Articles Posted in Real Estate Law

Real-Estate-LawWhether buying or selling a home or commercial space, real estate can be a highly confusing field. There is a great deal of information associated with buying and selling, and while some of it is easily understandable, much of it may be unclear or have sneaky hidden meanings.

Luckily, an experienced real estate attorney can take out the headache and confusion from baffling forms, contracts, or agreements to ensure you’re making a well-informed decision. So, in what specific situations should you speak with a real estate attorney? Read on to find out.

Deciphering Documentation

highlighted lease agreementIn the recent case of Bold MLP, LLC v. Smith, et al., the First District Court of Appeal in Florida decided an issue involving the interpretation of a property lease. The plaintiff purchased property located in Pensacola that was subject to a lease. Shortly after the plaintiff received the first rent payment as the new owner of the property, the relationship between the plaintiff and its tenants turned sour. The plaintiff moved to terminate the lease, which resulted in a lawsuit.

The trial court initially entered a declaratory judgment in favor of the tenants, finding that the lease was enforceable. The plaintiff appealed, asserting a number of arguments. One of its main arguments before the First District was that the trial court did not interpret the rent provision of the lease correctly. The lease agreement provided that the monthly rent will be $800 for the first year, $875 for the second year, and $950 for the third year. It also included a three-year renewal provision, which the tenants chose to exercise. Providing no reasoning behind this decision, the trial court concluded that the monthly rent for the renewal period would be fixed at $950 per month.

The plaintiff pointed to Florida precedent stating that “where the lease is silent on the issue of rent in the renewal, then there is not a binding agreement and meeting of the minds.” Based on this, the plaintiff asked the appellate court to invalidate the entire lease agreement because it failed to provide a rental rate. This would allow the plaintiff to evict the tenants and to avoid the three-year renewal option.

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condo from groundIn CRP II – Miramar, LLC v. The French Quarters Condominium Owner’s Association, the First District Court of Appeal considered a case involving an appeal between condominium owners. The plaintiff, Miramar, was developing a new phase of a mixed-use development. The defendant, French Development, owned a property adjacent to the development site. The two companies signed an “Easement and Maintenance Agreement.” As part of the agreement, Miramar agreed to construct a swimming pool and other amenities on its property that would be available to residents at both condominiums. In exchange for this promise, French agreed to share in the maintenance cost of these improvements. The parties also agreed to assign the rights and obligations of the agreement to their respective homeowners’ associations.

Miramar did not construct the pool and additional improvements. It told French instead that market conditions, contractor issues, and financing matters rendered the project undoable. French’s homeowners’ association sued Miramar. During that lawsuit, Miramar forfeited its ownership of the property in a foreclosure proceeding. The homeowners’ association joined the new owner as a defendant in the lawsuit.

In its complaint, the homeowners’ association alleged two causes of action. First, it sought a declaratory judgment that the agreement between French and Miramar constituted a covenant running with the land, meaning the new owner that obtained title through foreclosure was bound by the agreement. The second count alleged that the new owner and Miramar breached the agreement by failing to construct the pool and additional improvements.

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DSC01353Florida is home to countless condominiums, homeowners’ associations, and cooperatives. These types of residences can offer convenient and affordable ways to live, but they often come with a bundle of laws and regulations that the homeowner may not know about. Earlier this year, Governor Rick Scott signed HB 791 into law, a bill that provides a package of new laws that affect the aforementioned types of residents. Taking effect on July 1, 2015, the bill creates several new laws that change the way homeowners’ associations and condominiums can go about their business.

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home building constructionIn the recent case of Wells v. Halmac Development, Inc., the plaintiffs contracted in 2008 for general construction work at their home located in Coral Gables. In the next year, the plaintiffs fired the general contractor, and the general contractor filed a lien against the property. The contractor later filed a lawsuit seeking to foreclose on the lien as well as seeking damages for unjust enrichment, breach of contract, and quantum meruit.

After the complaint was filed, the parties agreed to submit the matter to arbitration. The homeowners had also asserted claims against the contractor for misappropriation of funds and breach of contract, as well as a claim against the construction company’s president alleging a fraudulent lien.

In August 2011, the arbitrator concluded that the homeowners were entitled to recovery on the breach of contract claim and their claim for misappropriation of funds. The arbitrator also concluded that the contractor prevailed on his counterclaim to the homeowners’ fraudulent lien claim. Ultimately, the arbitrator concluded that there was no prevailing party in the matter for the purpose of awarding attorneys’ fees to a party.

