CAN I STOP PAYING RENT IF MY LANDLORD REFUSES TO MAKE NEEDED REPAIRS TO MY APARTMENT?
Most leases state that the tenant is required to continue making rent payments even if the landlord is in default under the lease. If your lease contains a provision like this, and requires the landlord to make certain repairs, your only option in the event the repairs are not being made is to bring the landlord to court to enforce the lease. If you stop paying the rent, the chances are that the landlord will bring you to court to evict you from the premises for failure to pay your rent.
IF I USE PROPERTY FOR MANY YEARS, DOES IT BECOME MINE?
Whether property that you have used for many years becomes yours as a result of “adverse possession” depends on a number of factors, including whether you believed the property was yours when you started to use it, whether your use of the property was noticeable, whether you were the only one using the property during the period in question and whether the record property owner allowed you to use the property. In order to obtain title to real property through adverse possession, a court must determine that your use of the property satisfies the law.
SHOULD I RETAIN AN ATTORNEY TO ASSIST ME WITH THE SALE OF MY HOUSE?
Even if you are not a first time seller, you should retain an experienced real estate attorney to represent your interests and to protect your rights. The seller’s attorney generally drafts, negotiates and finalizes the contract of sale. She also reviews the brokerage agreement, escrows the down payment for the seller, and coordinates site visits with the surveyor, appraiser or other professionals who need access to the premises. The seller’s attorney represents the seller’s interests in the event issues arise in connection with the buyer’s title search, including questions concerning certificates of occupancy, easements, property line deviations and outstanding liens on the property. The seller’s attorney can provide the seller with an estimate of his closing costs and generally determines how the proceeds of the sale will be disbursed. In other words, the attorney obtains and confirms the “pay off” amount on the seller’s existing mortgage and calculates the adjustments to the selling price that must be made to account for prepaid taxes, fuel and/or personal property that may be included in the sale. The attorney must also calculate the transfer tax due on the sale and prepare the necessary tax and reporting forms. The seller’s attorney prepares the deed and all other closing documents on behalf of the seller and schedules the closing. Finally, the seller’s attorney attends the closing where she reviews all relevant documents, supervises the execution of all documents by the seller and insures that proceeds of the sale have been properly dispersed. Following the closing the attorney generally prepares a closing statement for the seller.
WHAT IS TITLE INSURANCE?
Title insurance is an insurance policy that protects the homeowner against title defects to real property that arise from errors or omissions in deeds, mistakes made in land records, liens and undisclosed heirs. The prudent buyer should retain a title company to prepare a report on the ownership history of the property. Any liens, judgments and gaps in the “chain of title” that appear in the report should be addressed before closing. Once they are resolved, the title company will issue a title insurance policy that guarantees that the property has clear title. The insurance company is obligated to defend the homeowner against covered claims arising after the closing. Without title insurance, it is the obligation of the homeowner to defend against claims based upon title defects.
AS A RENTER, AM I PROTECTED IN THE EVENT MY LANDLORD’S MORTGAGE GOES INTO FORECLOSURE?
While you may have to move if your landlord is unsuccessful in defending against an action to foreclose his mortgage, you likely will have at least 3 months and perhaps as much as a year from the time you receive a copy of mortgage foreclosure papers before you have to leave. When a lender commences a foreclosure action, it must give notice to all residents of the property. Even if you have a lease, if the landlord loses the court action and the lender does not want you to honor that lease, you will be forced to leave.
HOW SHOULD MY NAME APPEAR ON THE DEED WHEN I PURCHASE PROPERTY?
How your name appears on a deed will depend on whether or not you are purchasing the property alone. If you are going to be the sole owner of the property, which means you alone can sell or mortgage the property, your full legal name should appear as the grantee on the deed. If you are purchasing the property with a spouse, both your name and your spouse’s name should appear on the deed as grantees, followed by the words “as husband and wife” or “as tenants in the entirety”. If you are purchasing the property with another person who is not your spouse, and your intent is that the property will pass to the survivor upon the first owner’s death, your name and the co-buyer’s name should appear on the deed as the grantees, followed by the words “as joint tenants with right of survivorship.” Finally, if you are purchasing the property with others and each buyer is simply going to own a specific percentage of the property, the deed should list the names of all of the buyers as grantees, followed by the words “as tenants in common.” To avoid any confusion, the percentage share owned by each grantee should be indicated on the deed.
