Amid COVID-19, Are Real Estate Matters Moving Forward?

As COVID-19 unleashed a health crisis on an international scale, an economic crisis has also occurred and has impacted every single Californian/American. While COVID-19’s stay-at-home orders and social distancing requirements are still in place in Southern California, questions concerning legal matters have continued well through March, April, and May, 2020. These are some of the most frequently asked questions:

Question: Are estate real estate matters moving forward?

Answer: Yes, the real estate industry managed to quickly adjust to new guidelines and measures in order to avoid interruptions. Here are a few issues and matters that have come across our desks the last few months:

  • My landlord is not providing much financial relief during COVID-19. I have lost my job and wasn’t able to pay rent the last two months and is now threatening eviction. Can he do that? What can I do?
  • I’m in the process of buying a house but was presented with a new Coronavirus CAR form. Are you familiar with that? Can you help explain?
  • I need my contract reviewed. My landlord is amending the lease amid COVID-19 and is adding new protections and releases from liability. Do I have to sign this agreement amendment?
  • I’m selling a property and the buyers want an extension to the escrow process as there have been delays in having them sell their house. Can you help navigate the process?
  • I’m acting as a trustee in a trust administration amid COVID-19 and need to sell a house. Is this a good time to sell?
  • I’m buying an investment commercial property and need help with the buying process as well as help establishing an upcoming landlord-tenant relationship with my prospective tenants. Can you help?
  • Our organization is receiving a property from a non-profit organization.  They are out of state. Can you help  us with the process?
  • A friend of mine and I purchased a property together a few years ago. Now we want to go our separate ways, but I want to keep the property. Can you help?
  • My spouse lost their job and I don’t think we can continue with our mortgage responsibilities. Can you help us with some options?
  • I’m looking to protect myself when purchasing a new investment property. Can you help?
  • I currently own seven different investment properties. With stay-at-home orders, we are concerned a tenant will have habitability issues. We’ll need some guidance. Can you help?
  • Our HOA has imposed new regulations amid COVID-19 which I believe are excessive and are not really necessary in light of COVID-19. What can be done?
  • With stay-at-home measures in place, our condominium has experienced more people at home and thus more use of utilities. Those utilities are impacting my home and causing damage. Whose responsibility is it to repair?
  • My homeowner’s association has called me in to an HOA hearing via Zoom. Is that legal? Can I delay my appearance? What are my options?

Clearly these are paraphrased but this is a brief, incomplete list of the legal inquiries that have come through this law firm amid COVID-19. Some have experienced urgent real estate law needs amid COVID-19 while others needed general guidance for months-long processes.  If you need help with real estate law matters, call in and let’s determine how this office can help.

Document Review: Have Your Contract Reviewed For Specific Terms

A client of mine in in the City and County of San Francisco California called in to my office because he had just landed a new independent contractor gig in a nationally recognized technology company in the Bay area. As part of the new position he was tasked with the job of creating manuals for several internal operations and procedures. As with all other employment arrangements, following the grueling multi-step interview process he was issued an independent contractor agreement. Familiar with independent contractor agreements and arrangement requirements, he asked me to decipher the document full of legalese into plain English.

Upon his initial review of the document, he wasn’t bothered by the terms described within the 10-page agreement. The terms were short and reflected the general understanding the two parties made over the phone. However, this client wanted clarity concerning certain provisions that appeared to limit his rights upon entering the agreement. Following my same-day review of the document, we had a lengthy conference call to discuss the details of the contract.

First, wage and payment arrangements needed clarity. For example, a certain compensation amount was identified, but what are the reporting requirements? When was pay delivered and via what method? Was a time limit required? When are payments deemed late and what happens then? And so on. These are all questions that should be answered within the contract or described within some separate written policy.

Then we moved on just about 2/3 of the way into the agreement. This is where terms start getting interesting in a contract review. Terms included  the following:

  • a strict non-competition policy
  • a loyalty provision
  • a non-solicitation requirement
  • a media communications restriction
  • a moonlighting restriction
  • representation and warranties
  • limitations of liability
  • governing law
  • mediation and alternative dispute resolution
  • severability clause
  • a unique confidentiality clause
  • and the terms continued on.

While some of these are rather normal, some of the terms were too restrictive and 1 of them was arguably unlawful.

