News and Insights on Connecticut Real Estate Law
Friday, November 1, 2013
Small business owners face many challenges, such as finding financing and the right employees, not to mention bringing in new business. As a business law attorney I often advise clients on another important issue—avoiding liability for lawsuits, especially personal liability. A business owner should always use a structure such a limited liability company (LLC) or corporation for his or her business. This structure cannot prevent against all personal liability, because sometimes you are going to have to sign personally, such as when you take out a loan for your business. But if properly documented and maintained, a corporation or LLC can help avoid personal liability in many situations.
I would recommend first talking to your tax advisor, most likely your accountant, before getting started. Depending on the kind of business there may be certain advantages to choosing one type of entity over another. Then I would suggest you hire an attorney to set up your new business. Yes, you can probably do it cheaper online, but only an attorney can ensure that you and your business are properly protected. You should be able to obtain a quote for the fee up front. In addition, online companies will often charge you high annual fees for a statutory agent and other services which you often do not need. In addition, if there is more than one owner in the business, your attorney can help you to document your agreements concerning the ownership and management of the business.
Once your business is up and running, it is important that you not forget about the formalities that are required. The documentation for a small business is not burdensome, but it is important. Make sure you file your annual reports with the secretary of state. Keep all of your corporate records in a secure location and where you can easily find them. And I also recommend having an annual meeting of the business and keeping notes of the meeting with the records.
But by far the most important practice is to keep your business and personal finances separate. If you need to infuse your business with some cash, then by all means do so. Your accountant can advise you on how best to do this. But other than that, keep finances separate. Do not commingle personal and business funds. Business expenses should be paid from the business account, and personal expenses should be paid from your personal account. Do not use your business to pay your personal expenses.
Courts, including Connecticut courts, will generally recognize the liability protection provided by corporations and LLC’s. But if they view the business as a fraud or sham, they will not hesitate to hold the business owner(s) liable for obligations of the business. This is called piercing the corporate veil. The best way to protect your business and yourself is to consult with an attorney and maintain your business as a distinct entity.
Thursday, March 15, 2012
In 1989 the Federal EPA required all tank owners to get an insurance policy to cover leaks and spills, the thought being that if insurance were covering the bill, station owners would be less likely to hide a leak. Private insurance wouldn't write policies at the time because they couldn't calculate the risk pool. In response, the State of Connecticut increased the gross receipts tax and started a clean up fund. The EPA certified and recognized this as an umbrella insurance for all tank owners in the state. The fund had a ceiling of $18 million and a floor of $2 million, so there was always money in it. Tank owners could apply for clean up funds and they were granted in a somewhat timely manner. $15-16 million a year was paid out for claims and the remaining money went to the DEP for administrative costs.
Fast forward to 2011. The gross receipts tax is a percentage based tax, so income increases as gas prices increase. In 2011 the State took in $365 million in tax revenue from fuel. Their pay out for tank clean ups? $250,000. Not a typo. And the DEP still is getting $2,000,000 and a staff of 18 to administer the clean up program. They have over $80 million in clean up applications that they have not paid out.
So, the Federal EPA has been informed. And EPA has notified the state that after the current legislative session ends the EPA will decertify them as the insurer and station owners will be forced to get private insurance. Private insurance companies will not write a policy if you have known environmental issues. Thus stations will have to close.
There are estimates that 600-800 stations around Connecticut will have to shut their doors for some amount of time. The state doesn’t seem to care, as reported in this article in the Waterbury Republican:
“The state's chief environmental official said Wednesday he supports ending a taxpayer-funded program that reimburses gas stations for cleaning up leaks from underground fuel storage tanks. He recommends paying just a fraction of the remaining claims, which currently could total $98.6 million.
Advocates for the state's gas station owners, however, say eliminating the program would cause as many as 650 of the state's 1,480 gas stations to close, putting up to 4,000 people out of work and resulting in gas prices of more than $6 per gallon.
State Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Daniel C. Esty issued a news release Wednesday supporting Senate Bill 375, which is pending before the Environment Committee. The bill proposes to set aside just $5 million toward phasing out the tank reimbursement program by October 2014.”
So why wasn’t the money used for cleaning up the environment? What will this do to gasoline prices in Connecticut, which are already the highest in the nation?
