Is your Massachusetts LLC or Corporation in Good Standing?

It is vital that a Massachusetts corporation or partnership remain in good standing with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Good standing exists when a Massachusetts entity registers itself with the state; files all necessary documents; and pays all applicable fees and taxes to both the Secretary of State and Department of Revenue. 

When in good standing with Massachusetts, an entity may request a certificate indicating its good standing and compliance.  Such certificate can be necessary when an entity enters into an asset purchase agreement; contract to purchase a commercial building or land; lease of equipment or business fixtures; or where an individual or entity seeks bank financing or capital.  The certificate of good standing is one of many common conditions to close the aforementioned transactions. 

To remain in good standing with the Secretary of State, annual reports must be filed with the applicable fee/tax paid (depending on entity type.)  A corporation will pay the filing fee with the Secretary’s office and then pay taxes to the Department of Revenue. A partnership will pay $500 to the Secretary’s office when filing the annual report.  An entity will not be issued a certificate of good standing if it’s fallen behind on filing annual reports with the Secretary of State. An entity may file annual reports for previous years so as to place the entity in good standing and avoid dissolution of the entity by the Secretary of State. The entity is responsible for the past due filing fees, and a reinstatement fee if the entity has been dissolved.

 A Certificate of Good Standing (issued by the Secretary of State) provides the following information:

  1. Name of the entity;

  2. Date the entity was formed;

  3. Confirmation that the entity has filed all annual reports and paid all related fees;

  4. Confirmation that there are no proceedings pending for dissolution of the entity;

  5. That no articles of dissolution have been filed by the corporation; and,

  6. That according to the records of the state secretary the entity appears to be in good standing.

 The Certificate of Good Standing does not provide an opinion nor make any warranties regarding:

  1. The financial health of the entity’s business;

  2. Whether there are pending lawsuits or judgments against the entity;

  3. Whether the entity is subject to a bankruptcy proceeding; and,

  4. Any number of the countless conditions that often affect a business (such as market conditions.)

To remain in good standing with the Department of Revenue, an entity must timely meet all tax obligations, including corporation taxes (excise, use and sales); room occupancy taxes (if applicable); meal taxes (if applicable), and withholding taxes . The Certificate provides no representation concerning unemployment insurance obligations and other taxes provided by statute. Nor does the certificate make any opinion or representation on the financial health of the business, or any other condition not related to taxes owed.  The Department of Revenue may issue a Certificate of Good Standing and/or Tax Compliance upon request by a corporation, LLC, LLP or other entity.  

If you have questions about your business entity, or how to revive a dissolved entity, or a related issue, feel free to contact one of our Massachusetts business and corporate lawyers at 781-463-6063. 

S-Corporation vs. C Corporation

New business ventures are often faced with several critical questions and decisions when creating a new business. The first step is to determine the the nature of the Massachusetts corporate entity that they desire to operate (i.e., corporation, limited liability company, etc.). This decision depends on several factors including the type of business (services or products), the contemplated ownership structure, tax considerations and potential financing opportunities.

If a new business owner decides against forming a Massachusetts Limited Liability Company, and determines that forming a Massachusetts Corporation is the most advantageous entity, the next important step is to determine whether the entity will be taxed as a C-corporation or S-corporation. The “S” and “C” Corporation designations refer to different sub-chapters of the Internal Revenue Code (Federal tax laws), and are more particularly described below.

C-Corporations

A corporate entity will be taxed as a C-Corporation by default unless it makes an election to be taxed as an S-corporation.  A C-Corporation is subject to double taxation, once at the entity level and then again on the shareholder level, when dividends (profit distributions) are paid out to the shareholders. Funds that are earned in a C-Corporation can be retained within the entity rather than being passed through (and taxed) to shareholders, and the corporation can also carry losses Therefore, as opposed to an S-corporation, money that is earned in the C-corporation will be retained within the company rather than passing through to the individual shareholders. Additional benefits include the ability to hold initial public offerings (IPOs), carry back of losses up to three years and less limitations on the type of shareholders.

