Expert guidance for you residential or commercial real estate businesses
“Real Estate” is an extremely broad and nuanced category of the law. While I provide a number of services, I do not endeavor to do “everything.” I believe that I can best aid your business with my expertise gained through years of experience in providing service in the following diciplines:
Owning residential real estate in the District of Columbia is no picnic. You are expected to navigate through a quagmire of complex, confusing and ever-changing rules and regulations. If you make a mistake, no matter how innocent or well-intentioned, it can cost you a substantial amount of time and money to correct not to mention the potential liability. Regardless of the challenges you face as the owner of residential property, I am here to help.
- Buying or Selling – If you are in the process of buying or selling a rental unit or a multi-unit building, the tenant(s) have certain rights, known commonly as “TOPA Rights.” TOPA is an acronym for the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act, and it requires that tenants be provided very specific notices and information, on strict timelines. I represent buyers and sellers of residential real estate to help ensure that they comply with the law, negotiate resolutions when disputes arise among seller, purchaser, and tenant, and where necessary, represent parties in litigation of TOPA compliance issues.
- Renting / Managing – If you own or manage units that you intend to rent out to residential tenants, there are a number of legal requirements that you must satisfy. The requirements include disclosures to the tenants that must be given at the inception of the lease as well as several registrations with different government agencies. We prepare compliant lease-up packages, including registration and rent control filings to new and experienced landlord clients alike, to ensure that you avoid the mistakes that can cost you months of rent, or worse. I also amend or correct existing filings for clients who may have filed non-compliant paperwork. Finally, I represent landlords in administrative cases where non-compliant filings have led to a petition against the landlord that has to be defended.
- Increasing Rent – To lawfully raise the rent on a residential tenant there are several regulatory hurdles that you must clear, even if you believe that the District’s Rent Control Law does not apply to you. For Rent Control units there are many different types of permissible increases, which can be complex and confusing. Of course, I advise on the type of increase that will best suit the situation and then I prepare, arrange for service, and filing of appropriate rent increase documents. Additionally, I offer regulatory “check-ups,” to help ensure that all of your filings to date are correct and have been properly served so that you can avoid the pitfalls that cost some landlords thousands.
- Changing Rental Terms – In some cases, the law allows landlords to alter the terms and conditions of a rental agreement, such as where the services included in monthly rent are to be reduced. Typically, this occurs when a landlord upgrades HVAC or electrical in a building and the heat, air conditioning and/or electricity goes from a master, building-wide service included in rent, to a separately metered service, controlled and paid for by each individual tenant. I will walk you through the petition process to help ensure that the investment you made in improving your building is not undermined by a regulatory stumble.
Evictions- Sometimes, a rental arrangement just doesn’t work out. Most frequently it’s because the tenant does not pay the rent, but, there are many other situations that can result in the need to terminate a lease and evict the tenant. As a residential landlord, it is important for you to know right up front, that evicting your tenant in the District can be difficult. The D.C. Rental Housing Act contains among the strictest eviction protections for tenants, of any jurisdiction in the country. Additionally, the manner in which the law is applied by the court makes the entire process extremely pro-tenant. I have years of experience, have successfully completed hundreds of residential eviction cases and will help you move through the process as expeditiously as possible.
Development & Renovation
Whether you are developing/re-developing a property for condominium conversion or continuing rental or just doing some renovations on your home and have a dispute with your contractor, I can help.
I represent real estate developers in condominium projects, by handling the application and conversion process, to ensure that the units can get to market as quickly and efficiently as possible. I handle new construction and conversions in vacant properties, as well as tenant occupied buildings, where an election is required to create the condominium.
As you might suspect, converting a tenant occupied property is far more complex and typically involves negotiations with individual or groups of tenants, to secure a successful vote.
In most cases, the preparation of the Condominium Application and Public Offering Statement with required exhibits can be done for a flat fee, so you know the cost, and can factor it into your budget at the outset of the project.
If you are renovating a rental building which you intend to continue operating as a rental building, there are multiple legal and regulatory issues that you must plan for to make your project a success. The process is far simpler if you are working with a vacant building. Trying to do an ‘in-place” renovation, while the tenants remain in the property, will complicate matters substantially.
Renovations are noisy, dirty and inconvenient for tenants and no matter how cooperative the parties are at the outset of the project, once it is underway, things often change. For that reason, you need to have appropriate agreements, disclosures and must have followed the law with exacting detail, from the outset. This is especially true where the renovations require the tenants to temporarily relocate.
