What Are the Most Common Causes of Construction Disputes?

In Maryland, the construction process is largely smooth. However, there can be problems even with the most well-organized construction projects. Many parties are involved in construction projects, ranging from contractors and subcontractors to property owners. With so many parties involved, the circumstances are ripe for disagreements.

In addition, a substantial amount of money is involved in new construction as well as remodeling projects. Disputes commonly occur in construction projects due to the large sums of money involved, and the complexity of new builds and remodeling work.

Common Disputes in Construction Projects

There are various reasons due to which construction disputes arise. But there are some commonly occurring disputes that arise during ongoing construction projects. The following are some of the most common reasons for construction disputes:

Disputes over Contract Terms

The reasons for a conflict over the contract terms may be unique in every case. For instance, conflicts over insurance agreements can be a reason for contention. One of the parties involved in the project may feel that they deserve some compensation while the other party or the insurer may disagree.

Contract disputes can also manifest themselves from disagreements on each party’s scope of work. This is one reason why a proper understanding needs to occur before the project begins. Moreover, one party may feel that the assigned tasks are not a part of their job description and demand higher pay for the completion of these tasks.

Disputes over Construction Quality

It is a judicious idea to develop a detailed contract that explains precisely what the construction work will involve. However, conflicts commonly occur on whether a contractor provided an acceptable standard of workmanship.

If developers and property owners do not find the work provided by a contractor or subcontractor to be of an appropriate standard, they can sue those who completed the sub-standard work. A contractor may also file a lawsuit if a customer refuses to pay for work they believe to be substandard.

Disputes over Materials Used

This source of conflict is related to disputes on construction quality. A comprehensive construction contract can help mitigate the risk of the occurrence of such disputes. But if a contractor does not use the materials enlisted in a contract and instead, uses lower quality material or any material unacceptable to the property owner, it can give rise to conflicts.

Disputes over Delays in Construction and Timelines

Often, construction work takes much longer than expected. A property owner or developer could file a lawsuit if a contractor or subcontractor does not deliver work by mutually agreed-upon deadlines specified in the contract. Even in the absence of specific deadlines in a construction contract, the work should be performed in a timely and effective manner.

Disputes over Construction Project Abandonment

Sometimes a property owner may feel that a contractor has abandoned the project prior to completion, which often leaves the owner suing to recover money paid for unfinished work and left in a position where substantial additional funds need to be paid for the work to be completed as required.

Disputes over Nonpayment

At times, a contractor or subcontractor delivers satisfactory work using good quality materials, but the property owner does not pay as agreed upon. In these situations, contractors can sue the property owner for nonpayment. Another way for contractors to get a property owner to pay is through Mechanics’ liens. The contractor could place a lien on the owner’s property until the unpaid amount is not cleared in full.

Before starting any commercial or residential construction, it is vital to have a comprehensive construction contract in place. In addition, if you feel you have a problem on hand, you should promptly consult an experienced construction dispute lawyer.

Reasons for Construction Conflicts by Clients

  • The mentality to get the lowest price when hiring a contractor
  • Inadequate management supervision
  • Failure to respond on time
  • Contract document discrepancies
  • Poor communication
  • Failure to engage a project manager

Reasons for Construction Conflicts by Contractors

  • Poor understanding and lack of agreement in contract procurement
  • Delays in execution of work
  • Failure to comprehend and appropriately bid or price the works
  • Improper CPM scheduling and update frequency
  • Inability to plan and execute changes of works
  • Being reluctant in seeking clarification

Reasons for Construction Conflicts by the Consultants

  • Increase in costs due to over design
  • Failing to understand its scope of responsibilities under the design team contract
  • Changes due to design errors
  • Incomplete drawing and specification
  • Design and specification inaccuracy and mistakes or omissions from specialists

Legal Help from an Experienced Construction Disputes Lawyer in Maryland

At Evans Law, our Maryland construction disputes lawyers offer solid legal guidance on conflict resolution to property owners, contractors, subcontractors, and developers, among others.

In order to save money and resolve your construction-related problems as soon as possible, our skilled and knowledgeable attorneys can help you identify the most effective techniques to settle the disputes that have arisen. To learn more and speak to an experienced construction dispute attorney, call today at (410) 626-6009.

Three Issues to Consider Before Listing Your Home for Sale

Finding the right buyer for your home is not an easy task. It requires a lot of time, planning, and effort on your part. The good news is that residential properties all over the country have increased in value since the Great Recession. So, the effort you put in can help you earn a decent profit.