S-Corporations

S-corporation status is the most common election made by small businesses. However, the small business must meet several requirements, including the entity must have only “allowable” shareholders, less than 100 shareholders and there may be only one class of stock. In other words, the number of Massachusetts Corporation shareholders will be limited and all will have the same voting rights and distributions.

S-Corporations are treated as a “pass-through” entity, similar to a Massachusetts Limited Liability Company (LLC). In other words, the company will not be taxed at the entity level, and will only be taxed at the shareholder level. Each shareholder will then be responsible for paying their own taxes on their share of income derived from the corporation.

If you are forming a new entity and creating a new business, please contact one of our Lynnfield based business attorneys at 781-463-6063.

The Value of Outside General Counsel for Your Business

One of the many values of our business lawyers is that we help ensure that you are positioned to effectively resolve issues that arise in the lifecycle of a business. It is important for business owners and entrepreneurs to carefully consider the value of advice of a business attorney rather than exercise financial restraint when making important decisions that often significantly affect the success of a business. Rather than risk the serious consequences of decisions made without the consultation of a business attorney it is suggested that business owners conduct a careful cost/benefit analysis into whether one should hire a lawyer. Consulting with an attorney at the onset is similar to insurance: your decision help’s you mitigate risk and minimize loss when potentially disastrous events occur.

Business and Entity Formation

A business attorney can help you select the right type of business entity to meet your objectives and needs.  There are several entity choices available in Massachusetts: Corporations (both C-Corporations and S-Corporations), Limited Liability Companies (LLC), Partnerships (Limited Partnerships and Limited Liability Partnerships), as well as other specific entity types for professionals, charitable purposes, and other highly specialized business. Selection of the proper entity type will establish a foundation for sustainable long term growth, investment return, limited liability for parties, favorable taxation, dealing with external issues and pressures, and other matters. 

Contracts / Negotiation

An attorney knowledgeable on business law in Massachusetts can make sure that your rights and interest are protected.  It is critical that the contract provisions that deal with particular issues and contingencies are not only fair, but also align with your interests in any given transaction.  An attorney specialized in these areas can consult and assist in contract negotiation and work on the “fine tuning” of contractual terms. The type of contracts that a business attorney might review includes employee agreements, commercial leases, equipment purchase agreements, buy-sell agreements, licenses, and bank-investor financing documents.

Intellectual Property

It is essential for a business owner to consider their intellectual property rights. This can manifest itself in trademarks, service marks, copyrights, and patents.  Intellectual property can also include other types not specified in Federal statute, including issues such as trade secrets and formulas, customer lists, methods and processes. You should consider protecting your intellectual property from competition as well as protecting it internally from employees, partners and other shareholders. A competent business attorney can help you navigate legal protections available to protect what makes your business unique. 

Asset/Stock, Interest Sales and Mergers and Acquisitions

During a businesses lifetime, the owner(s) will want to expand the business or take advantage of an exit opportunity.  A business attorney can help you craft and implement a strategy for the sale of the shares or membership interests to an outside organization, or to your own employees or other shareholders, or members.  An acquisition will allow shareholders to exit the business by converting their interest in the entity to cash or another option(s). If you find yourself at the beginning of these discussions with a potential buyer it is critical that you consult a business lawyer such as ourselves at 781-463-6063. 

Disregarding Entity Protections in Massachusetts

In prior Blog posts, our Lynnfield based Lawyers specialized in Massachusetts business law explained that the main benefit of a properly formed Massachusetts corporation is the limited liability afforded its officers and shareholders.  One exception to limited liability however is disregarding the corporate entity, otherwise known as “piercing the corporate veil.” The exception allows a claimant (such as a creditor) to hold either the officers or shareholders personally liable for claims against the corporation. 

In My Bread Baking Co. v. Cumberland Farms, Inc., 353 Mass. 614, 619 (1968) the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court stated that the criteria for disregarding the corporate entity:

‘(a) when there is active and direct participation by the representatives of one corporation, apparently exercising some form of pervasive control, in the activities of another and there is some fraudulent or injurious consequence of the intercorporate relationship, or (b) when there is a confused intermingling of activity of two or more corporations engaged in a common enterprise with substantial disregard of the separate nature of the corporate entities, or serious ambiguity about the manner and capacity in which the various corporations and their respective representatives are acting.’

