Firm News: Sherwin Law Firm Moves to Charlestown

Starting July 1st, my firm will be moving to Charlestown, Massachusetts (only several blocks away from my current office).  My new office has plenty of parking and facilities that will help me continue to best serve my clients, and hopefully open up new opportunities for me in years to come.

It was a blast to have worked in Somerville for the past five years.  Luckily, I won’t be far away, and look forward to staying active in this wonderful city.

Here’s hoping your summer is off to a great start!

 

Service of an Eviction Case

reversing-a-foreclosure

Service of an eviction case is a requirement for starting any eviction against a tenant.  The law requires that the tenants have proper notice that such a case has been brought against them.  A landlord’s failure to comply with these service requirements can be fatal to one’s case.

Service of an Eviction Case

An eviction generally requires serving two types of documents to a tenant: a notice to quit, informing the tenant that their tenancy is being terminated, and a summons,  informing the tenant that an eviction case is occurring in court against them.

Service of an eviction is needed to put a tenant on fair notice that the landlord is attempting to obtain possession of the rental unit.  Simply calling or emailing the tenant is not sufficient; the law requires (like any other lawsuit) that the tenant have formal notice of the eviction.

Contrary to popular belief, a landlord does not need to serve a notice to quit by constable or sheriff.  However, the landlord bears the burden of proving that the tenant received this notice.  If the landlord is unable to do so, the court will dismiss the eviction.  For this reason, most landlords (smartly) serve notices to quit through a constable or sheriff.  Under the law, such service creates a presumption that the tenant received the notice.  Absent a compelling argument to the contrary, proof of service by a constable or sheriff establishes that the tenant received the notice to quit.

A summons, which is a formal court notice stating that an eviction case will begin, must be served by a sheriff.  A constable, who is a private officer, is also permitted to serve most eviction cases.  This formal service is a mandatory requirement, unless the tenant elects to waiver service.  Failure to properly serve an eviction case will likely result in its immediate dismissal by the court.

Conclusion

Service of an eviction is a critical part of a Massachusetts landlord-tenant case.  Failure to comply with these requirements can add unnecessary time and expense onto one of these cases, and make the process far more difficult than it needs to be.  For this reason, consider hiring an experienced landlord-tenant attorney to assist with one of these matters.

 

Firm News: Client Review from a Successful Foreclosure Defense Case

This week, I received a client review from a homeowner I represented in a successful foreclosure defense case.  The client wished to stay anonymous, but gave me permission to use this review here:

Adam Sherwin is exceptional! Patient, kind, thorough and competent. We had contacted our lender on several occasions to inform them of unfortunate and serious disabling health conditions that had caused my husband and me to fall behind on mortgage payments. We were assured that our modification was in process. We made consistent monthly payments as agreed. However, for some reason, we were informed that the agreed upon modification was not valid. We had carefully kept all notices from the mortgage lender. We worked closely with Adam for more than a year on every step of re-negotiation and reinstatement of our original agreement. Adam consistently informed us of progress, he listened carefully to our thoughts, concerns, and perspective. He was timely, persistent, clear, careful and detailed in every aspect required. We are deeply grateful. The modification was approved. We are in our home and we are thankful.

As discussed in this review, my client had difficulty obtaining a loan modification with her lender, which she qualified for and did everything asked of her to receive this assistance.  Unfortunately, as with many loan modification applications, the lender made a mess of this process by denying her application for inaccurate reasons.

Through the filing of a lawsuit and negotiation with the lender, this turned out to be a successful foreclosure case: the client has kept her home through an affordable loan modification!

These are the kinds of cases I am especially proud of, where I’ve been able to help clients through difficult legal matters, and get them the help they need.

If you find yourself in need of help with a foreclosure defense case or other legal matter that I handle, contact me for a consultation.

Who Can File An Eviction in Massachusetts?

foreclosure appeal

The Supreme Judicial Court issued an important decision this week for landlord-tenant law: who can file an eviction in Massachusetts?  The decision, Rental Property Management Services v. Hatcher, is included below.