Let us take a look at three of the key issues you need to consider before listing your home for sale:

1. Price

This is the first and possibly the most important factor you need to consider before listing your home for sale in Maryland. A lot of homeowners tend to have unrealistic opinions about their property’s value and end up pricing it too high. This is one of the reasons why some houses tend to stay on the market for a long time without an offer.

In order to avoid pricing your property out of the reach of potential buyers, you need to do a lot of research. Here is what you can do to make sure your property is competitively priced:

  • Make a note of the selling price of all the recently sold homes in your neighborhood. These homes should be comparable to yours in terms of their size, amenities, and features.
  • Find out how long it takes on average to sell a home in your neighborhood.
  • Find out the difference between the listing price and the sold price for homes that are similar to yours.

If you are not able to set the right price for your property based on the aforementioned details, it is a good idea to get it professionally appraised. Generally, it is a good to set your asking price 5% to 10% higher than the going rate for comparable homes in your neighborhood, so that you can have some room for negotiation with potential buyers.

2. Curb Appeal

Studies show that most buyers decide whether or not they are interested in buying a home within 10 seconds. This is why it is extremely important for you to put some effort into improving your home’s curb appeal.

Here is what you can do to make sure your home looks appealing to potential buyers:

  • Clean, clean, and clean. Your home should look, feel, and smell clean.
  • De-clutter and get rid of all the unwanted space fillers from your home so that it looks spacious to the buyer.
  • De-personalize your home by removing all your personal items, pictures, and collectibles. It will make it easier for the buyer to visualize living in your home with their family.
  • Fix loose or broken handles, repaint the doors, windows, and walls, clean your pool, and place some potted plants and other natural elements to your front yard.

You should be careful not to spend too much money on improving your home’s curb appeal. If you do, you might have to increase the asking price accordingly, as a result of which you might price yourself out of the radar of potential buyers. So, make sure to spend money only on things that are likely to yield a positive return on your investment (ROI).

3. Disclosure or Disclaimer

As a Maryland resident, this is something you need to decide before listing your home for sale. When selling your home, you are legally required to disclose the defects in your home to the buyer. The amount of information you are required to disclose depends on whether you choose the disclaimer option or the disclosure option.

If you opt for the disclaimer option, you can sell your home on an ‘as is’ basis, disclose the latent defects (defects that might not be spotted by the buyer during an inspection), and provide a disclaimer stating that you do not make any warranties regarding the condition of your home.

If you opt for the disclosure option, you need to fill out a detailed questionnaire, in which you have to answer a number of questions about all the possible defects in your home.

The disclaimer option can reduce your risk of liability (the buyer suing you for not disclosing certain defects in your home) significantly. On the other hand, it can prompt the buyer to negotiate for a lower price, since they have no idea how much they have to spend on repairs and renovations.

With the disclosure option, the risk of liability is slightly higher, since you have the responsibility to disclose all the material defects in your home to the buyer. It can, however, help you sell your home for a higher price, since the buyer is likely to feel more secure about the purchase.

Experienced Real Estate Lawyers in Maryland

If you are planning to sell a home in Maryland, the attorneys at the Law Offices of Matthew S. Evans III can help you. We can evaluate the offers made by potential buyers, advise you on what to disclose and what not to disclose to the buyer, review all contracts and documents to be signed, and guide you through the closing process.

You can contact our firm at (410) 626-6009 for a free consultation with our attorneys. 

What Happens When Home Sellers Fail to Disclose Defects in Maryland?

When you sell a real estate property in Maryland, you are required by law to make certain disclosures about its physical condition to the buyer. There are statutes in place which require you to disclose what are called ‘latent defects’ to the buyer. Failing to do so can open you up to lawsuits from the buyer later on.

Real Estate Disclosure Laws in Maryland

When it comes to selling a real estate property in Maryland, you generally have two choices:

  1. You can choose to sell your property on an ‘as-is’ basis and file a disclaimer stating that you do not make any representations or warranties with respect to its condition.     
  2. You can choose to disclose the defects in your property to the buyer by filling out a questionnaire.

Choosing the Disclaimer Option

The most important thing you need to know about the disclaimer option is that it does not allow you to sell a home without disclosing any details to the buyer. Section 10-702 of Maryland’s Real Property Article states that a seller must disclose the latent defects in their property to the buyer.

Latent defects, in this context, refer to the kind of defects that the buyer might not be able to spot during an inspection. For example, if there is a problem with your roof and if the contractor tells you that it needs extensive repairs or if it needs to be replaced altogether, you are required to disclose it to the buyer, even if you file a disclaimer. Failing to do so is not only a breach of your duty as the seller, it is also against the law.