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molded brick staircaseIn Hibbs Grove Plantation Homeowners Association, Inc. v. Aviv, a homeowners’ association accused a pair of homeowners of violating the community’s declarations by failing to remove mold and mildew from the exterior of their home. Two sections of the declaration covered mold and mildew. The first, Section 11, provided that appurtenances must be well maintained in “first class, good, safe, clean, neat, and attractive condition.” Additionally, Section 12.34 provided that any roof or exterior surfaces, along with the pavement, must be pressure treated within 30 days’ notice by the Architectural Control Committee. The association mailed the homeowners a demand letter identifying these alleged violations.

In response, the homeowners sent a letter to the association’s attorney, claiming that they had retained a contractor to take care of the pressure washing during the upcoming week. The parties did not communicate during the coming week, and the homeowners’ association sought an order compelling the homeowners to complete the power washing to remove the mold and mildew.

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property fence lineIn Haynes v. Arman, et al., the Fifth District Court of Appeal considered a real estate contract dispute involving easements and whether the lower court properly granted summary judgment for the sellers. In 2004, the buyer entered into an agreement to purchase a property from the sellers located in Oak Hill, Florida. The property was landlocked with no private access to a nearby road. As a result, the contract for sale included a number of easements for ingress and egress across the seller’s adjoining property. These easements were also included in the warranty deed that the sellers provided to the buyers.

The parties grew to dislike each other, and the sellers filed a lawsuit against the buyers in 2010. The sellers sought leave to amend their complaint some time later to add a claim for punitive damages. In 2015, the sellers filed a third amended complaint that included six causes of action:  fraudulent inducement, breach of contract, slander, trespass, unjust enrichment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The buyer did not hire an attorney for the litigation and filed what the appellate court described as a “rambling response” to the third amended complaint. The sellers moved for summary judgment, and the buyer filed a motion to dismiss. The trial court held a hearing on both motions and ruled in favor of the sellers, awarding $494,485.34 as compensatory damages, along with $1,483,456 in punitive damages and nearly $28,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs. The total judgment exceeded $2 million. The buyer appealed.

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plaeamelia-thumb-360x270-94095Recently, the Florida First District Court of Appeal ruled that a commercial real estate tenant has the right to continue its exclusivity provision in each of its lease options. In Amelia Island Restaurant II, Inc. v. Omni Amelia Island, LLC, the plaintiff operated and maintained a restaurant located at the Amelia Island Plantation in Nassau County, Florida. In 2012, the plaintiff and the property owner were unable to agree on the terms of a lease extension. The parties’ original lease agreement contained a provision prohibiting the landlord from allowing another full-service restaurant to operate in the same shopping center. The plaintiff argued that this exclusivity provision would remain in effect during a renewed lease term, while the landlord argued that it would not remain in effect.

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house-300x225Divorce can be a difficult process, even when the spouses agree on many potential points of contention. Having a dissolution of marriage agreement that addresses every important point can go a long way to make the process as painless as possible.

A recent divorce case on appeal before Florida’s Fifth District illustrates this point. While married, the spouses owned a home together, and at the time of the divorce the home was encumbered by a mortgage under both spouses’ names. The trial court ordered that the former husband keep the couple’s home and that the wife execute a quitclaim deed to him, which would give him full rights to the property. Unfortunately, the order did not address the wife’s mortgage obligation. This would mean that if the husband failed to pay the mortgage the mortgagee could hold the wife accountable.

Florida follows the rule of equitable distribution, rather than community property. This means that in the event of divorce, section 61.075 of the Florida Statutes mandates that the couple’s property is fairly or equitably distributed. The presumption is that the marital property will be split evenly between the parties, but the court may divide the property unevenly based on several factors, including each spouse’s financial situation. The goal is for a distribution that is ultimately fair.

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mansionReal estate contracts can be used in a wide variety of circumstances. It is of utmost importance to retain qualified legal counsel in drafting and litigating these types of contracts. The amount of money in dispute may be significant, and legal technicalities may act as a bar to recovery.

In Dutra v. Kaplan, the Third District Court of Appeal of Florida reviewed a trial court’s decision regarding a contract to purchase residential property. The plaintiff and defendant wished to purchase a house together and entered into a written contract to that effect. The contract included a provision detailing the disposition of the house should the parties no longer wish to live together. The contract provided that the plaintiff’s interest in the property would first be offered to the defendant. If the defendant elected to purchase the plaintiff’s interest in the residence, he was to repay any money the plaintiff had paid toward the purchase of the property. This repayment was to take place in a period of no more than five years.

Unsurprisingly, the parties decided two years later that they no longer wished to live together. The plaintiff moved out of the residence, and the defendant chose to purchase her interest in the house, per the parties’ agreement. However, the parties disagreed over the amount of money to which the plaintiff was entitled. The defendant asserted that he would not pay any money pursuant to the agreement if the plaintiff did not accept the amount he initially offered. Thereafter, he paid nothing to the plaintiff, while continuing to reside in the house.

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