As we have grown, the vision of the Finney Law Firm is sharpening for our clients and the public: A broad array of services offered in one firm, each practice area delivered in a quality fashion.

At our core, we are a real estate firm, with experienced transactional attorneys, a title insurance company that insures residential and commercial titles, and commercial litigators who can address virtually every aspect of disputes relating to real estate: Eviction, foreclosure, title disputes, easement disputes, construction disputes and mechanics lien claims, as well as complex real estate litigation.

Beyond that, we offer quality estate planning and probate administration and our transactional team rounds our its services with corporate formation and development, including acquisitions, dispositions and financing.

Isaac T. Heintz, Kevin J. Hopper, and Eli Krafte-Jacobs, along with paralegals Tammy Wilson and Misty L. Winkler, and Richard P. Turner at the title company, lead our transitional team day in and day out.

Our litigators are well-known for our public interest practice — handing legislative and regulatory matters aggressively, confronting government officials who would illegally interfere with their life, their business and their fortune.  Three times we have ascended to the U.S. Supreme Court, and three times we won the relief we sought with 9-0 victories there.   We apply this same sophistication and vigor to commercial litigation, personal injury, wrongful death and medical malpractice matters.

Bradley M. Gibson, Stephen E. Imm, Julie M. Gugino, and Casey A. Taylor along with paralegal Brandy E. Fitch are our quality litigation team.

Finally, we are proud to recently have expanded our litigation services to include labor and employment law with experienced litigator Stephen Imm.

When a client asks “do you do that,” I am proud to respond “yes, and we do it well.  Let me introduce you to …..”

Let us know how we we can help with your business or personal opportunity or challenge.  It is with you in mind that we have assembled this team of quality practitioners.

We are excited to announce that Finney Law Firm attorneys Isaac T. Heintz and W.Z. “Dylan” Sizemore will present “Five Pillars of Success” to the Greater Cincinnati Home Builders Association on Wednesday, April 20th from 11:30 AM to 12:30 PM.

HBA members and non-members are invited, but non-members (“Future members”) must pay $25 to attend.

The seminar addresses the key steps that business owners should take in establishing and growing their businesses to maximize returns and minimize exposure to liabilities.  The presenters are knowledgeable and experienced business and real estate attorneys.

The Cincinnati Home Builders Association is a private organization of home builders and their vendors that is entrepreneurial and well-led.  They actively participate in civic matters of critical concern for the local economy and provide important educational opportunities for their members.  Finney Law Firm is proud to be a member.

A flyer with the details of the event is linked here. The location of the presentation is The Tile Shop, 3095 Disney Street Cincinnati, OH 45209.

Register online to attend this program. Reservations are required.




I recently was asked by a commercial real estate salesman desiring to refer to Ivy Pointe Title: “Who is your underwriter and what is the quality of their paper?”

Who is our underwriter?

We are proud to have been accepted as an agent for First American Title Insurance Co.  We write exclusively with First American as our title underwriter.

Who is First American?  

From their web site:

  • First American is the title insurance industry’s largest single brand name;
  • First American has been issuing title insurance for more than 120 years.

What are First American’s financial strength ratings?

  • Moody’s Investors Services: A3
  • AM Best: A Excellent
  • Fitch Ratings: A

Our firm obtains great support from the underwriting staff of First American and have a high degree of confidence in the coverage they provide to our clients and customers.



After 30 years as a real estate attorney, I thought I had seen everything: Bill Erpenbeck, mortgage fraud, short sale fraud, and the massive fraud perpetrated on America by Wall Street in the housing crisis.  Indeed, well before the mortgage crisis hit with full force, I authored a continuing education course entitled “Fraud” and taught it to thousands of Realtors, builders and lenders exposing rampant fraud in the residential and commercial real estate industry .

But still I was shocked in the past two years to be personally involved in two cases involving outright theft of real property right here in Hamilton County.  One of those cases is highlighted in the Cincinnati Enquirer here.

Background: The passive, unilateral nature of our property recording system

Assuming that the Hamilton County Commissioners’ abolition of registered land has been effective (read here), the land registration system is entirely passive from the County’s perspective in both Ohio and Kentucky.  This system of land record recordation is typical throughout the nation.  What this means is that by and large the government officials responsible for accepting documents for recording do just that — they accept what is presented to them, and then index them.  They do nothing at all to check their validity.