Choosing the Disclosure Option

If you choose the disclosure option, you need to fill out a form which contains a variety of different questions about your property – structural defects, repairs done in the past, presence of hazardous materials, presence of pest infestations, zoning and building code violations, and many more. All you need to do is answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

The form has a pretty extensive list of questions, which is likely to cover all the possible defects in your property. If there are any defects in your property that are not covered under the questions, you can add your own comments as well.

Under What Circumstances Can the Buyer Sue You?

The buyer might be able to hold you liable for the defects in the property under the following circumstances:

  • If you rate a particular feature in your property as being in a much better condition than it actually is, and if it breaks down soon after the buyer moves in
  • If you fail to mention a latent defect, despite being aware of it
  • If you deliberately misrepresent, withhold information, or outright lie about a material defect in your property

In the aforementioned scenarios, the buyer can accuse you of not disclosing the defects in your property, file a lawsuit against you, and seek damages to cover the cost of repairs and replacements.

It should be noted that you can be held liable only for defects that you knew of or should have known about at the time of selling the property. You are not expected to be aware of and disclose every minor or unknown defect in your property.

The buyer might be able to recover damages from you only if the defects you failed to disclose are serious and/or pose a threat to the health and wellbeing to the buyer and their family.

For example, if there is a major problem with your HVAC system and if it needs to be replaced entirely, you should definitely inform the buyer of the same – even if you file a disclaimer – since it is the kind of defect that can influence the buyer’s decision.

Upon being told about the defect, the buyer might ask you to fix it as part of the contingencies that need to be fulfilled before the closing or ask you to lower the price. So, failing to disclose such a defect might result in financial losses to the buyer, in which case they might be able to take legal action against you and seek damages.

Real Estate Lawyers in Maryland

The real estate attorneys at the Law Offices of Matthew S. Evans III LLC are well versed with the federal, state, and local regulations regarding real estate transactions.

If you are planning to sell a property, we can tell you what you need to and need not disclose to the buyer, review all the documents related to the transaction, and oversee the whole process to make sure that your rights and interests as a seller are protected.

You can contact our real estate attorneys at (410) 626-6009 for a free consultation. 

What You Need to Know About Zoning Appeals in MD

Real estate development and construction activity is vital to the economy of Maryland, and well-organized development in conformance to the local laws benefits the residents at an individual as well as a community level.

Every land parcel in Maryland is governed by zoning regulations, which help determine what the property can be used for as well as the construction siting on the property.

In the cities across Maryland, zoning maps are used to assign a zoning category to every land parcel in the city. And zoning codes are used to define the type of land use that is legally permissible within each category.

Need for Zoning Appeals

When the property zoning code permits the type of land use and layout that a property owner is seeking, the owner usually has a legal right to go ahead with obtaining the necessary construction permits in order to build the project. The owner can proceed with the construction activity in such cases despite any opposition from the neighbors. (However, a few exceptions may apply, such as historical building designation and environmental restrictions.)

In a situation where the zoning code does not permit the type of land use development that the property owner is seeking, a zoning appeal will be required. This will involve a public hearing before the Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals. (This is the legal body with the authority to decide whether the land use and layout can be allowed.)

Any individual or organization can put forward their viewpoint at this public hearing, and anyone who has a direct concern with the situation should use this opportunity to speak up.

What Steps are Involved in Zoning Appeals in MD?

The following steps can help you raise your concerns in the most effective manner at a hearing in front of the Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals. However, remember that every individual situation is unique with its own challenges. Therefore, these steps may have to be modified to suit the requirements of your specific situation.

  1. Determine the property’s zoning code and go through the code carefully to see whether the desired land use and layout is allowed.
  2. Determine what type of action is required, such as a relaxation in the regulations because of the property’s specific physical attributes, or a condition land use.
  3. Determine on what date a hearing related to your type of application will be held, and what is the timeline for submitted written comments. If posting of a notice on the property is required, make sure to satisfy this requirement.
  4. Go through the procedural rules with regard to Zoning Appeals. Make a list of the particular items that you want the Zoning Appeals Board to consider.
  5. Keep a copy of all the details you submit to the Board, including all written information and drawings.
  6. If you have hired the services of an attorney, discuss your goals and concerns with them. They will advise you on what are the best possible solutions.
  7. If you are able to reach an agreement with another involved party, make sure the agreement is prepared in writing and reviewed by your attorney before you sign it. Include this agreement copy in the application file.
  8. In absence of an agreement, be prepared to attend the City Hall public hearing. Discuss with your attorney to acquire a complete understanding of the hearing requirements and procedures. Where possible, have a group of community members or neighbors that share your concerns. Focus on the facts and follow the procedures that the Board has outlined while you make your presentation.
  9. When possible, carry documentation and photographs to back your concerns, and submit a copy of your testimony in writing for the record.
  10. When a Council member is in agreement with your stated position, you may request them to testify before the Board.
  11. If you do not succeed in getting the desired outcome at the hearing before the Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals, you might have an option to file a fresh appeal in the Circuit Court. Discuss with your attorney if you intend to appeal the decision of the Board.