The main reason usually cited for disregarding the corporate entity is, in rare situations, to prevent gross inequity by providing an injured party a remedy by permitting parties to disregard the corporate protections. A plain example of a situation where an entity is disregarded is when a small business owner runs a “shell corporation” (a corporation without any meaningful assets or capital) that comingles business with personal financial affairs, that doesn’t follow corporate reporting, formal procedures, nor officer duty requirements, and that is used to provide a direct source of funds and/or assets to a shareholder, or that is used to perpetuate fraud.

Massachusetts court use 12 factors to determine whether to disregard a corporation’s liability protections (e.g. pierce the veil):

1.      pervasive control;

2.      nonfunctioning of officers and directors;

3.      confused intermingling of business activity assets, or management;

4.      thin capitalization;

5.      use of the corporation in promoting fraud.

6.      nonobservance of corporate formalities;

7.      common ownership

8.      absence of corporate records;

9.      no payment of dividends;

10.  insolvency at the time of the litigated transaction;

11.  siphoning away of corporate assets by the dominant shareholders;

12.  use of the corporation for transactions of the dominant shareholders;

Evans v. Mulicon Construction Corp., 30 Mass. App. Ct. 728, 733 (1991).

If you as a Massachusetts business owner is interested in reviewing the validity of your organization, or are interested in learning more about the services we provide in business legal consulting, please contact us at 781-463-6063. 

 

Fiduciary Duties in Corporations and LLCs

Corporate officers (such as the President, Treasurer and Secretary), partners in a partnership, and Managers and Members of a Massachusetts Limited Liability Company (LLC) owe a fiduciary duty to the business entity. A fiduciary duty means that the individual owes a duty of honesty and loyalty, and must act in the best interest of the business entity. When Boston area corporate officers and LLC participants divert business opportunities or assets to themselves for personal gain, or engage in competing enterprises, that individual has potentially committed a breach of fiduciary duty.

For example, a corporate officer may not use the property of a corporation to benefit another entity or herself/himself. Corporate operating funds, client lists, and other confidential, proprietary information cannot be used for personal gain and to the detriment of the entity. Additionally, a corporate officer must keep and not disclose company confidential information to parties outside of the entity and to its detriment, such as trade secrets or other business processes.

If you have questions about a potential breach of fiduciary duty committed at a business entity in the Boston area of Massachusetts, please contact one of our business litigation attorneys at 781-463-6063.

Kick Out Clauses in Residential Massachusetts Real Estate Transactions

In a white hot real estate market, Sellers of residential real estate on the Northshore of Massachusetts have adopted a new contractual provision to counter a Buyers’ request for an existing home sale contingency. Typically, a potential Buyer of a residential property that presently owns another property, will be required, for financial reasons, to sell their existing home in order to purchase the replacement home. The reason is simple: Most homeowners do not want to carry the mortgage, property insurance and taxes for two homes, and any mortgage lender will require that Buyer sell the existing home to satisfy loan underwriting requirements.

Therefore, Massachusetts homebuyers that are looking to upgrade or downsize their home, will likely request that a Seller of real estate agree to a prior sale contingency. In other words, if the Buyers fail to sell their existing residence prior to the closing date or some other date set by the parties, the Buyers then may terminate the transaction and receive a full refund of their deposit.

Sellers are now countering a home sale contingency by inserting their own contingency clause in a purchase and sale agreement. A “kick out” clause will permit a Seller to continue to market the property for sale to other prospective purchasers while the property. If the Sellers receive an offer for an amount equal to or that exceeds the existing and agreed to purchase price (and no prior sale contingency), the Sellers will then have the right to demand that the Buyers waive the home sale contingency, otherwise, the Sellers may terminate the transaction. In this instance, the kick out clause will provide the Sellers an escape hatch if they are able to find Buyer for the property that are willing to pay a greater price and waive any home sale contingencies. This is not a desirable position for any homebuyer since the Buyer will not only lose the right to purchase the property, they will likely have to start the home buying search again and may lose their interest rate lock set by the lender.

