Monday, March 23, 2015

Owner May Give “Right of First Refusal” to Buy Property


Q:       What is a “right of first refusal”?

            A:        A right of first refusal is a right to match an offer to purchase property. Let’s say that you put your home up for sale, knowing that your neighbor, Sally, might be interested in buying it. You might choose to give Sally the right to match any purchase offer you may receive for your home.

Q:       How does a “right of first refusal” work?

A:        Let’s say you decide you want to sell your home to your friend, John, for $200,000 under certain conditions. However, since you gave your neighbor Sally a right of first refusal to purchase the home, you must first offer it to Sally under the same terms as those you offered to John before you can sell it to John. If Sally exercises her right of first refusal and follows through with the purchase, John will not be able to buy your home.

Q:       When I draft a right of first refusal, what issues should I cover?
A:        You should address these issues: 
·       Cleary identify what real estate is subject to the right of first refusal.  Suppose you give Sally a right of first refusal for your home as well as the lot next to it. The right of first refusal agreement should address what will happen if, for example, a potential purchaser, such as John, wants to buy only the home and not the next-door lot, and what the price will be.
·       Non-cash offer.  A right of first refusal should address what will happen if, for example, a potential purchaser wants to exchange his home for yours. In this case, Sally, who holds a right of first refusal, cannot match such an offer. The right of first refusal should say exactly how much Sally must pay in cash to match a non-cash offer.
·       Timing.  It is important to carefully draft provisions about when rights of first refusal can be exercised. For example, you should notify Sally within a certain number of days after you receive another offer, and Sally should have an opportunity to exercise her right within a certain number of days. You should also make it clear how Sally will be notified (such as by mail or in person). You should also specify the date of closing, or require Sally to close on whatever date a potential buyer might specify in an offer. The right of first refusal also should have a termination date. After that date, Sally would no longer have the right of first refusal.

Q:       Is a right of first refusal transferable?

            A:        Unless you’ve said, in writing, that Sally cannot transfer her right, then Sally may transfer it to a third party. So, as the property owner, you should state specifically that the right is personal only to Sally, or that Sally can transfer the right of first refusal to a third person. A right of first refusal also should be drafted so that it is binding upon entities or trusts that you own or have an interest in. For example, it could state that, if you transfer your property to a company you own and that company receives an offer to purchase, Sally may still exercise the right of first refusal. You should also state what happens upon your death, as an owner. For example, it may state that the right of first refusal will terminate when you die. Otherwise, the right of first refusal may continue to apply to whoever inherits the home.

Q:       What happens if Sally declines to exercise her right of first refusal?

            A:        Some rights of first refusal provide, for example, that if Sally accepts the right but is unable to complete the transaction, she will no longer have the right in the future. Others provide that the right continues if the property is sold to another party. If the right of first refusal document says nothing about this issue, then there may be differences of interpretation.

Q:       What if either Sally or I change the terms of the purchase?

            A:        Typically, slight variations to the offer by you, as owner, and Sally, who exercises her right of first refusal, are acceptable. In general, you and Sally may not “materially vary” from the terms of the original offer. Obviously, the meaning of “materially vary” may be disputed.

            A carefully drafted right of first refusal addresses most of the issues listed above. However, many rights of first refusal are not complete and specific. Even a well-drafted right of first refusal is subject to dispute, as are most agreements that anticipate future matters.


This "Law You Can Use" column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. It was prepared by Avon attorney Marsha L. Collett of Wickens, Herzer, Panza, Cook & Batista Co. Articles appearing in this column are intended to provide broad, general information about the law. Before applying this information to a specific legal problem, readers are urged to seek advice from an attorney.

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Monday, March 16, 2015

Law Balances Student Record Access and Privacy


Q:       What laws cover student educational records?
A:        Student education records are protected by federal law, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), and Ohio’s student privacy law (Ohio Revised Code § 3319.321). These laws are similar in application, with some minor differences.

Q:       What do the laws require?
A:        FERPA and Ohio’s student privacy law have two primary functions in common. Both laws: 1) guarantee parental access to education records, and 2) prohibit the disclosure of education records to third parties without parental consent.

Q:       What is considered an “education record?”
A:        An “education record” includes records which: 1) contain information directly related to a student, and 2) are maintained by a school. This could include birth certificates, names of parents, immunization records, grades, disciplinary records, etc.