Consult a Maryland Attorney with Expertise in Zoning and Planning Matters

At the Evans Law, we have extensive experience and in-depth knowledge of local land use and zoning laws, and we can provide strong legal representation to help you accomplish your goals.

Our experienced lawyers will provide you the right legal advice and support to obtain favorable outcomes in any transactions or disputes related to zoning and land development in Maryland and Washington D.C. To learn more, message us online or call us at 410-431-2599 for a consultation.

What is Normal Wear & Tear on a Rental Property and When Can a Security Deposit be Withheld?

Renting has been an increasingly preferred housing option in recent years. Part of this is due to the Great Recession of the late 2000s, when so many homeowners were stung by the collapse in the housing market. As a result, many homes ended up in foreclosure, forcing large numbers of consumers to rent. 

The trend toward renting is also partially a generational preference. Recent data from the Pew Research Center shows that nearly 75% of millennials were renting as of 2016. This percentage is significantly higher than previous generations who were surveyed at the same point in their lives.

Renting certainly has some advantages, and much of its appeal centers around the freedom renters have to move when they want, and not having to deal with the headaches of maintaining a property. But someone else does have to worry about making repairs and keeping the property maintained; the landlord. And this is where landlords and tenants often have a disagreement.

When a tenant moves out, the landlord has to clean the property and make any necessary repairs in order to get the unit ready for the next tenant. And this often brings up the question, “what is considered normal wear and tear, and when can I withhold a security deposit to pay for damage a tenant caused?”

What is Normal Wear and Tear?

The owner of a rental property has to expect that there will be “ordinary wear and tear” to the property over time. This is simply the cost of doing business, and it must be accounted for. In other words, a landlord should expect that the carpet will be worn down and the walls will have nicks and scratches over time. This will eventually necessitate replacing the carpeting and repainting the walls.

According to the Maryland Attorney General’s website, “there are no hard and fast rules (regarding “damage” vs normal wear and tear) that fit every situation.” Much of it, they say, is based on common sense. For example, if a tenant left a small hole in the wall from a picture that was hung, that would be ordinary wear and tear. On the other hand, if someone got angry and punched a large hole in the wall that requires a plaster or drywall repair, that would be considered excessive tenant damage.

Essentially, normal wear and tear can be defined as the deterioration of a property that happens over time and under normal conditions. “Normal” being defined as people living in the unit (if the landlord is renting it out and making money from it).

Some common examples of ordinary wear and tear may include:

  • Minor chips, dents, scratches, smudges, cracks, and holes in the walls;
  • Carpeting that is worn thin by normal use, particularly in higher traffic areas of the rental;
  • Faded paint;
  • Slightly torn or faded wallpaper;
  • Moderately dirty or faded lamps, window shades, curtains, or blinds;
  • Dirty grout surrounding the floor tiles;
  • Scratches in hardwood floors or fading in hardwood floors due to sunlight;
  • Appliances that are malfunctioning due to normal use or defective equipment;
  • Sinks and drains that become clogged because of aging pipes.

When can a Security Deposit be Withheld in Maryland?

Landlords in Maryland are allowed to collect a security deposit equivalent to up to two months rent. When tenants move in, they have the right to request a written list of existing damages (to the rental) if they do so within 15 days of taking occupancy. The security deposit must be put into an escrow account, and if it is $50.00 or more, the landlord must pay interest on the deposit.

The landlord is required to return the deposit plus interest accrued within 45 days of the tenant moving out. Failure to do so without good reason can make the landlord liable for up to three times the amount withheld plus reasonable attorney fees.

In general, there are three instances in which a landlord can withhold part or all of a security deposit in Maryland:

  • Unpaid rent;
  • Losses the landlord incurs when a lease is broken (e.g., re-renting the property);
  • Excessive tenant damage (that goes beyond normal wear and tear).

When a landlord withholds a security deposit, they must send a written list of damages along with a statement of the costs incurred to repair the damage to the tenant by first-class mail within 45 days of the tenant moving out. If the landlord does not send an itemized list within the allotted time frame, they forfeit the right to withhold the security deposit.