If you are presently negotiating a purchase and sale agreement it is important that you retain experienced legal counsel that is skilled at limiting the scope and applicability of kick out clauses. Northshore Legal LLC has seen many poorly drafted kick out clauses that impose strict limitations on Buyers and provide the Sellers with expansive rights. These kick out clauses often appear in counter offers from the Sellers to the Buyers on Standard Offer to Purchase Real Estate forms, and are often drafted by real estate agents that have little experience in such clauses. If you received a counter offer that contains a kick out clause and require assistance with your real estate transaction, please contact one of our attorneys at Northshore Legal at 781-463-6063.

Becoming Partners? Draft and Sign Partnership Agreement First

In general, a partnership can be created when two or more persons, or entities, or a mixture of both, agree and cooperate to provide a product or service in the Massachusetts commercial marketplace. Typically, partners will share the profits and losses of the partnership, and contribute labor resources, intellectual property, business infrastructure, real estate or other intangibles to the partnerships. A partnership does not require a formal agreement or registration as a formal entity with the Massachusetts Secretary of State, Corporations Division.

If partners do not sign a partnership or operating agreement, then Massachusetts state statute will control the operation, management and issue resolution for the partnership. Massachusetts law concerning partnership can serve a a default set of rules unless partners adopt a specific written agreement.. For example, Massachusetts General Law ch. 108 will govern partnerships, ch. 109 will govern Limited Partnerships, and ch. 156D will govern Limited Liability Companies (LLCs). In other words, if you do not adopt a partnership agreement for your business then state law will decide the outcome of any issues that may arise during operations.

It is, therefore, important that you work with a business attorney to draft a comprehensive and robust partnership agreement. This agreement will protect both partners’ interests, rights, and contain a set of operating rules for the partnership. This agreement is also very useful is resolving or setting up a formal process should a dispute arise between the partners. If partners do wind up in litigation, a Court or Arbitrator will always look to the partnership or operating agreement first before deciding any issues.

If you are interested in speaking with a Boston / Lynnfield business lawyer, we can be reached at 781-463-6063.

Personal Guaranties: Don't Overestimate the Simplicity of this Instrument

Commercial lenders and landlords are more often looking to borrowers and tenants to sign personal guaranties. A personal guaranty is a legal and binding promise to pay the debt of another person or entity should that person or entity default on the primary obligation. In other words, the individual who signs the personal guaranty will be liable for the debt and payments obligations as if he or she signed the promissory note or lease him/herself.  If you are considering signing a personal guaranty, you should consult one of our Lynnfield corporate attorneys or real estate attorneys to advise you on the various risks and benefits associated with the guaranty.

Guaranties are typically not included in a promissory note or lease agreement itself. Guaranties are contained in separate documents, as notes and leases alone are typically insufficient to create a binding obligation. There are numerous valid defenses to guaranties, which means that if you ever have to enforce a guaranty by commencing litigation against a guarantor, a skilled attorney will be able to uncover flaws that support legal defenses to the guaranty. This means that if the guaranty is not properly (and near perfectly) drafted, then a guarantor may have the opportunity to demonstrate that the guaranty is unenforcable and avoid payment of the debt. If you have questions and concerns about drafting or reviewing a guaranty for enforcability, please contact one of our business - corporate attorneys for a free consultation in Boston or at our Lynnfield office.

Just like mortgages and security agreements (that secure personal property) a personal guaranty serves as collateral so as to secure a loan. Here, the collateral is a promise by a third party to repay the debt should the primary debt obligor default on the promissory note. A personal guaranty drafted by an experienced Massachusetts corporate lawyer can provide strong protection for the financial interests of a lender. However, the viability of a personal guaranty depends on the financial condition and asset holdings of the guarantor. If, for example, the guarantor becomes insolvent or has no assets to satisfy a potential judgment on the promissory note then then collection on the guaranty becomes unrealistic and a lender will end up spending legal fees on a debt that will never be repaid. Therefore, it is important for a lender to perform due diligence on any guarantor prior to entering into this type of contract. 