WHAT IS A QUITCLAIM DEED?
A quitclaim deed is a deed by which a seller or grantor transfers property to a buyer or grantee without making any warranties or giving guarantees about the grantor’s ownership interest in the property. When a buyer accepts a quitclaim deed, he cannot be sure that the seller actually owned the property or had the authority to sell it.
WHY SHOULD A BUYER ARRANGE FOR A SURVEY?
A survey is a drawing of property that shows any improvements to the property such as buildings and driveways, the boundary lines of the property and the existence of easements and encroachments on the property, if any. Depending on the fee charged and the needs of the buyer, a licensed surveyor may certify that the improvements on the property fall within the property boundary lines and comply with applicable laws. If the surveyor identifies easements or encroachments, the buyer or his attorney should address any issues that arise as a result of the easement/encroachment. If the seller has a recent survey, the buyer may be able to avoid or minimize the cost of having a new survey done by having the surveyor “recertify” the seller’s survey.
WHAT IS AN EASEMENT?
An easement is an interest in land, such as the right of an individual to cross over his neighbor’s property to reach a beach or a street. The property that is burdened, i.e.: being crossed over is called the servient estate. The property owned by the individual with the right of access is called the dominant estate. An easement may last forever and may prevent the owner of the servient estate from building on or altering his property in such a way as to impair the rights of the party who holds the easement.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT THAT BUYERS KNOW ABOUT PROPERTY TAXES?
It is important that buyers learn about the property or real estate taxes on the residence they are thinking about purchasing because the taxes could be the factor that makes the difference between being able to afford the house and the house being beyond the buyer’s means. For example, at the closing the buyer is often required to reimburse the seller for prepaid property taxes and to give the lender a portion of the taxes that will come due after the closing. It is not at all unusual for the buyer to pay thousands of dollars in taxes at the closing, in addition to all the other closing costs and the balance of the purchase price. If the buyer does not inquire about the taxes, he may not be in a position to close. Just as the taxes due at closing may be more than the buyer is able to afford, the portion of the annual tax bill that is often included as part of the monthly payment demanded by the lender may put a house beyond a buyer’s reach. Before purchasing a house the buyer must consider the impact of real estate taxes on the carrying costs of the house.
HOW ARE PROPERTY TAXES CALCULATED?
Taxes are assessed based on a formula developed by the municipality in which the property is located. Some towns assess taxes based on the market value of the property while others assess the property based on a number of factors, including but not limited to the location of the property (i.e.: waterfront as opposed to being adjacent to railroad tracks), the size of the lot, how the property is zoned and whether or not it is improved. If property is improved with a residence, additions or improvements to the residence may result in an increase in real estate taxes.
HOW OFTEN ARE PROPERTY TAXES RECALCULATED?
How often property is assessed varies from place to place. Some municipalities reassess property every time it changes hands. This results in similar properties being assessed differently based solely on how many people have owned the property rather than on attributes of the property itself. Other municipalities periodically reassess all of the properties within their borders, even if there has not been a change of ownership. Still other municipalities reassess properties every time an owner improves the property. As mentioned above, it is not unusual for a homeowner’s taxes to increase following the addition of a bathroom or the renovation of a kitchen.
WHAT FACTORS ARE CONSIDERED WHEN CALCULATING PROPERTY TAXES?
Property taxes vary depending on the location of the market, the zoning of the properties, the affluence of the area, whether the property is improved i.e.: whether there is a building on the property, the needs of municipality and whether the municipality has a large commercial tax base. Owners in municipalities that have large shopping centers or a number of industrial parks, for example, generally have lower real estate taxes than owners with comparable properties in municipalities that are mostly residential. Within a market, property taxes will vary based on the type and frequency of reassessments. Taxes also vary depending on the factors mentioned above in the explanation of how often property taxes are recalculated.
WHAT CAN I DO IF I THINK MY TAXES WERE CALCULATED INCORRECTLY?
A property owner who believes his assessment is incorrect, i.e.: too high, generally has a limited time each year during which he can “grieve” or dispute his assessment. Municipalities have different procedures that must be followed by an owner if he wants his assessment to be reconsidered. There are also companies that the owner may retain to handle the request for a new assessment.