Q:       How is access to education records guaranteed?
A:        Both FERPA and Ohio’s student privacy law require schools to provide parental access to the education records of children under age 18. Parents have the right to see everything in the student’s education record, except information about other students or information protected by another state or federal law. Schools must comply with a request for access within a reasonable period of time, but in no case more than 45 days after the request.

Q:       How are education records protected from third parties? 
A:        Both laws prohibit the disclosure of “personally identifiable information” in education records to third parties without the prior written consent of the parent. Personally identifiable information generally includes any information that would make the student’s identity traceable.

Q:       Are there exceptions that allow disclosure without consent?
A:        Yes. Several exceptions allow disclosure without parental consent. For example, schools may release records to school officials with “legitimate educational interests,” such as disclosure of student records to the student’s teacher or to an in-school therapist treating the student.
            Other exceptions allow schools to release education records to a school where the student is transferring, to persons acting with a subpoena, or to health and safety personnel during an emergency.

Q:       What is directory information?
A:        Through its policies, school districts may designate certain student information as “directory information.” Directory information generally includes information that could be found in a school yearbook, playbill or athletic program, such as a student’s name, address, telephone listing, date and place of birth, major field of study, participation in officially recognized activities and sports, dates of attendance and graduation, and awards received.
            Directory information may be disclosed without prior written consent. School districts must provide public notice of designated categories of directory information and allow a reasonable time for parents to “opt-out” of the release of this information.

Q:       Do students have rights to review their educational records before they turn age 18?
A:        Not really. Although both laws allow elementary and secondary schools to give students under age 18 the right to inspect and review their own educational records, the schools are not required to give minors this right. Parents, however, must be allowed to inspect and review their minor children’s education records.

Q:       Does a student have the right to view his or her records at age 18?
A:        Yes. All rights granted to parents under FERPA and Ohio law transfer to the student when the student reaches age 18, or when the student starts attending a postsecondary institution. This includes the right to access education records and to consent to the release of education records.

Q:       Can the parents of a college-age student access their child’s education records?
A:        Maybe. A postsecondary institution may provide parents with access to their child’s education records, without the child’s consent, if the parents claim the student as a dependent for IRS tax purposes. A college or university may also notify parents of students under age 21 if the student has violated any law or policy concerning the use or possession of alcohol or a controlled substance.

Q:       What schools are required to comply with these student record laws?
A:        The federal FERPA law applies to all educational agencies receiving federal funds under any program administered by the U.S. Department of Education. This includes all public school districts and most private and public postsecondary institutions. Some private schools may not receive funds from the U.S. Department of Education and, therefore, may not be subject to FERPA. Ohio’s student privacy law only applies to public schools in Ohio.

Q:       Does divorce affect a parent’s right to see his or her child’s educational records?
A:        A parent who is separated, divorced and/or not the student’s residential parent is permitted access to any records under the same terms and conditions as the residential parent, provided that the parents are not subject to any parenting agreement or court order to the contrary. Separated, divorced and/or non-residential parents may also provide the written parental consent to release records, barring a written parenting agreement or court order to the contrary.

This “Law You Can Use” column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association (OSBA). It was prepared by Columbus attorney Mark A. Weiker of Albeit Weiker, LLP. The column offers general information about the law.  Seek an attorney’s advice before applying this information to a legal problem.

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Monday, March 9, 2015

“Sexting” Involving Minors Is a Crime


Q:       The more I hear about teens “sexting” each other the more concerned I am. What exactly is sexting?
A:        Sexting is generally understood as creating, sending, receiving or showing sexually-oriented content, including images and words, via cell phone, email, social media or other online communications. Studies suggest as many as one-fourth or more of all teens are directly involved in sexting, while as many as half have seen inappropriate “sexts” of one kind or another.

Q:       Is sexting a crime?
A:        Between consenting adults (individuals over age 18), sexting is not a crime, although sexting-related misunderstandings or aggressive behavior can lead to criminal or civil liability for harassment, invasion of privacy and other offenses.  Whenever sexting involves a minor, i.e., someone under 18, it is a crime. This is true whether the child accepted a “sext,” sent or forwarded it, received and kept it, posted it, or showed it to someone else on a school bus. The fact sexting might be shared between “consenting” minors does not mean it is okay.

Q:       How can a minor know what kind of message would be considered “sexting”?
A:        A Supreme Court justice once famously remarked that he couldn’t define obscenity, but he knew it when he saw it. While the definition of “sexting” may vary depending on who is evaluating the message, people generally agree that sharing any kind of nude images of persons under 18, whether or not their faces are visible, are improper. 