In all, my client was happy to have his independent contractor agreement reviewed BEFORE signing it allowing him the opportunity to negotiate certain terms. After a few days of some back-and-forth between the two parties and a bit more legal counseling through the process, he was able to settle the terms he was comfortable with and completed the agreement with information so as to remove ambiguities in other areas.

With a completed agreement at the end, the client was off and running with his job. Having his contract reviewed saved him future headaches by seeking clarity with plenty of areas in his contract. Do the same for yourself if there are provisions of the agreement that you do not understand. Do the same even if you do understand the terms and greatly value the transaction. Attorneys are trained to review documents with a critical eye and recommend negotiations when needed.

Mediation and/or arbitration clauses in your contracts. Understand how each option works before signing your next contract.

When you enter into a contract you will often see that the initial terms are the most important ones describing the goods or services, prices, quantities and other matters that two parties have negotiated.  These are the material terms that contain the purpose of the contract. As you move towards the end of the contract, you will find miscellaneous boilerplate terms that a lot of people tend to glance over for a split second before signing the agreement. Miscellaneous terms tend to include provisions such as:

  • Jurisdiction. This paragraph describes which state laws will be used to interpret the terms of the contract.
  • Severability. This paragraph states that if any provision is determined invalid, the rest of the contract’s terms will be enforceable.
  • Assurances. This paragraph states that one party or the parties will take necessary actions necessary to carry out the terms of the contract.
  • Attorney’s Fees. This paragraph describes how and whether any attorney’s fees will be enforced if attorney’s are required in enforcing the terms of the contract.

The above are only a few examples and basic descriptions of the miscellaneous types of terms within a standard agreement. There are many others that should be reviewed thoroughly to understand the entirety of the transaction.

Well-written contracts also include a paragraph describing how any future disagreements related to the contract will be resolved. This paragraph is usually titled after your options – Mediation, Arbitration and/or Dispute Resolution. Understand that by signing the agreement, you are binding yourself to these resolution options in the event there is a problem in enforcing the contract in the future regardless of whether the enforcing party or not. It is a very important paragraph to review which will affect your future and should not be taken lightly.

  • Mediation is typically a 1 day negotiation facilitated by a neutral third party, usually a retired judge, with the goal of resolving the matter jointly between the parties.
  • Arbitration is a longer process similar to a lawsuit in court, except that it is managed outside of court using 1 arbitrator or a panel to make a decision. The process involves presenting evidence, arguments, calling witnesses and questioning by the parties, and so forth.

Both options are made available as more time- and cost efficient solutions towards resolving legal problems related to a contract rather than going to court for resolution.  The above descriptions are extremely basic and should be explored carefully. Well-written dispute resolution paragraphs describe in detail how the process will work.  Seek legal advice to interpret the paragraph if it is written in legal jargon.

BEFORE you sign an agreement, we recommend taking your contract to an attorney to discuss whether a dispute resolution option is best over the other option, Of course, this all depends on a few variables:

  • the type of transaction
  • the relationship between the parties
  • whether mediation is a practical option between the parties
  • your available funds towards resolving problems should they arise
  • whether you have a true option in negotiating the terms or simply have to adhere to the terms as written

KNOW that mediation, arbitration, and other alternative dispute resolution options apply to a wide variety of contracts. These include:

  • cable bill
  • internet bill
  • new car purchase and lease
  • mortgages
  • employer/employee contracts
  • furniture purchase contracts
  • car service agreements
  • rental car contracts

Practically, all well-drafted and complete contracts include this type of provision. If your contract does not include such provision, seek legal advice before signing the contract.


The importance of a comma in an ordinance (and a contract). How a court case was won over a missing comma(,)

Read the following municipal ordinance prohibiting “any motor vehicle camper, trailer, farm implement and/or non-motorized vehicle” from daylong parking.

If you’re a truck owner (motor vehicle), does this ordinance apply to you? The argument here is that the ordinance applies to “motor vehicle campers” and not motor vehicles. See the difference? This ordinance would have applied to a motor vehicle, if the law had a comma where it should have.

This is exactly what happened to an Ohio woman. She ended up having a parking citation tossed by an appeals court, all because she noticed there was a comma missing in the local law. Read more about it here.

When working with your attorney, both the client and the attorney should read the document draft with a fine tooth comb to avoid technical and pivotal issues like this.  Avoid ambiguity and as you read your document, look for grammatical problems which could lead to vague provisions or provisions with more than one interpretation opportunity.  Read another example where a single comma cost a party one million dollars.