Those are the questions.
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
It may be tacky to push this subject, but a recent article in the New York Times discusses the importance of having an attorney in all real estate transactions. The article mainly discusses New York closings, but the concepts apply to Connecticut as well. In addition, in one of my earlier posts I noted a study which concluded that having attorneys involved in all real estate transactions in Connecticut does not increase the cost of closings.
Thursday, September 8, 2011
Another case involving purchase of property through a foreclosure sale highlights the importance both of conducting a thorough title search and purchasing title insurance. In Water Pollution Control Authority of the City of Bridgeport v. Johnson, AC 32621, the WPCA foreclosed its lien for unpaid sewer fees, and the buyer purchased the property at auction for the price of $99,100.
After the sale was completed it was discovered that there was another mortgage on the property. The holder of the mortgage was not notified of the foreclosure and not named in the foreclosure pleadings. As a result, the mortgage was not extinguished in the foreclosure and remained a valid lien on the property. That lender proceeded to file a new foreclosure, which threatened to take away the buyer’s entire investment in the property.
The buyer requested that the court vacate the judgment of foreclosure, invalidate the sale and return its funds. The Superior Court denied the request and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The appellate court ruled that Section 49-30 of the Connecticut General Statutes clearly provided that, notwithstanding the omitted mortgage, the foreclosure was valid and the omitted lender was free to pursue its own foreclosure. The court stated that the buyer knew that it would be assuming all risks with regard to the condition of the property, including the condition of title to the property. In reaching this conclusion the court noted that the seller had provided very clear disclosures.
I find the case somewhat troubling, because the buyer paid value for the property and received a deed which stated that the property was being conveyed “free and clear … of all claims subsequent in right” to the foreclosed lien. There were, however, other circumstances involved. The court noted that the buyer waited fifteen months to file its motion to vacate the foreclosure judgment.
Regardless of the facts, this case provides an important lesson. There are often, very often, mistakes in foreclosure actions. There are firms which have thousands of foreclosure actions pending at any one time, and they often miss important details. I personally have represented purchasers of two properties where there were omitted liens. Both were resolved, but only after a delay of over a month. It is critical that the buyer conduct a full title search, and obtain title insurance. In this case, a title insurance policy would have cost the buyer $400. If the buyer had obtained title insurance, the title insurance company would have had to assume the risk of the additional lien. This would include the cost of legal fees to defend against the claim. Title insurance it not a substitute for due diligence. But it is a layer of protection that you dismiss at your own risk.
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
I just completed the closing on a purchase of an industrial property in Waterbury. My client, a manufacturing company, was tired of paying rent for a bad building and wanted to purchase its own facility. The combination of low interest rates and a depressed real estate market made for a perfect opportunity. In order to finance the purchase, my client (with my urging) chose to go with a 504 loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). I have worked on many of these transactions and it is an excellent form of financing. The SBA 504 loan is specifically designed for the purchase of owner-occupied properties. It cannot be used for investment properties. The purchaser must occupy more than half of the property, and the balance of the property can be leased out to another tenant.
The 504 program is attractive because the borrower can finance up to 90% of the purchase price. Most projects are funded on a 50/40/10 basis: a bank funds 50%, the SBA funds 40% and the borrower must contribute a minimum of 10% of the project cost. The SBA portion is funded at a fixed rate for 20 years, a deal which is not available from traditional banks. The bank portion is negotiable but since the loan is secured by real estate, most banks will give a 10 year fixed rate.
One thing different about the SBA loan is that it does require working with two different lenders. The borrower must make applications both to a bank and to a lender authorized to handle SBA loans. In this case we used the Connecticut Community Investment Corporation, an excellent organization located in Hamden. That means submitting all materials to two different organizations, and obtaining approvals from both as well. As a result, the loan approval process is a little more time intensive for the borrower, but as long as you work with an experienced SBA lender it isn’t a tremendous burden. The approval also takes a little longer, because once the bank issues its commitment and sends it to the SBA, the SBA then needs to approve. That typically requires another week.