Q:       If sexting is a crime, should the police be called?
A:        Yes. In Ohio, it is a crime to create, reproduce, advertise, buy, sell or possess any sexual material involving a minor. Someone who sexts can be charged with pandering, obscenity involving a minor, child endangerment, possessing nude images of a child, harassment and bullying, and other crimes. If a girl sends a picture to her boyfriend, both can be charged with sexting. If the boyfriend then forwards the image to his buddy, the buddy can be charged. Charges can be brought under both state and federal law, and children and their parents can also be sued based on sexting-related behavior.

Q:       Are kids really prosecuted for child porn over this?
A:        Prosecutors use their discretion, so they may or may not prosecute minors for child pornography, but it can happen. In the Cleveland suburb of Macedonia, several middle-schoolers were caught in December of 2014 engaging in a competition to see who could obtain the most nude photos of female classmates. During the competition, six girls sent nude images of themselves to boys.  Although no one involved was charged with a crime, the students were put in a diversion program. They were ordered to clean the police station and police cars, and warned to stay out of trouble for a year.  However, in August of 2014 the Ohio Court of Appeals for Wood County upheld the conviction in juvenile court of M.W., who sexted images of himself having sex with a girlfriend.  M.W. was found guilty of violating R.C. 2907.321, pandering obscenity involving a minor, a second degree felony, and was ordered to register as a Tier I juvenile sex offender.

Q:       Does Ohio law specifically prohibit sexting? 
A:        No. Although many states have laws specifically addressing sexting between minors, some concerns expressed by both law enforcement and free-speech advocates have thus far prevented proposed sexting laws from being enacted in Ohio. The only laws currently on the books are those governing child exploitation. In addition, Ohio lawmakers passed a bill requiring schools to have policies and procedures for handling harassment, intimidation and bullying, including cyber-bullying.

Q:       What can I do to help prevent my minor child from becoming involved in sexting?
A:        First, make sure you warn your child about the potential consequences of sexting. Also, contact your school, talk to other parents, look online for help, or call the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s 24-hour hotline at (800) 843-5678 for more information. If you have evidence of teen sexting close to home, don’t hesitate to call the police. Police and prosecutors will use their discretion regarding prosecution, and they have the experience and resources to help minors appreciate the seriousness of the matter without making things worse.

This “Law You Can Use” consumer information column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. It was prepared by Timothy J. Puin, of counsel for the Cleveland firm of Janik LLP. Articles appearing in this column are intended to provide broad, general information about the law. Before applying this information to a specific legal problem, readers are urged to seek advice from an attorney.

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Monday, March 2, 2015

IRS Helps Taxpayers Understand Affordable Care Act’s Impact on Taxes


The Internal Revenue Service offers an assortment of online services, including features that help taxpayers understand how the Affordable Care Act will affect them at tax time.

Q:       Will the Affordable Care Act impact my tax return?
A:        This year’s tax return will include new questions to include provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Most taxpayers (about three-fourths) will just check a box to verify that they have health insurance coverage, but some taxpayers will have to take some additional steps. Visit IRS.gov/aca to learn about the premium tax credit, the individual shared responsibility requirement and other tax features of the ACA. The individual shared responsibility requirement included in the Affordable Care Act is new to the Form 1040 this filing season.

Q:       What does the ACA require taxpayers to do?
A:        The Affordable Care Act requires that all taxpayers and each member of their families have qualifying health insurance coverage for each month of the year, or qualify for an exemption or make an individual shared responsibility payment when filing the federal income tax return. Some moderate-income taxpayers may also qualify for financial assistance to help cover the cost of health insurance purchased through the Health Insurance Marketplace. Taxpayers will fall into one or more of the following categories:
·       Check the box. Most taxpayers will simply check a box on their tax return to show that each member of their family had qualifying health coverage for the whole year. No further action is required. Qualifying health insurance coverage includes coverage under most, but not all, types of health care coverage plans. Taxpayers can use the chart on IRS.gov/aca to find out if their insurance counts as qualifying coverage. 
·       Exemptions. Taxpayers may be eligible to claim an exemption from the requirement to have coverage.  Eligible taxpayers need to complete the new IRS Form 8965, Health Coverage Exemptions, and attach it to their tax return.  Taxpayers must apply for some exemptions through the Health Insurance Marketplace. However, most of the exemptions can be obtained from the IRS when filing a return.
·       Individual Shared Responsibility Payment. Taxpayers who do not have qualifying coverage or an exemption for each month of the year will need to make an individual shared responsibility payment with their return. Examples and information about figuring the payment are available on the IRS Calculating the Payment page.
·       Premium Tax Credit.  Taxpayers who bought coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace should receive Form 1095-A, Health Insurance Marketplace Statement, from the Marketplace by early February. This form should be saved because it has important tax information. Taxpayers who should receive the form but haven’t received it by early February should contact their Marketplace. The IRS does not have access to this information.
           