To transfer real property, one simply brings in for recordation a deed that is purportedly signed and acknowledged (notarized) by the current owner.  In Ohio, the Auditor will transfer the real estate on his records and “green light” the deed for recording by the Recorder.  The County Recorder simply time-stamps and records whatever original instruments are presented to him in proper form and with a property legal description.  In Kentucky, the County Clerk performs these same functions.

It is no one’s job at the Auditor’s office or Recorder’s office to verify signatures — or even to check that the notary public acknowledging the signature is licensed by the state.

The system is “passive” in that the offices receive the instruments for recording, and as long as their grantor information lines up with public records, they index and record the transfer on their records.

Just prepare and sign a deed transferring property into your name

So, the new scam I have seen is follows this pattern:

  1. The fraudster forms a limited liability company that he owns and controls.  Anyone can do this with an attorney, through LegalZoom.Com or even just by completing simple forms available from the Secretary of State of each state.  (NOTE: Each state requires each LLC to have a “statutory agent” to receive formal legal notices, but many states — including Ohio do not require the ownership of the LLC to be publicly identified.  Kentucky does require LLC ownership to be disclosed.)
  2. The criminal then finds a suitable real property — presumably one that has vacant and neglected for some time.
  3. Then, the fraudster prepares a deed transferring that property into the name of his new LLC.
  4. He signs that deed or finds someone to sign it, and has it acknowledged (notarized).
  5. The notary public is required by law to verify that the signer of the deed, but many simply do not.  Further, if the target property is in a corporate name, it is unusual for the notary to check that the signer has authority in fact to sign for the seller.  (NOTE: In the fraud referenced in the article linked above above, he himself acted as the notary, and signed someone else’s name to the deed in place of the actual owner.)
  6. That fraudster then markets the property for sale and quickly — for consideration — transfers the property to a new buyer, pocketing the cash and disappearing into the woods.

The system is further undermined because office supply and stationary shops will produce a notary seal for anyone — or for a fictional name — without checking if that person is in fact a registered notary public.  Thus, the signer and the notary public can be fictional on a deed.

Experienced real estate professionals are shocked this could happen

I have had the chance over the past year to tell the story before audiences of experienced Realtors of two separate frauds in Hamilton County in which I personally participated — once representing the actual owner whose property was “stolen” in this fashion and once representing the end buyer.  In each instance, the Realtors were shocked and dismayed that our land title registration system could be so easily gamed.  But it can and does happen.

How buyers can protect themselves

As we have explained here, when buying real property there are only two layers of protection for the buyer: (i) the Seller, who makes broad promises by means of a general warranty or limited warranty deed has continuing obligations to the owner under that deed to assure that title is “good,” and (ii) the coverage provided by an owner’s policy of title insurance.

Many sellers have “nothing to their name,” and thus the promises they make under warranty deeds could be worthless — and it is difficult for a buyer to ascertain whether a seller has the means to stand behind their promises.  Thus, when I sit at a closing table and hear a buyer tell me why they have no need for an owners’  policy of title insurance — or worse, for their Realtor to explain that it is worthless — I cringe.  I don’t want to argue to convince a buyer to purchase something that I am selling and profiting from, but at the same time  I do know there are risks the buyer is undertaking if he does not obtain that coverage.  The “theft of real property” described above is one of these risks that is difficult or impossible for the closing agent to detect, but one fully covered by title insurance.

The end of the stories

We mention two scenarios above where our clients were victims of property theft.  In the first instance, our client was the buyer — and he had purchased an owners’ policy of title insurance.  Thus, he was made whole by the underwriter as son as the real owner made a claim to title to the real estate.  In the second instance, our client was the owner at the time of the “theft.”  He instituted a “quiet title” action to recover record ownership of his property and won a default judgment against the wrongdoer, vesting title back in the rightful owner’s name.  That client elected not to pursue the tortfeasors — the thieves, the notary, the closing agent — any further to save time and money.


The moral to this story is twofold: (i) don’t kid yourselves, it is dangerous out there, and (ii) title insurance covers a multitude of “sins” when real estate title goes bad.

Let Finney Law Firm and Ivy Pointe Title, LLC help you avoid and insure over these risks of real estate investing.  Call Rick Turner of Ivy Pointe Title with any questions at 513-943-5660.