Involved in a Landlord-Tenant Dispute in Maryland? Contact an Experienced Real Estate Attorney

Disagreements over normal wear and tear vs. excessive tenant damage, withholding security deposits, and other types of landlord-tenant disputes can get messy. And if you do not follow the proper procedures in dealing with these disputes, you can end up in legal hot water. If you have any type of issue related to real estate law in Maryland, the Law Offices of Matthew S Evans, LLC is here to help! Contact our office today at 410-431-2599 or message us through our online contact form to schedule a personalized consultation.

How do Short Rentals Impact Condo Owners Associations?

Short-term renting is not an entirely new concept for homeowners and owners of townhomes and condominiums. In the past, owners have rented their dwellings on a short-term basis for special events in their city (such as the Super Bowl or the Final Four), or during certain times of the year (such as hunting season). Owners in heavy vacation spots such as Hawaii and numerous coastal towns in the continental U.S. have also done short-term rentals for a long time. This used to be done by placing an ad in a local newspaper or more recently, placing an ad on a website such as Craigslist.

The “sharing economy” has resulted in a vast increase in short-term rentals throughout the country and worldwide. Home-sharing websites such as Airbnb, HomeAway, and VRBO have made it easier than ever for owners to rent out their dwelling for a few days or a week or more at a time. These websites provide home and condo owners with the opportunity to earn extra money from short-term rentals, and they provide travelers with more options and often allow them to find a lower rental rate than what they would pay at a local hotel.

While short-term rentals can be lucrative for owners, they present several unique challenges and concerns for homeowner’s and condo owner’s associations. These include:

  • Usage of Common Living Space: Airbnb renters and other short-term tenants have access to the common areas within a community; such as hallways, elevators, lobbies, parking lots, gymnasiums, pools, playgrounds, and picnic areas. These tenants may not be familiar with the association’s rules and regulations in common areas, and since they are only going to be there for a short time, there is great potential for misuse and resulting damage.
  • Noise and Pollution: Travelers who are on vacation tend to stay up late, play the music too loud, smoke, and engage in illicit activities. While the HOA bylaws may impose fines for many of these activities, the short-term tenants may not be concerned about that since they will be gone soon.
  • Liability for Injuries: Another major concern is what happens if a short-term tenant gets hurt in one of the common areas of the property. This could expose the HOA to liability if these types of injuries are not covered by their insurance.

Short-Term Rentals and FHA Certification for Condo Associations

Condominium communities are eligible for FHA (Federal Housing Administration) certification if they consist of two or more units. FHA certification allows condos within the community to qualify for FHA-backed loans. Since roughly 60% of new home buyers use FHA financing, having FHA certification can be beneficial to condo associations by vastly increasing the pool of prospective buyers, thus enhancing the value of the units. FHA rules state that if a condo association allows short-term rentals of 30 days or less, they are ineligible for FHA-certification. This is another good reason for associations to consider prohibiting this practice.

How Should Condo Owners Associations Manage their Owners’ Ability to do Short-Term Rentals?

Many homeowner and condo owner associations do not have any explicit language in their bylaws addressing short-term rentals. This is especially true if they are not located in a popular vacation spot. These days, every association needs to address this issue regardless of where they are located. The first step should be to have a board and/or community meeting to decide if the owners want to allow or prohibit Airbnb and other short-term rentals.

After weighing the pros and cons of each side, many associations will likely decide that it is best for the community to prohibit short-term rentals. Once this is decided, they should consult their attorney to have explicit language to this effect added to the association’s rules and regulations.

To ensure that they continue to qualify for FHA certification (this is an ongoing process as they need to be re-certified every two years), it is important to state that rentals of any units must be for a period of at least 30 days. The board or community may wish to go further and extend this period to 60 days or even a full year.

If the association determines through a majority opinion of the board and/or owners that it is in the best interests of the community to allow short-term rentals, associations should work closely with a qualified attorney to create bylaws that address the specific areas of concerns around having short-term guests to ensure that owners and long-term tenants who reside there are safe and protected, and that the association is shielded from liability exposure.

Enforcing a Ban on Airbnb and other Short-Term Rentals

It is one thing to prohibit short-term rentals in condo association bylaws, it is quite another to enforce this prohibition and ensure that residents comply. Some condo owners may try to get away with it thinking that the extra money they can earn is worth the risk, and that they are not likely to get caught. There are a few ways condo associations can deal with this:

Restricting the Number of Units an Individual Can Own

Since many owners who rent units on Airbnb and other sites purchase multiple units in the same community, one possible way to deter (or at least limit) this activity is to prohibit the ownership of multiple units. The association may also reserve the right to deny ownership to prospective buyers if they have used short-term rental sites in the past.