            Taxpayers who got advance payments of the premium tax credit must file a federal income tax return. These taxpayers need to reconcile their advance payments with the amount of premium tax credit they’re entitled to based on their actual income. Some may see a smaller or larger tax refund or tax liability than was expected. Use IRS Form 8962, Premium Tax Credit (PTC), to calculate the premium tax credit and reconcile the credit with any advance payments.
            The IRS has set up a special section at IRS.gov/aca with more information about the Affordable Care Act and the 2014 income tax return.

Q:       Can taxpayers receive help in meeting the health care requirement?
A:        Low- and moderate-income taxpayers can get help meeting this health care requirement and filing their return for free by visiting one of the more than 12,000 community-based tax help sites staffed by more than 90,000 volunteers that participate in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (VITA/TCE) programs. To find the nearest site, use the VITA/TCE Site Locator on IRS.gov.
            The IRS also reminds taxpayers that a trusted tax professional can also provide helpful information about the health care law. A number of tips about selecting a preparer and national tax professional groups is available on IRS.gov.

The information for this “Law You Can Use” column was provided by the Internal Revenue Service. It was prepared by the Ohio State Bar Association. Articles appearing in this column are intended to provide broad, general information about the law. Before applying this information to a specific legal problem, readers are urged to seek advice from an attorney.

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Monday, February 23, 2015

Buyers Must Beware When Purchasing Property


Q:       I’m thinking of buying a home, and my friend says a house purchase is a “buyer beware” situation. What does that mean?
A:        Buyer beware,” also known as the doctrine of “caveat emptor,” is an age-old doctrine. It means that, if you intend to buy property, you generally bear the responsibility for finding out about the property’s condition before purchasing it. This doctrine appears to place the entire risk on the shoulders of the homebuyer, but only does so if 1) the condition of the property is open to observation or discoverable upon reasonable inspection to the buyer; 2) the buyer had the opportunity to examine the property; and 3) there is no fraud or wrongdoing on the part of the seller.

Q:       What do I, as a buyer, have to do about a defect that may be found during a home inspection?
A:        A defect that is open, observable and can be discovered through inspection and inquiry is called a “patent defect.” You, as a buyer, are responsible for making efforts to obtain all information about such obvious defects or problems with the property. Also, you will be held responsible and liable for all defects that you could have discovered upon inspection, so make sure you make reasonable efforts to view and inspect the property before buying it.
            For example, you may notice such “patent” obvious defects as large cracks in the concrete foundation of the home, a hole in the roof or rotten wood on the home’s front porch. If you decide to buy the home in spite of these obvious defects, you could not later seek damages or a remedy against the seller for the costs of repairing them. The burden is on you to notice these issues before buying the property.

Q:       What about defects that are not obvious?
A:        The home may have “latent,” defects that are known to the seller, but cannot be easily discovered by the buyer or may present a dangerous condition. They are hidden in nature. As an exception to the doctrine of the caveat emptor/buyer beware doctrine, sellers must disclose latent defects to the buyer. This requirement provides protection for the innocent buyer.
            Latent defects are more complex than patent defects. For example, if a leaking roof can only be noticed when it rains, and an inspection shows no evidence of water damage, this would be a latent defect. Similarly, if a septic tank produces a bad smell occasionally, this would not be a readily observable problem. In such instances the burden falls on the seller. If the seller fails to disclose such issues, the buyer can seek a remedy, if necessary, in court.
            It is very important to retain a licensed property inspector to inspect the property before purchase, and make the purchase agreement contingent upon the property passing inspection. An inspector has the knowledge, skills, and experience necessary to thoroughly evaluate the property and notice issues you may never discover until it is too late.
            A seller is also liable for fraud or misrepresentations to the buyer. For instance, a seller cannot lie and tell the buyer the foundation is in great condition if the seller knows it is in need of repair or in danger of collapsing. Similarly, a seller cannot tell a buyer a roof has never had any leaks if the seller has replaced the ceiling’s drywall and paint to conceal the fact that the roof leaks every time there’s a severe storm.