In Massachusetts Courts, the enforcement of personal guaranties is a common theme of lawsuits on promissory notes. The guaranties are almost always contested by any guarantor with something to lose. Therefore, a pre-printed or template form will cause the lender and note holder to assume a substantial amount of risk that the guaranty will be found unenforcable. If you have questions abut personal guaranties for any loan transaction, please contact one of our business lawyers who advise clients in Eastern Massachusetts on these types of transactions.  NORTHSHORE LEGAL may be reached for a free consultation at 781-463-6063.

Litigation or Mediation or Arbitration?

It is not uncommon for Massachusetts business and consumers to become ensnared in a dispute with family members, neighbors, business partners, vendors, customers, contractors, and other parties.  When that happens, it is best to contact an experienced Massachusetts litigation attorney as soon as possible and to avoid acting as your own lawyer . When a dispute arises, there is more than one way to resolve the dispute. The most common method of dispute resolution is litigation. In other words, you will "sue" or file a lawsuit in State or Federal Court, which will submit you to a binding and rigid process that will decide the outcome of any claims and requests for assistance. Litigation is costly, time consuming and represents a stressful experience. Many parties are not mentally or financially prepared to endure this process. 

Litigation is the formal process of resolving a grievance through the Federal or State Court systems. The process begins with the filing of a complaint, which places the opposite party on notice of your legal and equitable claims, as well as the factual allegations in support of those claims. A complaint can also be used to support preliminary relief, such as a Motion for Real Estate Attachment; Preliminary Injunction or Lis Pendens.  These early remedies are designed to prevent the transfer, concealment and liquidation of assets, and to help provide a security for judgment.  The parties will then enter the process of obtaining evidence to support or refute the claims, and then submit their respective cases to a jury or judge at trial. A trial can provide varying results that will leave litigants with potentially a complete victory, a total loss or a "push. A trial is risky for all litigants and can produce sometimes unpredictable results. 

As a way for avoiding the costs and risk associated with litigation, there are alternative dispute options available to parties.  

What is the Difference Between Mediation and Arbitration?

The difference between mediation and arbitration is commonly misidentified. Mediation is a formal process where a neutral third party (a mediator) attempts to negotiate and assist the parties in coming to settlement terms.  A mediator is often a retired judge, experienced and respected attorney, and does not "take sides" in any dispute.  Parties can always negotiate settlement terms on their own, however, those discussions can sometimes lead to deadlock or become stale. Therefore, a mediator can offer fresh perspectives for both parties; render opinions about the strengths and weaknesses on the claims and defenses; provide different settlement structures; and minimize the emotional responses, animosity and vitriol that has boiled over during a dispute. This process is voluntary and neither party is compelled to accept an agreement in mediation, however, the majority of qualified mediators are adept at getting the parties to find an agreement that they can live with. 

On the other hand, Arbitration is a formal process that allows parties to try their case privately and without court assistance. This process is typically expedited and the trial is before a arbitration and not a jury of peers. At the arbitration, each party will have the opportunity to provide witness testimony and enter documents into evidence. The arbitrator will then make a decision in the weeks or months that follow the arbitration. This written decision may be filed in Federal or State Court, and can have the same effect as a judgment against a party.  That is, unless, a party appeals the decision and is successful in overturning the decision on appeal. 

Some of the immediate advantages of mediation and arbitration are cost and time.  The legal fees and expenses are substantially lower if a case settles in mediation or tried before an arbitrator. The time that it takes for a grievance is also substantially reduced. 

If you have questions about the dispute resolution process, please contact one of our Massachusetts litigation attorneys at 781-463-6063. We can advise you as to the best method of dispute resolution, Our litigation attorneys serve clients in Boston, the Greater Boston area, and, of course, throughout the North Shore.  

 

What are my options if a Lis Pendens is Wrongfully Filed Against my Property?