Overview

The facts of this case are fairly straightforward.  A property manager (a person hired to maintain rental property) filed an eviction (“summary process”) case against a tenant in Housing Court.  This property manager brought this case in the name of “Property Management Services” (his business), which was not the owner of the subject property, nor the lessor.  This property manager personally signed the eviction summons.

Who Can File An Eviction in Massachusetts?

This case presented two main questions for the Supreme Judicial Court.  First, could this property management service bring this eviction case against the tenant?  Second, could the property manager (who was not a lawyer) sign the eviction summons?

The Court held that only an owner or lessor of rental property is entitled to bring an eviction case against a tenant.  Here, while the property management company may have been responsible for maintaining the property, it was not the right party to bring this eviction.

It is not uncommon in Massachusetts for property management companies to directly enter into leases with tenants.  Here, if this property management company had a lease or written agreement with the tenant, I suspect the outcome may have been different.  However, where this company was neither the owner nor lessor, it was not entitled to proceed with this eviction.

The Court then addressed whether the property manager was permitted to sign the eviction paperwork.  Because this manager was not an attorney, the Court held that he was not permitted to do so, and had engaged in the unauthorized practice of law.

Lessons for Massachusetts Landlords

This case has an important lesson for Massachusetts landlords: proceed with caution when filing an eviction in Massachusetts.  While I highly recommend that landlords use property management services if they need assistance in maintaining their rental units, these services cannot substitute as lawyers.

The Court declined to find that doing so was an unfair and deceptive business practice against the tenant (a claim that could allow for monetary damages and attorney fees).  Hatcher is clear, however, that a Court can punish a party who knowingly disobeys these eviction requirements.

Conclusion

If you are confused about who can file an eviction in Massachusetts, take away this critical advice: hire an experienced landlord-tenant attorney for your eviction.  Aside from avoiding some of the problems stated above, an experienced attorney will help you navigate this tricky area of law and reach an effective resolution to your dispute.  If you are in need of such assistance, contact me for a consultation.

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Appealing a Lis Pendens in Massachusetts

The Massachusetts Appeals Court issued a decision this week on appealing a lis pendens.  This decision, DeLucia v. Kfoury (included below), discusses the process for doing so and the consequences of not filing a timely notice of appeal.

What is a Lis Pendens?

A lis pendens is a notice of a pending lawsuit affecting “title to real property or the use and occupation thereof or the buildings thereon.” A lis pendens may be obtained by a party involved in such a lawsuit, by showing that the lawsuit affects real property and that the party has verified the lawsuit.

Compared to a preliminary injunction, where a party needs to show a likelihood of success on the merits of a claim, a lis pendens is usually easier to obtain.  Once approved by the court, a party can record the lis pendens in the land records, which puts the public on notice about the pending lawsuit.  The practical implication of a lis pendens is that it keeps a sale of property from occurring: few buyers will want to purchase property knowing that a lawsuit affecting its title remains ongoing.

Appealing a Lis Pendens 

Under Massachusetts’s lis pendens law, a party has a right to appeal a lis pendens to a single justice of the Appeals Court.  The purpose of this is to allow a party to have an immediate right of appeal.  As a lis pendens can have serious implications for the sale of property, this right of appeal is intended to provide a “check” on this type of order.

An appeal to a single justice of the Appeals Court, commonly known as an “interlocutory appeal” (done while the trial court case remains ongoing), comes with an important requirement: such an appeal must be filed within thirty days of the trial court decision.  No exceptions exist for this deadline.

In Delucia, the claimant attempted to appeal the lis pendens decision after this deadline.  The Appeals Court, in keeping with established law on this subject, held that the appeal was “dead on arrival” due to being untimely filed.  This is keeping with other, similar decisions on appeals with strict deadlines: if you do not timely appeal, the Appeals Court will dismiss the appeal.

Practical Considerations On Appealing a Lis Pendens 

As the Appeals Court noted in Delucia, the dismissal of the lis pendens appeal was not too harsh of an outcome for the party seeking this appeal.  Rather than attempting to appeal the lis pendens, a party can simply defend itself in the trial court case, and seek to have the case dismissed if it considers the matter to be meritless.  Here, the dismissal of the appeal simply prevented the party from having an immediate appeal of the lis pendens; it does not mean that the lis pendens stays recorded in the land records indefinitely.