Tuesday of this week Finney Law Firm attorneys Isaac T. Heintz and W. Z. “Dylan” Sizemore present “5 Pillars of Success” for the Anderson Chamber of Commerce.

The course addresses the foundations of business success through carefully establishing and planning the success of your business with legal strategies in corporate law, real estate law and estate planning.

A video of the course will soon be available on line.

October 3 is the new launch date for the new residential closing regulations from the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (“CFPB”).  For the residential lending business, this means new waiting periods for closings, new forms, new technology, new reporting requirements, and new security procedures.

At Ivy Pointe Title, we have been preparing for this date for a long time, including educating ourselves, as well as Realtors and lenders with whom we work, on the new forms and procedures, adding new technology to meet the demanding requirements of the CFPB, and even changing our office layout to meet the demanding new requirements of the CFPB regulations.

One cautionary note we provide to our clients: As you are writing residential purchase contracts to close after late September, leave more time for the closing and be super-cautious about simultaneous closings where the seller sells one house, and tries to close on the purchase of a second house the same day.  The CFPB timing requirements may well foul up these otherwise well-laid plans.

We are ready to go on that launch date to continue to close your transactions — accurately and on time, every time.

We recently were consulted by a couple who had purchased three residential lots with lake frontage.  They intended to build a home that straddles all three lots, so clear title to all three is critical to their plans.

Unfortunately, when they went to the bank for a loan on the properties to build their dream home, they learned that title to two of the lots is impaired.

Before buying the two lots, they had the title checked, and they thought the attorney wrote to them with a title opinion on both.  As they checked their paperwork, they did have one title opinion letter, but it recited neither of the lots in question, but rather a lot they had sold.  

Thus, they were ready to start construction of their home, but were “stuck” either with bad title, or waiting for the title to be cleared.

How could this situation have been avoided?

  • First, they could have purchased an owners’ policy of title insurance;
  • Second they could have read the policy — to make sure it covered the right property and that it did not have unacceptable “exceptions” to coverage (that topic is addressed in this blog entry); and
  • Third, they could have dealt with experienced real estate attorneys from the outset.

This firm worked to assure that the attorney handling the closing will in fact “stand behind” his deficient legal work, but with proper legal work or title insurance coverage in place, they could be proceeding to build their dream house music sooner.

There are different types of deeds used in Ohio real estate transactions, providing buyers with differing levels of assurance of title quality from the seller and differing levels of liability, and potentially continuing liability, for the seller.

In Ohio, a seller can use a deed with specific language of conveyance either on a form pre-printed by a publishing house, or one crafted by his attorney. We refer to this as a “long form” of deed. In the case of a long-form of deed, because the language can differ from deed to deed, it is important to read the language of the deed, not just the title, to ascertain the warranties that accompany the deed. Also available in Ohio are statory “short forms” of deed (Ohio Revised Code Chapter 5302), which, if they use certain “magic words” as defined by statute, have the specific meanings ascribed to them in the statute (thus allowing for very short deeds and avoiding costly court battles about the meaning of deed language).

In Kentucky and Indiana, only long forms of deeds are available, meaning that reading the specific language of each deed is important.

Quit Claim Deed. A quit claim deed is just like it sounds – a grantor surrenders his claim to title to the grantee, whatever that quality of title may be.  Indeed, a seller can convey by quit claim deed even if he does not have title to the subject property.  Because the buyer is getting no assurance of title with such a deed, a quit claim deed is unusual in an arms length transaction. Quit claim deeds are frequently used to clear up title problems, where someone with a stray land interest can extinguish it by “quit claiming” to the otherwise rightful owner.

We have seen quit claim deeds used in commercial transactions. When used hand-in hand with an owner’s policy of title insurance, it can be acceptable for a buyer to have assurance of the quality of title. Essentially the title insurance underwriter takes the risk of title problems instead of the seller. There is a statutory form of quit claim deed in O.R.C. Section 5302.11.

Limited Warranty Deed (sometimes called Special Warranty Deed). A limited warranty deed, also sometimes known as a special warranty deed, is one in which the grantor warrants title to the grantee against encumbrances made by the grantor for those grantees claiming through the chain of title created by the grantor.

Thus, the grantor is not warrantying that he has good title, just that he has not impaired title during his ownership.  Again, if accepting such title, a buyer should have title insurance.