SINGLE FAMILY HOMES
I represent both contractors and homeowners in disputes involving construction renovation projects in single family homes and condominium units. The issues that can arise in these cases vary but typically they are contractual in nature and fit into one of the following categories: payment, quality of work, job abandonment, warranty issues, unlicensed contractors, unpaid subcontractors and/or mechanics’ lien filings and release.
If you are a party to a home improvement contract that has gone awry, I can help.
Commercial LeasingI represent parties to commercial leases, in virtually any situation that could arise beginning from the negotiation of the original term, through the expiration or termination and surrender of the premises.
In a commercial property, unlike a residence, the parties are entering into a long-term business relationship with one-another. Like every business relationship, things will not always run smoothly, and no matter how earnest and well-intentioned the parties are, there are instances where they will simply disagree about what the lease terms mean.
Signing “form” leases tendered by the other party, without professional review, is potentially disastrous to your business. In a commercial lease, the parties must confront and agree on terms and conditions which take into consideration the tenant’s business practices or industry.
Are their aspects of the business operation that will potentially be a nuisance to other tenants in the building? Does the business use conform to the building’s zoning? How will utilities and taxes be apportioned? Will the tenant be allowed to use the adjacent public space to conduct its business? These questions barely scratch the surface of the contingencies that must be meticulously considered and documented in a commercial lease. Because of the complexity and length of time that you will have to abide by the agreement, trying to negotiate a commercial lease yourself is simply not a reasonable option.
Business circumstances inevitably change. When they do, your business must pivot, and move in a new direction. Whether you are the owner or the tenant, when circumstances change, the terms of a commercial lease may need to be revisited to ensure that you are getting the benefit of the original bargain.
Lease amendments can arise for a number of reasons, including a changing industry, shifting neighborhood demographics, retirement of a partner, sale of a building or business…the list can go on, and on. What is important is that you have someone who understands the relative leverage of the parties, and knows how to negotiate a solution that meets your needs.
Lease Enforcement / Termination
When one of the parties to a commercial lease is not abiding by the terms of the agreement, and your reminders have failed to bring about a correction, you may find yourself in a position where you have to enforce your rights. Enforcement of a commercial lease is not a DIY legal project. Leases are usually, lengthy, detailed, and over the years, may have been amended several times. Even writing a formal demand to the other side regarding their conduct requires a complete understanding of the contractual language, course of performance and applicable laws. Moreover, a formal written allegation that the other party is not living up to their end of the bargain, may have consequences beyond those you intended.
In some cases, the landlord/tenant relationship simply can’t be salvaged. It may be because the tenant’s business simply lacks the ability to pay. Alternatively, there may be another term or occurrence that the parties simply cannot reconcile the consequences of.
In situations where one or both parties want to terminate the lease, there are several paths to achieve that goal. Frequently, the parties can come to some type of agreement which ends the relationship and gives the landlord possession of the property. This is often preferable to a litigated solution, which may cause much harsher results and cost more than a negotiated outcome. When a termination agreement is not possible, the landlord has no choice other than filing an eviction case.
I represent both commercial landlords and tenants in enforcing leases and where necessary, ending their leasing relationships.
Condominiums, cooperatives, and homeowners associations, which can be collectively referred to as Community Associations, and the people who live in and own the units, face some unique legal and economic challenges. I represent both associations and individual unit owners, in facing these challenges.
Associations are charged with responsibility of enforcing the Building’s legal documents (Bylaws, Declaration, and other covenants) and running the building’s day-to-day operations, including collecting assessments from the owners to pay for the common expenses. (Such as the water bill, common area maintenance, trash collection and insurance). This puts the Board of directors in a difficult position, as they must make decisions that impact the finances and quality of life of their neighbors and friends. It is a hard job.
Unit owners, with a few exceptions, have little say in how the Condominium is managed and run, day-to-day. It can be frustrating for the owners who have made a substantial investment in the community, to only have a voting say, in electing directors once per year, (and on a few other issues), while decisions are made that could have a great impact on them personally.
I represent Associations in enforcing their Bylaws, collecting unpaid assessments, providing advice in governing their operations, and, where necessary, in interacting with the surrounding community. For example, if there is a new liquor license proposed in the neighborhood or a construction project adjacent to the building, the Association frequently wants to participate in the legal process.
I also represent unit owners in disputes with their Associations on a variety of issues. Typically, the disputes involve Bylaw enforcement, where the owner is accused of a rule violation. However, there are also cases in which an owner is asking the Board to take action because a neighbor is carrying on an activity that adversely impacts them. I have, in past represented owners in defending collection actions by the Association, however, such cases are difficult, because there are very few legal defenses available.
If you are a board member or manager of a community association seeking representation or a unit owner with questions about your rights, schedule a case evaluation online now or call for more information.