Another benefit of an SBA loan is that the borrower can include additional costs, such as renovation costs, moving costs or even equipment purchases in the loan amount. Most banks are reluctant to do this without the SBA involvement. In my deal the loan amount exceeded the purchase price of the property by almost $200,000. The SBA does not administer construction loans, so in this situation the bank funds all the loan proceeds up front, and then when the construction is completed the SBA funds its portion. This requires a second closing and some additional costs, but again the benefits of the 504 loan generally outweigh the costs.
The SBA approval process generally handles environmental issues very well. The SBA will even close in a situation where remediation is required, as long as there is a sufficient escrow in place to cover the estimated costs. If a site is subject to the Transfer Act or has any other environmental issues, it is important to have a discussion with the SBA lender (preferably in person so there is no confusion) to determine what the SBA requirements will be.
One concern is that SBA loans require more paperwork or take longer to get approved and close. It is true that the borrower will be required to submit financial statements and other materials to two different lenders, but generally the borrower would just be submitting a second set of copies of the same documents. And as mentioned above, the additional time period for SBA approval is typically only one week.
Friday, February 25, 2011
Small businesses maturing commercial mortgages or balloon payments before Dec. 31, 2012, may be able to refinance their mortgage debt with a Small Business Administration (SBA) loan through a new program that begins Monday, February 28. The program, authorized under the Small Business Jobs Act, will be in effect through Sept. 27, 2012.
The new loan program is structured similarly to a traditional SBA 504 loan, which is offered to businesses that want to expand. Borrowers will be able to refinance up to 90 percent of the current appraised property value or 100 percent of the outstanding mortgage, whichever is lower, plus eligible refinancing costs. No expansion of the business is required.
I could not find any information about the new loan on the SBA website, perhaps because the program does not start until February 28th. But any business which is interested in this new loan program should contract Carolyn Welch at the Connecticut Community Investment Corporation, (203) 776-6172 Ext. 132 or firstname.lastname@example.org. CTCIC, located in Hamden, is one of the organizations in Connecticut which administers SBA loans. I have worked with Carolyn on several transactions and my clients have been very pleased with her work.
Monday, August 16, 2010
Connecticut is close to being in the top-10 least expensive states in which to close on a home, according to a new survey. The survey ranked Connecticut 39 nationwide in total closing costs. This is an improvement from the state's ranking as 24th most expensive in 2009, according to Bankrate.com. This year, those closing on a home in Connecticut can expect to pay $3,391.
This new survey contradicts the common belief that closing on a home is expensive in Connecticut because of the requirement that an attorney be involved to conduct the closing and to issue title insurance. Title companies do not conduct closings in Connecticut, which is common in some other states, such as Florida.
The most expensive states to close on a home were New York, Texas and Utah, Bankrate.com said. The total costs for New York were $5,623.
Thursday, July 15, 2010
A recent case in the Connecticut Appellate Court highlights the importance of proper disclosure when completing a Residential Property Condition Disclosure Report. In that case the owner of a house had covered up a substantial crack in the foundation and floor slab when he refinished the basement. When the owner later sold the house, he stated “unknown” in response to a question about foundation problems. Before purchasing the house the buyers completed a home inspection, but there was no way anyone could have discovered the crack. After a heavy rain flooded the basement the buyers subsequently discovered the crack and sued the seller.
The contract contained the following language, which is standard in many residential real estate contracts: “The BUYER agrees that he has inspected the Premises, is satisfied with the physical condition thereof and agrees to accept at closing the Premises in the present condition on an ‘as is’ basis . . . . Neither SELLER nor SELLER’s agents have made any representations or warranties as to said Premises on which Buyer has relied other than as expressly set forth in this Agreement.” The seller argued that this language was controlling and absolved the seller from any liability for any misrepresentation about the condition of the property.
The court rejected that argument, stating that such language did not protect the seller when the misrepresentation was negligent and not innocent. In this case, the court stated, the seller had full knowledge of the crack in the foundation and did not disclose it to the buyers. In addition, the court placed substantial emphasis on the buyers’ inability to discover the crack through their home inspections. The court stated that “[t]he defendant’s mis-statement served to conceal his actual knowledge of a defect in the condition of the property that he sold to the plaintiff.”
This case, decided by the Appellate Court, is a clear statement of the importance of being very careful when completing these disclosure reports. They should not be rushed. If a seller fails to disclose the existence of any defect of which he or she has actual knowledge, the seller could be held responsible for any damages incurred by the buyer.