There is a statutory form in Ohio that provides that as long as the magic words “grants…with limited warranty covenants” are used, the scope of the deed is as set forth in O.R.C. Section 5202.07. Limited warranty covenants do survive through the chain of title, so a grantor could be responsible decades after a conveyance, to a subsequent grantee in the chain of title, for title defects.

General Warranty Deed. A general warranty deed is a broad promise from the grantor to the grantee that the grantor was the owner of the property, that the property is free from all encumbrances (except those excepted in the deed), that the grantor has the authority to convey the property, and that the grantor will defend against all claims from all persons. This is the most common form of deed for transactions in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, residential and commercial.

Sellers should be aware of the broad and perpetual liability they assume under a general warranty deed – to correct title problems and to pay an attorney to argue those issues for the buyer – with such a deed.  Sellers who would resist signing an indemnity provision in a contract or lease, frequently sign warranty deeds without any thought to their resulting continuing liability.

Similar to the Limited Warranty Deed, there is a statutory form for a general warranty deed in Ohio that provides that as long as the magic words “grants…with general warranty covenants” are used, the scope of the deed is as set forth in O.R.C. Section 5202.05.  Also, general warranty covenants do survive through the chain of title, so a grantor could be responsible decades after a conveyance, to a subsequent grantee in the chain of title, for title defects.

Fiduciary Deed. These deeds are most frequently used when the seller is acting in a fiduciary capacity, such as the executor or administrator of an estate or the trustee of a trust.   In the long form of a deed, the warranty covenants must be fleshed out (i.e., it is language specific to that deed), but the Ohio statutory short forms (O.R.C. Section 5302.09 and 5302.10) provide that fiduciary covenants cover only the authority of the fiduciary to convey (i.e., that he is duly appointed, qualified and acting within the scope of his appointed authority and authorized to make the sale in such capacity).  A statutory short form of fiduciary deed is otherwise a quit claim deed, and as should be used only in conjunction with a title insurance policy issued to the grantee.

For both buyers and sellers, careful consideration should be given to the type of deed called for in the contract and used at the closing, as it will affect their rights and responsibilities when a title problem arises.  This also impacts the circumstances under which it is more compelling for a buyer to obtain an owner’s policy of title insurance at the closing.

The most popular question this week at our seminar on Ohio Condominium law was:

What’s the difference between a condominium and a landominium under Ohio law?

Well, we hate to give such a lawyerly answer, but the question requires it.

We are taught to think of rights in real estate as a bundle of straws with an infinite number of straws in it.  One straw might be the right to possession for a year, another straw might be the mineral rights under the property, another straw might be the right to occupy in common certain areas of the property, such as a shared easement.  The owner of property has the right to parcel out these rights contractually as he sees fit.

Ohio law does not define a landominium, and a developer signing a declaration “dividing up” these property rights can thus largely on his own determine the contractual rights and obligations under the landominium documents, such as what are common areas, what areas the association maintains, voting rights of owners, etc.  Acccordingly, a landominium is largely whatever a developer says it is.  And it will be different project -to-project.

In some degree of contrast, Ohio law does define a condominium.  And a declaration dividing up those property rights in a condominium has some minimum contents under the Ohio condominium statute.  For example, all condominium property is divided between “unit” and “common areas,” and “common areas” are divided between “general common areas” and “limited common areas,” i.e., limited in use to fewer than all unit owners.

But, again, the creation of a condominium is largely a creature of contract, not statute.  So, within the minimum constraints of the condominium statute, the developer largely decides what the declaration will contain and how to allocate the rights among the unit owners.

So, in short, to be a “condominium” under Ohio law the declaration must contain the minimum requirements of the statute, and a “landominium” is whatever the developer says it is.

This week, Christopher Finney will be teaching two courses to Cincinnati-area Realtors:

1)  On Wednesday, Mr. Finney will teach “Core Law” to the Cincinnati Area Board of Realtors from 9 to noon.  The course will cover, among other things, the new form contract of the Cincinnati Board of Realtors, new residential loan and closing forms required starting this summer, laws allowing for electronic signatures and new rules for registering clandestine drug labs.

2) On Thursday, Mr. Finney will teach a course on Ohio Condominium Law for the Comey & Shepherd, Realtors from 1 to 4 PM.

If your company or group wants a presentation on a matter of Ohio real estate law, Mr. Finney is glad to cooperate.