A Lis Pendens, also known as , is a legal notice approved by a Massachusetts judge that is recorded at the Registry of Deeds to which the related property is situated. This legal notice provides record notice that there is a legal action pending against the real estate at issue and/or named in the lawsuit. A Lis Pendens may only be allowed if the applicant makes a claim of a right to title to real property or the use and occupation thereof.  The Lis Pendens differs from a real estate attachment in that the Lis Pendens relates to title or occupation of real property and an attachment is a remedy to secure assets to satisfy a potential judgment or prohibit transfer or concealment of property that could satisify a judgment. 

The effect of the Lis Pendens is to "cloud" that title to the property, or otherwise, create a defect in title that will discourage any potential purchasers or transferees from accepting title to the property.  It can also interfere with and prevent a property owned from obtaining a loan whereby the property is being used as collateral for the loan (mortgage). In almost all instances, no purchaser of real estate or lender will complete a transaction and accept title with a legally valid Lis Pendens recorded against the property.  In other words, the title will need to be cleared and the Lis Pendens released before a property owned can warrant clear title to any prospective purchaser or mortgagee (lender). 

The pertinent Massachusetts statute that governs the use and application of a lis pendens is Mass.Gen. Laws ch. 184 s. 15.  The Statute sets the procedure and requirements for obtaining a Notice of Lis Pendens. In order to obtain a Lis Pendens, an applicant must file a verified complaint; identify the real estate and property owners; and describe a claim that relates to title or occupation of the real property.  

What are your options if a Lis Pendens is Wrongfully Filed Against your personal or business property?

In the instance of a Notice of Lis Pendens that was inadvertently filed against a property, a qualified real estate attorney can help you clear title.  There are some cases where the property address or recording information was misidentified by the lis pendens application; an old title abstract was relied on; or there was some other type of clerical error either in drafting or recording the notice.  In these cases, the applicant will release the notice voluntarily.  

In other instances, an applicant who has deliberately an/or has in bad faith filed a notice of Lis Pendens against a property is subject to civil liability. A respondent to a Lis Pendens may file a special motion to dismiss on the basis that it is frivolous. "The special motion to dismiss shall be granted if the court finds that the action or claim is frivolous because (1) it is devoid of any reasonable factual support; or (2) it is devoid of any arguable basis in law; or (3) the action or claim is subject to dismissal based on a valid legal defense such as the statute of frauds." M.G.L. ch. 184, s. 15(c).  If the Court grants the special motion to dismiss, it will dissolve the Lis Pendens and may award legal fees and expenses (including recording fees) associated with the dissolution of the notice.  Legal fees may be awarded for any discovery (including document requests, interrogatories or depositions) related to the dissolution of the notice.  

If you have questions about a Lis Pendens or one was recorded against your property, contact one of our Lynnfield Real Estate and Litigation lawyers for a free consultation.   

Rent, Expenses and Term – Fundamental Components of Commercial Leases

          When entering into a new commercial lease, it is essential that you engage a commercial lease attorney to assist you in reviewing and negotiating the important terms.  This blog article will highlight the most fundamental lease component base rent, expenses that are often passed on to the tenant, and the term of the lease. 

          The most common factor in evaluating the cost of a commercial lease in Massachusetts is the base rent, which is most commonly assessed base on square footage of the rental property.  One should also pay attention to any adjustments in rent per annum.  Once a business owner determines an acceptable rent amount, he/she should consider the rent adjustments and additional expenses that will be associated with renting the space.

          The most common type of commercial lease is the triple net (NNN) lease that will shift the financial burden of property taxes, insurance and common area maintenance (CAMS) and/or operating costs to the commercial tenant. However, triple net leases can also contain additional provisions that expand the scope of tenant financial liability on the leases.  In some cases, commercial landlords may shift the entire burden of property maintenance, repairs, upgrades, and upkeep on the commercial tenant.  This means that the tenant will be responsible for cleaning, snow removal, landscaping, repairs to mechanical systems, and other common every day repairs.  Here, liability may fall on the tenant for the entire building and land, or just a portion thereof, or solely the interior of the property.  In many instances of shared commercial space, commercial landlords will charge the tenant operating costs or CAMS, and maintenance and repairs will be included in the lease.  In this case the tenant will pay its pro rata share of the common expenses, and will not have to bear the entire burden of such expenses.      