Q:       What is an “as-is” clause?
A:        In certain circumstances, a seller does not have to disclose latent defects. If a real estate agreement contains an “as-is” clause, then the buyer assumes the risk that latent defects may exist. An “as is” clause relieves the seller of any duty to disclose, and means that the buyer cannot bring a lawsuit against the seller for any passive non-disclosure.
            For example, in Ferguson v. Cadle, 2009-Ohio-4285, the court held that sellers had no liability under an “as is” home sale contract for failing to disclose the existence of a steel support structure that was installed in a basement wall after the wall had sustained water damage.

This “Law You Can Use” consumer information column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. It was prepared by Andrew L. Smith, a senior associate attorney in the Cincinnati office of Smith, Rolfes & Skavdahl Company, LPA. Articles appearing in this column are intended to provide broad, general information about the law. Before applying this information to a specific legal problem, readers are urged to seek advice from an attorney.

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Monday, February 16, 2015

Drug Courts Reduce Crime While Saving Time, Money and Resources


An estimated 1.2 million drug-addicted people are currently involved in the justice system.  “Drug courts” provide effective intervention, save money and significantly reduce drug use and crime through intensive supervision and treatment. Such court dockets exist throughout Ohio’s adult and juvenile courts and there are more than 2,000 across the nation. Over the last 20 years, state and federal studies have consistently shown that drug courts are the most cost-effective way to reduce drug-related crime.
 
Q:       How does a drug court work?
A:        Usually administered through a traditional court, a “drug court” is a specialized docket created to manage cases involving drug-addicted offenders. The cases that qualify for management through a drug court can be drug-related (i.e., possession of drugs), or seemingly non drug-related (i.e., theft), but all involve drug-addicted offenders. An arrested person who is determined to have a drug addiction, and otherwise meets the court’s criteria, is screened for eligibility and enters the drug court program shortly after arrest. If appropriate, drug offenders begin treatment within two weeks of arrest. While in the community, they must comply with intensive probation requirements. They meet frequently with case managers, probation officers and the presiding drug court judge. They must prove sobriety through urine testing and must comply with all requirements set by the managers.
            In Ohio, the Supreme Court has adopted rules outlining requirements for drug court certification.  These standards create a minimum level of uniform practices for each court, and permit two “tracks” by which offenders may enter the program. Under a “probation track,” offenders enter the program as a condition of probation. Under the “intervention in lieu of conviction” track, offenders are eligible to have the charges dismissed upon successful completion of the program. Intervention in lieu of conviction requires 12 consecutive months of sobriety for eligible offenders. 
            The program requires each offender to complete an individualized case management plan and remain drug and alcohol-free. Offenders may obtain GEDs and/or employment, work with Children’s Services to be reunited with their children, perform volunteer work, attend AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and NA (Narcotics Anonymous) meetings, and do whatever is necessary to re-enter society as sober, responsible people.
            Offenders in a drug court program must appear in court on a regular basis to and take responsibility if they do not comply with the program’s expectations. If they fail to comply (for example, by missing a meeting or testing positive for drugs), the court imposes a series of graduated sanctions. The first sanction, for example, may require sitting in court for one day. The second sanction may require two days of community service, and three days of jail time may be required for the third sanction, and so on. The offender will not be removed from the program unless he or she is unwilling to try, but the offender’s willingness to try is gauged on actions, and not just words.  Some offenders decline to enter the program, opting for jail or prison instead because they feel the program’s requirements are too difficult. 

Q:       Are there rewards for offenders who successfully complete a drug court program?
A:        Yes. Successful participants receive court commendations for sobriety or other achievements. Rewards can range from praise to tangible items such as certificates and gift cards.  Also, the amount of their fines may be reduced. A formal graduation ceremony acknowledges their successful completion of the program. If the offender entered the program on probation, that probation is concluded. Offenders who enter under intervention in lieu of conviction are eligible to have their cases dismissed.