For this reason, one should carefully consider the decision to appeal a lis pendens.  The time and money in doing so might be better spent on the underlining trial court case which, if dismissed, would consequently end the lis pendens.  Nonetheless, Delucia is an important reminder of the importance of timely filing an appeal.

If you find yourself dealing with a lis pendens, contact me for a consultation.  An experienced real estate litigation attorney can help you determine the best way to address this legal matter.

DeLucia v. Kfoury

Understanding a Real Estate Purchase Agreement

A real estate purchase agreement is an essential part of buying or selling property.  Understanding the importance of these agreements is essential for avoiding potential problems later on in the sale process.

Selling Property Generally Requires A Written Agreement 

Massachusetts, like most states, has a statue of frauds, a law requiring that certain types of agreements be in writing to be enforceable, including the sale of property.  With few, limited exceptions, an oral agreement will not suffice when real estate is involved.

Importantly, the type of writing allowed for such agreements is broader than a traditional written contract.  A recent Land Court decision found that a binding agreement for the sale of property was created through text messages, and similar decisions have held that emails are also sufficient for satisfying the statute of frauds.

Common Types of Real Estate Purchase Agreements

For the sale of residential property, there are two common types of real estate purchase agreements: an offer to purchase real estate and a purchase and sale agreement.

An offer to purchase real estate is just that: a written offer for the sale of property.  These agreements are generally one or two pages and contain the “bare bones” terms of the sale.

When the parties are ready to move forward with the sale, a purchase and sale agreement is generally negotiated and signed.  This agreement contains more information on the sale of the property, which generally comes after the parties have had more time to seek financing and discuss the specific details of the sale.

The most important thing to remember about real estate purchase agreements is that such agreements are generally binding contracts.  If signed, a party is generally committed to selling or buying the property.  There can be defenses to such agreements, but a seller or buyer should exercise extreme care in signing one of these agreements.

Drafting Real Estate Purchase Agreements

If you are involved in buying or selling real estate, hire a lawyer to assist you in drafting a real estate purchase agreement.  An experienced attorney will know what to include in these agreements and how to include contingency clauses that excuse a party from performance if they are not able to buy or sell the property.

Enforcing or Defending a Real Estate Purchase Agreement 

If you need to enforce or defend a real estate purchase agreement, you need an experienced real estate litigation attorney on your side.  An attorney will help you in determining the right cause of action for your case and know the ways that the legal system can protect your interest in the property while the legal case is ongoing.

If you need help with one of these cases, contact me for a consultation.

Do I Need A Foreclosure Attorney?

Homeowners facing foreclosure in Massachusetts often ask themselves: do I need a foreclosure attorney?  As an attorney who has helped hundreds of Massachusetts homeowners facing foreclosure, let me discuss some of the ways that a lawyer can assist with the foreclosure process.

Applying for a Loan Modification or Short Sale

A lawyer is not always needed for a loan modification or short sale application.  If a homeowner is comfortable completing the required paperwork and staying on top of the process, a homeowner can do this on their own.

However, many homeowners find these applications to be overwhelming, which often require extensive paperwork and communication with the loan servicer.  For many homeowners, a lawyer (or reputable loan modification professional) can be a huge help with this process.

Stopping a Foreclosure Sale

If a homeowner is facing a scheduled foreclosure sale, a foreclosure attorney is generally needed.  While a homeowner can attempt to represent themselves in court, the process for doing so is especially overwhelming and complicated for a non-lawyer.  I’ve rarely seen a self-represented litigant succeed in fighting a foreclosure.  Massachusetts foreclosure law is complicated, and a foreclosure attorney is generally necessary for developing an effective foreclosure defense strategy.

Facing a Post-Foreclosure Eviction 

After a foreclosure sale in Massachusetts, the bank (or the third-party buyer of the foreclosed property) is required to evict the occupants of the home.  Per Massachusetts law, a homeowner is allowed to challenge the foreclosure’s legality as an eviction defense.  If a homeowner wishes to pursue such a defense, having a foreclosure attorney is critical.  An experienced foreclosure attorney will know what defenses to raise, the information that is needed to pursue such a defense, and how best to present such a case before a judge or jury.

