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 pay 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).

Ohio has a broad landlord/tenant statute, Ohio Revised Code Chapter 5321, that contains tenant protections that landlords throughout Ohio must follow.

But in addition to those procedures and protections, the City of Cincinnati has its own laws providing extra regulation of the landlord/tenant relationship. We have written about some of those here, including rental registration, late fee regulation, and security deposit regulation. As we address here, it also layers more regulation than set forth in the Ohio Revised Code Chapter 5313 for Land Installment Contracts.

Hamilton County alone has 49 cities, villages and townships. These laws apply only in the City’s 52 neighborhoods, and none of the areas outside of City limits.

Now Cincinnati has enacted one more landlord/tenant regulation: a “pay to stay” ordinance, similar to laws passed in Toledo and Dayton, that allows tenants facing eviction for non-payment of rent to assert that rent has been paid, or that rental assistance has been applied for, as an affirmative defense in any proceeding. Here are the details:

  • A tenant can cure his lease default and maintain a right to continued occupancy in property prior to the filing of an eviction action by paying the full amount of delinquent rent plus the statutorily-permitted late fee (see above). Typically, this would be after the provision of a statutory 3-day notice to vacate, but before the filing of the eviction action.
  • Additionally, a tenant can cure his lease default after the filing of an eviction action, but before a writ granting possession back to the landlord, by paying (a) back rent in full, (b) up to $125 in attorneys fees, and (c) the court costs of the eviction action.

For assistance in landlord/tenant matters, contact Julie Gugino at 513.943.5669.

 

Whether one agrees or disagrees with the Ohio Department of Education’s adoption of Critical Race Theory and the 1619 Project’s for implementation throughout Ohio’s school systems, we should all agree that an open and robust debate about that policy before public bodies is appropriate and required under the U.S. Constitution. But that’s not how the Ohio Board of Education sees things.

Once they hastily adopted the new policies, they then formally forbade speakers before them from criticizing their decision. The ODE allows public comment on all other topics, but specifically not these two.

So, last week, the Finney Law Firm filed suit against ODE challenging these restrictions on speech during the public comment section of Board meetings. Read that suit here.

The Board did not just quietly and unconstitutionally squelch in a public forum,  but they explained why they were privileged — indeed compelled — to trample on the Constitution in this instance:

  • “[O]ur board president has instituted a policy that prevents people from speaking to our group in reference to any of these issues about critical race theory, etc.…  I’m not sure why we have a filter on what we’re allowed to hear here, but we do.”
  • “I was really glad when [LAURA KOHLER] said we weren’t going to have those speeches anymore”
  • “I would just prefer that we not have a conversation about critical race theory, or 1619….”
  • “I don’t want to sit here again and listen to two months of people – they have their opinions….  This is not what I’m here for”
  • “I’m using race and I don’t feel ashamed about that”
  • That if such public comments or testimony were allowed then the meeting of the OHIO STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION “would not longer be a safe space for me”

I suppose if you are that delicate and thin-skinned, perhaps you should not sign up for the rough and tumble of public office. Just a thought.

Media coverage of this is below:

For inquiries on this story, contact Curt Hartman (513.379.2923) or Chris Finney (513.943.6655).

Tax bills in Hamilton County will be mailed on January 7 and are due February 1. Nonetheless, the County Auditor has sent out notices to homeowners in December as to the new valuation of properties that will appear on the January tax bills. Since the January 2021 tax bills represent the start of a new tax triennial, every property owner in Hamilton, Butler and Clermont Counties will get new valuations in those upcoming tax bills. As a result, our phones are starting to ring about help with property tax valuation reductions.

If you are thinking about challenging your property’s tax valuation, below are linked two blog entries with lots of information on the wisdom of taking such a path, and the detailed procedures for doing so. One of them has an instructional video on tax valuation reduction in Ohio.

Ohio and Kentucky property tax valuation challenges vexing in 2021

’tis the season for property tax valuation reduction (with How To video)

Contact Chris Finney (513-.943.6655) or Casey Taylor (513.943.5673) for information on how we can help get your property taxes reduced.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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/

Tonight, the Centers for Disease Control issued this proposed Order  that will prohibit most residential evictions nationwide. The Order is scheduled to take effect on September 4, 2020, this Friday, and last through the end of the year. 

Previous rulings by the federal government limiting evictions were limited to projects financed with special HUD loans, which were few and very large projects. In contrast, this ruling applies to almost all residential tenants in all States and US Territories (except American Samoa) with the following exceptions:

  1. Engaging in criminal activity while on the premises;
  2. Threatening the health or safety of other residents;
  3. Damaging or posing an immediate and significant risk of damage to property;
  4. Violating any applicable building code, health ordinance, or similar regulation relating to health and safety; or
  5. Violating any other contractual obligation, other than the timely payment of rent or similar housing-related payment (including non-payment or late payment of fees, penalties, or interest).

The Order also will not apply to residents who earn more than $99,000 individually or $198,000 if filing jointly.

In order to qualify for the protection, the resident must sign a CDC-prescribed form that says:

  • 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.

The Finney Law Firm sees this as a significant shift in the balance between landlords and tenants in fulfilling leasehold obligations through year’s end. It will cause economic hardship for many landlords, and could force many projects into default.

Contact Chris Finney (513-943-6655) for more details and to learn how we can help.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stephen E. Imm – recognized since 2010 in Commercial Litigation, since 2011 in Litigation and 2012 for Employment Law

Kevin J. Hopper – recognized since 2009 in Environmental Law and Water Law

About The Best Lawyers in America©

Recognition by Best Lawyers is based entirely on peer review. Our methodology is designed to capture, as accurately as possible, the consensus opinion of leading lawyers about the professional abilities of their colleagues within the same geographical area and legal practice area.

Best Lawyers employs a sophisticated, conscientious, rational, and transparent survey process designed to elicit meaningful and substantive evaluations of the quality of legal services. Our belief has always been that the quality of a peer review survey is directly related to the quality of the voters.

ABOUT FINNEY LAW FIRM

In 2014, led by Christopher P. Finney, seven bright, hard-working attorneys and a dedicated and talented staff, came together to form Finney Law Firm. Our team is committed to a unique practice of law that makes a positive difference for our clients by focusing on defining and then arriving at the best outcome for them. Finney Law Firm’s practice has extensive experience in the broad range of legal services that individuals and businesses may need:

  • Business formation and development
  • Residential and Commercial Real estate
  • Estate planning and administration
  • Commercial dispute resolution
  • Public interest law
  • Labor and employment law
  • Small Business Solutions Group
  • Bankruptcy
  • Personal Injury and Wrongful Death
  • Water Law
  • Affiliated Title Company – Ivy Pointe Title, LLC

We work relentlessly to add value for our clients by applying cutting edge legal strategies and utilizing highly productive technology. This approach allows us to keep pace with the changing demands of our clients’ own challenging personal and business environments. ~ Christopher P. Finney

Visit us at finneylawfirm.com