can pursue all three of the following remedies at the same time or separately.[5] However, in doing so, a mortgagee must keep in mind the different statute of limitations periods for each remedy.

(1) An action on the debt secured by the mortgage (the note).

When a mortgagee brings an action on the debt secured by the mortgage, the mortgagee is bringing an action for a personal judgment debt evidenced by the note against the mortgagor (or any other maker of the note, even if they did not sign the mortgage).[6]

In Ohio, written instruments, such as notes, have a six-year statute of limitations, running from the due date(s) or, if applicable, the date the debt is accelerated.[7] When the statute of limitations runs on the note, the mortgagee can still go after the mortgagor with a foreclosure action, as the statute of limitations on the mortgage is longer. The statute of limitations for the foreclosure does not run by virtue of the statute of limitations on the note running.[8]

(2) An action to foreclose on the mortgaged property.

When a mortgagee brings an action to foreclose on the mortgaged property, the mortgagee is attempting to secure the mortgagee’s conditional interest (conditional on mortgagor default) in the property.[9] If the mortgagee succeeds here, the mortgagee will have superior title to the property than that of the mortgagor.[10] The go-to remedy for mortgagees is that of an action to foreclose on the mortgaged property.[11]

In Ohio, foreclosure actions have an eight-year statute of limitations, running from the date that the breach occurred.[12] The statute of limitations for foreclosures was changed from fifteen years to eight years on September 28, 2012.[13] For breaches that occurred before September 28, 2012, the statute of limitations runs at the end of the fifteen-year period from the breach or September 27, 2020, whichever is earlier.[14]

(3) An action of ejectment against the occupier of the mortgaged property.[15]

When a mortgagee brings an action of ejectment against the occupier of the mortgaged property, the mortgagee is attempting to take possession of the property.[16] In doing this, the mortgagee is taking advantage of the mortgagee’s superior title to the property to that of the mortgagor. [17]

In Ohio, ejectment actions have a twenty-one-year statute of limitations, running from the date that the mortgage becomes due.[18]

The aforementioned information regarding the statute of limitations does not apply to the mortgage itself. A mortgage, that is unsatisfied or unreleased of record, remains in effect for twenty-one-years from the date of the mortgage or twenty-one-years from the date of the maturity date (if any), whichever is later.[19] This, however, deals more with the purchasing of encumbered property free from the prior mortgage, and the mortgagee’s ability to enforce a prior mortgage against purchaser.

If you, as a mortgagee, have a mortgagor in default and want to enforce the note, mortgage, or both, call the Finney Law Firm today!

[1] Barnets, Inc. v. Johnson, Case No. CA2004-02-005, 2005 Ohio App. LEXIS 703, *8 (Ohio App. 12th Dist. Feb. 22, 2005), citing Brown v. First Nat. Bank, 44 Ohio St. 269, 274 (1886).

[2] Barnets, at *8.

[3] Barnets. at *9.

[4] Barnets, at *9.

[5] Barnets, at *9.

[6] United States Bank Nat’l Ass’n v. O’Malley, 150 N.E.3d 532 (Ohio App. 8th Dist. Dec. 26, 2019).

[7] ORC Section 1303.16.

[8] O’Malley, at 532.

[9] O’Malley, at 532.

[10] Search Mgmt. L.L.C. v. Fillinger, 2020 Ohio App. LEXIS 1966, *1.

[11] Barnets, at *9.

[12] ORC Section 2305.06.

[13]Ohio Real Property Law and Practice § 19.10 (2020).

[14] Ohio Real Property Law and Practice § 19.10 (2020)

[15] Barnets, at *9.

[16] Fillinger, at *1.

[17] Fillinger, at *1.

[18] Cont’l W. Reserve v. Island Dev. Corp., 1997 Ohio App. LEXIS 962, *1.

[19] ORC Section 5301.30.