As I have written before,  even if the homeowner does not want to stay in the home, a foreclosure attorney can still be helpful.  A foreclosure attorney can help the homeowner obtain the time they need to leave the property and avoid any potential liability from the foreclosure sale.

Conclusion 

If you are facing foreclosure in Massachusetts, it is worthwhile to speak with an experienced foreclosure attorney.  If you are in need of such help, contact me for a consultation.

Advice for Choosing a Lawyer: Don’t Tell Me Just What I Want to Hear

Choosing a lawyer can be a difficult process.  Legal matters often require you to put trust into a person who you may only know through a website or referral.  For anyone choosing a lawyer, there are many things one should keep in mind when making this choice.  Here, I want to focus on what I consider to be an essential consideration in choosing a lawyer: finding someone who won’t tell you only what you want to hear.  This applies to all areas of law, but especially the practice areas that I cover.

Good Legal Advice Is Not Always the News You Want to Hear

When I meet with potential clients, it is not uncommon to have people ask me for a guarantee that they will win their case . . . regardless of the circumstances.  Sometimes, I suspect that the potential client simply wants an attorney to tell them what they want to hear.  Admittedly, this can be tempting, when the potential client is sympathetic and trying to do the right thing.

Of course, if the potential client has a strong case, I’m happy to tell them so and get to work.  But, if the case is not strong, it is important that the potential client knows this before making the decision to go forward.

In my practice, I follow a simple rule: good legal advice needs to be accurate and honest.  Nobody benefits from following a legal strategy that is doomed from the start and filled with unrealistic expectations.  When choosing a lawyer, look for someone who will tell you what you need to hear, and not only what you want to hear.

Be Wary of Taking Legal Advice From Non-Reputable Sources

 If it isn’t obvious, I am a big fan of using blogs and online resources for informational purposes.  I hear, on a regular basis, from many clients and lawyers who have benefited from my resources, which I’m proud of.  This information,  however, comes from years of experience and proven results.

The same isn’t true for other content floating around on the Internet.  Before believing something is true, take the time to learn where the content comes from.

Conclusion

Choosing a lawyer is an endeavor that should not be taken lightly.  Selecting a lawyer who simply tells you what you want to hear can have disastrous consequences down the road.  Picking an attorney with a reputable background and real understanding of the law is the best way for getting the legal help you need.

Landlord Not Returning a Security Deposit in Massachusetts

reversing-a-foreclosure

A landlord not returning a security deposit is one of the most common complaints that comes up between tenants and landlords in Massachusetts.  Massachusetts law heavily regulates the handling of security deposits, and this law can be used when a landlord improperly refuses to return a security deposit.

Massachusetts’s Security Deposit Law

A quick skim of Massachusetts’s security deposit law shows the complexity of this law.  G.L. 186 Section 15B regulates every aspect of a security deposit, from the acceptance of the deposit up to its return to the tenant.  The extensive requirements of this law is one reason why I advise Massachusetts landlords to never accept a security deposit.

Penalties for not complying with this law can be steep.  Some violations entitle the tenant to the immediate return of their deposit, and others permit the tenant to obtain triple damages, costs, and attorney fees against a landlord who fails to comply with this law.

What To Do About a Landlord Not Returning a Security Deposit 

If a landlord fails to return your security deposit, contact an experienced landlord/tenant attorney for assistance.  While the security deposit law offers numerous protections for tenants, an experienced attorney is often necessary for determining whether a violation occurred, how to pursue such a claim against the landlord, and the likely damages that can be obtained from such a case.

Landlords can equally benefit from having the assistance of an experienced attorney when handling a security deposit claim.  An attorney can help determine if a violation occurred and whether any possible defenses exists to such a claim.  An attorney can be helpful  in negotiating a settlement and minimizing damages.

A landlord should not wait until a security deposit claim has arisen to seek the assistance of a landlord/tenant attorney.  If you think you may be in violation of this law, or want help in making sure you comply with the law’s detailed requirements, speak to a landlord/tenant attorney right away.

Conclusion 

If you find yourself involved with a security deposit matter, contact me for a consultation.  Having an experienced attorney on your side can make all of the difference in getting you the help you need.