When Should a Landlord Hire a Lawyer?
There are some situations in which a landlord may need to hire or consult with an attorney for expert advice and coaching. Some of the most common situations in which a landlord could benefit from a lawyer’s help include the following:
Evicting a Tenant
Eviction lawsuits typically take less time than regular civil cases. However, in exchange for expedited treatment, landlords must follow a highly detailed set of rules, from notifying tenants of the lawsuit to filing the proper documents and forms. But, winning an eviction lawsuit isn’t always easy. Because someone’s home is at stake, it’s important to remember that many judges will set the bar very high when it comes to ruling in the landlords’ favor.
Many landlords still try to evict tenants themselves, but you may be better off hiring a lawyer if:
– This is your first eviction
– The tenant is fighting the eviction and has a lawyer
– The tenant is an employee whom you’re firing
– The tenant is filing for bankruptcy
– You must comply with rent control or housing program rules for eviction
Being Investigated or Sued for Illegal Discrimination
If a potential tenant sues you for discrimination or if a fair housing agency agrees to investigate a claim, it would be beneficial to consult a lawyer. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) administrative law judges can award a civil penalty of about $16,000 per violation for first-time offenders, in addition to actual damages, attorneys’ fees, and other relief.
Your liability can increase exponentially if your case goes to court, or if you settle. Additionally, if you become the subject of a discrimination lawsuit or investigation, the press can get involved, and it can significantly harm your and your business’ reputation. However, a lawyer can help you resolve the dispute and end the investigation or lawsuit as soon as possible, while also advising on how to protect your business’ reputation best. Sued for Injury or Illness
If a tenant sues you and claims that they got hurt or sick because of your carelessness, you’ll almost certainly want to hire a lawyer to defend you. For example, if your property isn’t regularly maintained and inspected, health violations can arise and endanger employees, guests, and tenants.
Personal injury cases are usually high stakes and can be very complicated. You may also find it difficult to confront a tenant who has suffered a serious loss, even though you believe you should not be held responsible for the loss, injury, or illness. Any lawyer you hire will be emotionally detached from the case and experienced in negotiating situations such as this. Plus, if you have liability insurance and pay your premiums, your insurer should provide you with a lawyer to defend you against personal injury claims.
Sued for Major Property Damage
Tenants may also sue you if they think that your failure to maintain the rental property caused damage to their property. In situations like this, your liability policy could also kick in. When the claim is high, you may decide to refer the matter to your insurance company and take advantage of its obligation to provide a lawyer. When the claim is low, or if it’s brought to small claims court, you’ll probably want to handle it yourself, but could still benefit from a coaching session.
Audited by the IRS or the State
If the IRS or your state tax agency is auditing your return, you do not always have to hire a lawyer unless there is a lot of money at stake. If you made a serious mistake on your taxes that the government has not noticed it yet, then hiring a lawyer before the auditors find that mistake can help you avoid a potentially damaging situation.
Defending Your Reputation
If a serious crime or accident occurs on your property, your business could suffer from the negative publicity, in addition to any lawsuit that may take place. If you are not used to dealing with public relations, you should consider talking to a lawyer about how to handle the press. Your attorney can then advise you on what you should and should not say, or they can even speak on your behalf. Your lawyer can also recommend what actions you can take to attract positive attention to your property or business, as well as how to deter negative publicity.
Changing Your Business Structure
If you choose to change your business structure and begin to operate as a sole proprietorship instead of an S-corporation, you may want to get a lawyer involved. Consulting an attorney for this process would be highly beneficial because they can discuss your options with you and let you know what each one may entail. Depending on your business structure, you may need to file certain documents with your state, either on a one-time or annual basis. Although you can often do this yourself, a lawyer can help explain any important tax and legal ramifications of your chosen business structure.
Buying or Selling Property
Although it’s common, buying or selling property is more complex than people may realize. There are more legal risks than many people are aware of, especially if that property also has a business and tenants. A lawyer can help you better understand the steps to take through the entire process, from negotiation to closing. They can help resolve environmental and structural issues, as well as removing liens, mortgages, tax levies, and judgments (i.e. ownership that’s free of claims).
Protecting Intellectual Property Rights
Intellectual property rights can be very serious and complex. Often, people try to enforce rights on their own but aren’t always successful. Consulting with a lawyer would allow you to gain expert opinions and advice regarding copyright and trademark issues.