Levying Heavy Fines and Penalties for Violations

The association needs to make the penalties for violations harsh enough to deter owners from trying to get away with a short-term rental. This can be done with heavy fines. However, fines can take time to collect, and they may require the association to take the owner to court to obtain a judgment and use various means to enforce the judgment. Another penalty that might be effective in combination with a fine would be to restrict the use of common areas, such as the pool or the workout facility.

Monitoring Short-Term Rental Sites for Listings within the Community

The association can monitor sites like Airbnb for any prohibited listings from owners in the community. They can do this themselves if they have the manpower, or they can hire an outside service to do it for them. If they run across a prohibited listing, there are two actions they can take:

  • Have the association’s attorney send a “cease and desist” notice to the owner who is in violation.
  • Contact the website where the rental is listed to let them know that the rental listed by the owner is in violation of association rules and thus, it is in violation of the terms and conditions of the site.

How to Sell Your Home

Are you thinking about selling your own home? It’s not uncommon for home sellers to question whether it’s a good idea to sell a home on their own versus hiring a real estate agent to manage the process. Your results may vary. Real estate markets fluctuate, and you might live in an area or own a home that is in high demand.

Selling a home can be a stressful and complex process. If you are unfamiliar with the real estate market and even the lingo used, you may not know where to begin. There are pros and cons to choosing either path to selling a home, but there is also a middle of the road solution that can help protect your rights.

Do You Need a Real Estate Agent to Sell Your Home?

First, there is no requirement by law that you must have a real estate agent to sell or buy a home in Maryland. There are pros and cons to signing a contract with an agent. The biggest benefit is that you will receive the expertise of a real estate professional, including access to the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), which can give your home more exposure.

The downside to using a real estate agent is that you are going to pay your agent a significant percentage of the sales price (about 5%-7%) at the closing. So, if your home sells for $350,000, your agent fee could be as high as $24,500. For this reason alone, many homebuyers are now opting to sell their homes themselves and enlist the services of a real estate attorney.

How to Sell Your Home by Yourself

If you plan to sell your home without a real estate agent, this is called For Sale by Owner (FSBO). Depending on your market and the features of your home, this might be more work than you’re willing to take on or it could be a fun challenge. Some of the tasks that you’ll need to handle include:

  • Studying the local market and values of comparable homes
  • Determining an appropriate listing price for your home
  • Deciding what you will repair and improve (if anything) in advance of listing your home for sale
  • Creating presentation and advertising materials to market your home
  • Completing the appropriate disclosure documents for the home
  • Placing ads online or in the local newspaper to attract buyers
  • Arranging for interested parties to visit and view your home
  • Answering questions of potential visitors and their real estate agents
  • Potentially scheduling and holding one or more open houses
  • Receiving, considering, and negotiating offers
  • Navigating any issues that lead up to closing

A Real Estate Attorney’s Role in Selling Your Home

The above list seems like a lot of work – and it is! While most of this will need to be handled by the seller if they are not using an agent, an experienced real estate attorney can provide some valuable services along the way as well as prevent future problems.

Ideally, you will speak with a real estate attorney at the start of this process, since selling a home involves a series of legal forms and agreements. Your real estate attorney can assist with several vital tasks, including:

  • Review your home disclosure forms
  • Prepare and review all legal documents, including the Agreement of Purchase and Sale
  • Negotiate the terms and conditions associated with the sale to safeguard your interests
  • Prepare the deed for your home
  • Check that the buyer has secured title insurance
  • Deal with any special issues that arise between contract and closing
  • Ensure all legal requirements are met for a successful closing
  • Prepare the statement of financial adjustments
  • Represent your interests at closing

Speak with a Qualified Maryland Real Estate Attorney

In a seller’s market, it might make sense to sell your own home, but there is still a lot of work involved. Even if you have a real estate working for you, there may be some legal issues that you’d like reviewed. In both cases, an experienced Maryland real estate attorney can be an invaluable resource.

The Evans Law is a full-service real estate firm that can help you with all of your real estate needs. Contact our Annapolis office now at 410-626-6009 or reach us online to schedule a consultation.