Q:       Why not just send drug users to jail?
A:        Drug courts reduce crime as much as 45 percent more than other sentencing options. Without drug treatment, more than 70 percent of drug addicts will commit new crimes, but75 percent of drug court graduates nationwide remain arrest-free for at least two years after leaving the program.
            Also, incarceration is an expensive punishment, and national corrections expenditures exceed $60 billion annually. In both the short and long term, drug courts are less expensive than traditional approaches. For every $1 invested in drug courts, taxpayers save as much as $3.36 in criminal justice costs alone. Drug courts reduce police overtime for court appearances and lawyers’ fees for defendants who cannot pay for their own attorneys. Also prosecutors can devote more time to other cases, which helps reduce the court’s docket, and jail beds can be used for other offenders.
            In addition, taxpayers realize long-term savings because rehabilitated offenders can hold jobs, pay taxes, participate in the community, and care for their children rather than neglecting them or leaving them to the care of the state. Finally, a rehabilitated offender’s children are much less likely to become offenders. This effectively ends the cycle of crime for many people.

This “Law You Can Use” column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association (OSBA). It was prepared by Hon. Joy Malek Oldfield, a municipal court judge and the presiding judge of a drug court in Akron. The column offers general information about the law.  Seek an attorney’s advice before applying this information to a legal problem.

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Monday, February 9, 2015

Liens and Encumbrances Affect Residential Real Estate


Q:       What are liens and encumbrances? Are they different?
A:        An encumbrance is a claim, liability, or other right that is attached to real property and may lessen its value. A lien is simply a type of encumbrance that can be satisfied with the payment of money. 
A good example of a lien is a mortgage lien. As long as you have a mortgage, the mortgage lender has a lien against your property. If you don’t pay your mortgage on time, the lender can foreclose on your property. However, once you pay your lender all the money you owe under the mortgage, the mortgage is satisfied and no longer affects title to your real property. Another type of lien that may affect your property is a mechanic’s lien. If, for example, you own a home and hired a contractor to do work, but failed to pay for it, the contractor may put a mechanic’s lien on your property which, for practical purposes, will force you to pay for the work before you can sell or refinance your home.  
There are other types of encumbrances that are not liens because they cannot be satisfied by paying money and generally stick with the property for a number of years, or even perpetually. The most common example of such an encumbrance is an easement. Utility companies generally will have perpetual easements along the front, side, or rear of your real property so they can install and maintain various utilities to service the neighborhood. Also, if you have leased your property, the lease constitutes an encumbrance that will last for the number of years stated in the lease.
 
Q:       What are the most common types of liens and encumbrances affecting residential real estate?
A:        All residential real estate is subject to a real estate tax, the most common type of lien. A mortgage is also a very common lien, since most homeowners buy their homes through mortgage financing. Utility easements are very common encumbrances. Finally, homes located within a planned development are usually subject to another common encumbrance, which is a declaration or other document that includes the restrictions, rules and regulations governing the use of the real estate.

Q:       What should I know about liens and encumbrances before signing on the dotted line?
A:         You should review and understand the specific liens and encumbrances which will affect title to your real property. This is especially true if your property is subject to a declaration or other rules and regulations of a homeowners’ association. You need to know, for example, if there are restrictions on how many pets you can have and how big the pets can be, or if you are allowed to put in a fence and what type of fence it can be, and whether or not you can paint your house a certain color or put a shed in the backyard. All of these matters are usually addressed in the declaration and affect the way you can use your home. It’s best to know what the issues are before buying a home. 

Q:       When I buy a home, how can I protect myself against liens and encumbrances that may my hurt my home’s value?  
A:         You should obtain title insurance. In Ohio, the seller usually pays for this. The title insurance commitment shows you what liens and encumbrances will affect title to the real property after closing, and lets you know if, for example, the property is subject to a mechanic’s lien that the seller should pay before closing. 

Q:       I recently put a chain link fence around my property, and my homeowners’ association said that this type of fence is not allowed and must be taken down. The declaration does say that I cannot install a chain link fence, but do I have to abide by this rule, and is there any way to change it?  
A:        Unless the rule is arbitrary, discriminatory or against public policy, you must abide by all of the declaration’s rules and regulations. If the rules do not specifically address declaration amendments, it may be possible to change the terms of a declaration, but only if a large percentage (at least 75 percent) of homeowners in the development approve the change. Because it is usually very difficult to get such approval, it is especially important for you to review the governing declarations before you buy the home.

This “Law You Can Use” consumer legal information column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. It was prepared by Columbus attorney Ryan P. Aiello of Dinsmore & Shohl LLP. Articles appearing in this column are intended to provide broad, general information about the law. Before applying this information to a specific legal problem, readers are urged to seek advice from an attorney.

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