Thursday, July 1, 2010
The U.S. Congress on Wednesday approved a bill extending the closing deadline for homebuyers trying to take advantage of a popular tax credit.
Homebuyers with contracts signed by April 30 who failed to go to closing by the June 30 deadline will now have until September 30 to complete their purchases. The House of Representatives on Tuesday approved the bill and it now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature.
The $8,000 tax credit for first time homebuyers and $6,500 credit for others purchasing a new primary residence was a highly popular temporary measure by the Obama administration to jump start home sales during the economic recession.
In order to qualify for the credit a homebuyer must still have signed a binding contract by April 30, 2010. But now the closing deadline has been extended until September 30th. This will assist those persons who have not been able to close because of financing or other issues.
Friday, January 29, 2010
Connecticut statutes provide two procedures for real estate brokers to protect their ability to collect commissions due in connection with sales and leases of real estate. These procedures can be used when a broker is concerned that he or she will not able to collect a commission (i.e., concerned about getting “stiffed”).
Section 20-325a of the Connecticut General Statutes grants to brokers the power to record a lien to protect their rights to a commission. This section applies to both sales and leases. The statute provides that a broker “who has performed acts or rendered services relating to real property … shall have a lien upon such real property” for the amount of the compensation due. The lien does not attach, or become enforceable, until all contingencies to the transaction have been satisfied. At that point the broker must record the claim for lien in the land records where the property is located. If the contract is with the buyer, then the lien can only be recorded after the sale occurs. The broker must also serve a copy of the lien on the owner property and comply with other notice requirements as described in the statute.
There are many other strict requirements a broker must follow in order to use this procedure. The broker must be properly licensed; there must be a written agreement meeting the requirements of the statute; the agreement must provide notice that the broker has these lien rights; and other requirements. Any broker who intends to file a lien must follow the requirements of the statute carefully.
As long as attention is paid to the necessary details, this statute does provide some options for a broker who feels he or she is not going to get paid. It must be employed prudently, because the last thing anyone wants to do is kill the deal.
There is another, lesser known statute which provides protection for brokers in commercial lease transactions. Connecticut General Statutes section 20-325k provides that a commission agreement that provides for future payments, such as the in the case of a lease renewal, will be binding on subsequent owners of the property, including someone who acquires the property through foreclosure, if the broker records a notice of commission rights and complies with the requirements of the statute. If the lease renews after the property is transferred, then the new owner will be obligated to pay any commission that is due on the renewal. Again, the statute should be reviewed carefully to ensure compliance with the various requirements.
The statute is very clear that the recorded notice does not constitute a lien on the property. As a result, the broker cannot bring a foreclosure action to collect on the lien. This was probably inserted in the statute to provide some comfort to lenders who did not want another lien on the property. But if the statute creates a contractual obligation that did not previously exist, I don’t see how there is much of a difference. Either way the property owner has a new obligation.
Clearly the intent of the statute was to provide some protection to real estate brokers without creating a new way of creating a cloud on title. But I don’t think the statute accomplishes that goal. The existence of such a notice is certainly going to come up as an issue in any closing. The buyer and seller can likely resolve it through a negotiated solution. The buyer may be willing to assume the commission obligation as a cost of doing business. But no lender is going to finance an acquisition with that notice in place, and the lender will insist that it be removed. The broker will then insist that it re-recorded after the closing. But the lender may object to that as well. What if there is a foreclosure? Can the notice be foreclosed out? How can it be foreclosed out if it is not a lien?
There is no easy solution to this issue. The only answer is that counsel for the buyer, seller and lender will have to think and talk it through and come up with a compromise.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Effective October 1, 2009 there has been a significant increase in filing fees at the Connecticut Secretary of State for business and UCC filings. For example, the fee for filing a UCC-1 Financing Statement is now $50 (previously $25), and the fee for filing Articles of Organization for a limited liability company is now $120 (previously $60). The fee increase has not been very well publicized.
The Law Office of Thomas J. Dufour, LLC assist clients throughout Connecticut including New Haven, Milford, Waterbury, Bridgeport, Shelton, Branford and Hartford.