 

Warning Signs as Contractor Fraud is on the Rise

Most contractors working in the construction industry are highly skilled and knowledgeable about operating a legitimate business. However, there are instances when contractors have the single intention of defrauding customers and clients out of vast sums of money without completing any work. Contractors who are not properly licensed and bonded put the construction industry at great risk, even for the companies that consistently perform the work they promise to residential or commercial customers. Recent increases in the number of contractor frauds have some concerned that the efforts of consumer and business watchdog agencies are insufficient in thwarting contractor scams.

A highly publicized case of contractor fraud highlights the influence nefarious actors in the industry have on legitimate businesses. The DC-based residential contractor was accused and ultimately found guilty of defrauding customers by misrepresenting his skill level and promising work that he had no intention of completing. Several homeowners were left with a construction nightmare, above and beyond the money spent on the fraudulent contractor. As a construction company operating legally and in customers’ best interests, it is important to recognize the warning signs fraudulent contractors give off.

Recognizing Common Fraud Types

First, the construction business gives way to many opportunities for fraud because of the numerous parties involved in each project completion. Even though it may seem like an impossible challenge to maintain a watchful eye on contractors, particularly on large projects, construction managers and business owners can start by recognizing the most common types of fraud in the business. These include:

  • Theft of equipment, materials, and business or personal items
  • Abuse of company equipment, most commonly in the form of personal use on company time
  • False billing to outside vendors and suppliers for materials, labor, or personal items
  • Bid-rigging and corruption such as bribery, kickbacks, or quid pro quo arrangements

Each of these common fraud types has the potential to increase the total operating cost of the business exponentially, even if they take place for a short period.

Establishing Internal Controls

In an effort to stop fraud among contractors before it starts, construction companies can and should establish internal controls that reduce their risk. These may include divvying up financial responsibilities among external and internal parties as it relates to paying vendors and suppliers, or subcontractors. Additionally, having a reliable system to track and compare bids and actual costs for projects and materials is necessary in keeping fraud at bay. Double- and triple-checking invoices, timesheets, and credit card statements internally help eliminate the potential for fraud from start to finish on each project.

Safeguard the Business

While understanding common fraud types and creating a system of internal controls benefit the construction business overall, it can be difficult to eliminate fraud among contractors completely. This is because most contractors have a work history of at least one year before they cross the line into fraud. They may have strong references, a reputable work history, or a trustworthy demeanor. Even when these seemingly positive traits exist, construction managers and business owners must be diligent about protecting the business. Always take the time to keep an eye on what’s happening on job sites and the relevant billing, and be quick to make adjustments when someone doesn’t seem to be working truthfully. Taking these small steps helps reduce the potential for a claim against the business from an unsatisfied customer, and safeguards the reputation of the construction industry across the board.

Author:
Eric Weisbrot is the Chief Marketing Officer of JW Surety Bonds. With years of experience in the surety industry under several different roles within the company, he is also a contributing author to the surety bond blog.

My Homestead Tax Credit Has Been Denied – Can I Appeal?

Anyone who owns property knows that paying property taxes is a given. Sometimes property taxes are difficult to pay, particularly when an individual’s income is not reflective of the amount of property taxes they owe. What’s more, as property values increase every year, taxable assessments can increase every year as well. This means that year-over-year, a property owner may be liable for paying a sizable percentage more in property taxes.

To reduce the financial burden that is placed on property owners, the state of Maryland has adopted a homestead tax credit. This blog post goes over what the homestead tax credit is, how to apply for it, and what happens if your applications is denied, as well as your right to appeal a denial.

What Is the Homestead Tax Credit?

The homestead tax credit is a program that caps the increase in taxable assessments each year to a fixed percentage. The program is statewide and requires that all cities and counties throughout Maryland limit the taxable assessment increase to 10 percent or less annually.

As a note, the state also maintains a Homeowners’ Property Tax Credit program which limits the amount of taxes a person owes on their property to a percentage that is based on the homeowner’s income. This is a separate program that should not be confused with the homestead tax credit.

Applying for the Homestead Tax Credit

To receive the tax credit, homeowners must submit a one-time application. The application can be accessed online, and includes questions about the property and the property owners. To qualify for the homestead tax credit, there are a number of conditions that must be satisfied. These include:

  • The property must not have been transferred to new ownership during the previous tax year;
  • There was no change in the classification of zoning;
  • The home must be the applicant’s primary residence;
  • There has been no substantial change in the use of the property; and
  • If the property is being vacated in order to renovate or replace the current home (on the existing property), eligibility is still possible if the applicant lived in the home for at least three tax years prior to vacating, and the building/renovation will be completed within the next succeeding tax year.

Appealing a Denied Homestead Tax Credit Application

If you have applied for the homestead tax credit, you should be informed of your eligibility via writing. You can also check the status of your application online.

If your application is denied, you have 30 days from the date of receiving a final denial notice to appeal the decision. If you wait longer than 30 days, your right to appeal may be forfeited. You will appeal the decision with the Property Tax Assessment Board in your jurisdiction. You will need to call the central office for the homestead tax credit program to initiate your appeal.

Working with an Experienced Attorney

Understanding the homestead tax credit and your eligibility can be confusing. Knowing what action to take if your application has been denied, or the best method for successfully appealing a denial, may be challenging. To help you understand your rights, working with an experienced attorney is advised.

An attorney can review your initial homestead tax credit application to ensure that it contains the information that the board is looking for. If your application is denied, you should contact an attorney immediately (remember, you only have 30 days to initiate your appeal). Your attorney can guide you through the appeals process and represent you during any appearances before the board and all other interactions.

Call the Law Offices of Matthews S. Evans, III LLC Today

For skilled legal counsel that you can count on, contact the Law Offices of Matthews S. Evans, III LLC today. Our experienced Maryland attorneys are well-versed in homestead tax credit law, and can help you to understand your rights. To schedule a consultation, please send us a message using the online form found on our website, visit us in person, or call 410-626-6009 today.  

Can I Sue for Unpaid Rent After Evicting a Tenant?

Maryland law often seems like it’s on the tenant’s side more often than the landlord’s.

This can suggest that there have been or perhaps still are terrible property owners and property managers. Otherwise, why would there be so many specific regulations on the books to protect renters from unsafe living conditions, unreasonably high rent and extra fees, and abusive behavior?

The state’s Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General’s office has even published a brochure especially for renters, filled with several scenarios in which a bad landlord does things or threatens to take actions that they’re not legally supposed to, and what can be done about it. Maryland Legal Aid has issued a similar guide explaining what property owners can and shouldn’t do.

That isn’t to say, however, that bad tenants don’t exist, or that property owners lack power. In fact, housing laws have evolved to the point that landlords just need to follow certain legal protocol when dealing with problematic renters.

The fundamentals of the rental process haven’t changed. If a landlord decides that a tenant’s conduct effectively breaks a lease, then he or she has the right to take steps to evict the tenant. Likewise, if severe damage has occurred to the property, the landlord can use some or all of the damage deposit to pay for repairs.

But defining some of these specific circumstances, such as disruptive conduct, is where things can get tricky. Just as renters are encouraged to check with an attorney if they feel they’ve been treated unfairly, it is also recommended that a landlord seek legal counsel to make sure they’re following proper legal protocols.

The law offices of Matthew S. Evans III will be happy to provide legal advice for property owners, whether litigation is required, or steps can be taken to resolve matters before it gets to this point. Our trusted Maryland real estate attorneys are experienced with rental contracts, lease agreements, and related litigation at a state level plus municipalities such as Annapolis and Washington, D.C., where different local rules may apply.

The Eviction Process

Maryland has three main ways a renter can be evicted:

  • “Breach of lease” for conduct that’s not permitted such as illegal activity or extra roommates
  • “Holding over,” which means refusing to leave when a lease term ends
  • Failure to pay rent over a prolonged period of time

For an eviction to be successful, a landlord must request a court hearing to prove one or all of these conditions have been met. If a judge concurs that a violation or violations have occurred, the landlord can file a notice of eviction/warrant of restitution within five days. This requires arranging the services of a representative from the county sheriff’s office to remove the tenant or prevent them from returning.

More options

The act of evicting a particularly difficult tenant can be satisfying – you never have to interact with that person again, and it also can open the door for a potentially better tenant with more positive behavior that also pays their rent more reliably. However, some former tenants may still owe money, especially since rent can actually still be charged from the time a judgment is filed against them to when they actually leave the premises.

While it’s easy to reflexively want to say, “just keep it, provided you never bother me again,” due to all the legal hassle you’ve been through, a Maryland real estate attorney may assist you in recovering unpaid rent, interest, any related fees or even court costs.

This can take several forms.

  • Property owners can deduct any unpaid rent or other stated charges from the damage deposit before it’s returned.
  • A judge can authorize a financial judgment against the tenant, but the tenant needs to be properly served and advised to attend a hearing on this topic.

There’s no rush on seeking these funds either: the State of Maryland has a three-year statute of limitations for someone to pursue financial compensation for a broken contract.

Property owners who wish to discuss a challenging rental situation are encouraged to discuss with Matthew S. Evans III and his team. Contact us today for a consultation at (410) 626-6009.