           When entering into a new commercial lease, one of the most important features to consider (other than the price) is the term of the commercial lease. In this case, it is important that you consult a Boston area commercial lease attorney to help you with the various issues and considerations that can arise when evaluating a lease term.  In many cases, commercial landlords will offer better rent terms with a longer term of tenancy.  However, this is not a general rule, and a business owner should consider their medium and long term goals for growth prior to committing to a location.  Commercial leases are excessively difficult to avoid for tenants in Massachusetts without significant financial penalty or litigation, so it is best to determine whether the needs and plans for the business align with the term of the proposed tenancy. Additionally, a prospective tenant should conduct significant due diligence prior to entering into a long term lease, including a inspections of the physical condition of the building, assessment of traffic and parking, review of local bylaws, regulations and permit/license requirements, and a review of the surrounding area for its character, propensity for crime, ongoing development, and other features of the area.

            If you are a business owners in Eastern Massachusetts who requires assistance from a commercial real estate attorney that is experienced in drafting, reviewing, negotiation and consulting with clients on commercial leases, you may contact the Law Office of Stefan Cencarik for your leasing needs.  Our commercial lease attorneys are able to help guide you through this process and we can leverage our network of professionals to assist you in evaluating your next business location.

Commercial Leasing for New Businesses

When considering a new commercial lease for your business, it is essential that you assemble the right team to assist you with assessing the value of the location and contract, negotiating and reviewing the lease terms, and assessing other important features of the building and location.  In addition to using the services of a commercial real estate broker and/or commercial leasing specialist, it is crucial that you engage a commercial lease attorney.  An attorney that is experienced in drafting, reviewing and negotiating the different material terms and clauses in a commercial lease can help ensure that you sleep better at night after signing a long term contract for new office or facility.

A commercial lease is a legally enforceable contact that will span a considerable amount of time, such as five years, and will becoming a significant part of your operating budget.  A commercial lease is unlike a residential lease in Massachusetts as the residential tenant protections do not apply in this area.  In this regard, commercial leases are regarded strictly as a business transaction and the commercial landlord is providing a significant amount of authority and rights over the commercial tenant.  There are many clauses concerning default, destruction of the property, base rent adjustments, maintenance expenses, and others that can shift financial and legal responsibility from the landlord to the tenant.  These clauses become traps for the unwary and the involvement of a commercial lease attorney can help you avoid these trap and put your business on the path to success. 

The Law Office of Stefan Cencarik, PLLC and its commercial lease attorneys (commercial real estate lawyers) are adept at drafting, reviewing, negotiating and consulting with clients on commercial leases.  We can also leverage an experienced trusted professional network so as to recommend the right consultant and brokers to help you find, select, and evaluate your next commercial lease property. 

Selling Real Estate Without a Broker - Considerations and Pitfalls

With the real estate market in Eastern Massachusetts favoring sellers of real estate, we have noticed a trend and tendency of some sellers to list their property for sale by owner and avoid the use of real estate brokers all together.  The simplest explanation for this decision is cost.  Many sellers realize that they can avoid a 2.00 - 2.5% commission to a listing broker if they consummate a sale without assistance.  But what is the true "cost" and what are the disadvantages of not using a listing broker for a real estate sale? 

Statutory, Regulatory and Common Law Compliance - Real estate brokers know exactly the types of Massachusetts statutes and regulations that must be satisfied during each transaction. Real estate brokers are also trained on the various types of common law issues, such as misrepresentation or breach of contract, that can arise during a transaction. And they have been trained on how to avoid those types of common law liability. If you are not using a real estate professional, and unless you are an attorney or real estate professional yourself, you will not be able to satisfy and comply with the numerous laws and regulations associated with real estate transactions in Massachusetts. And in that instance, you are exposing yourself to liability.  

Market Valuation - What is your property worth and what purchase price can you reasonably expect to receive?  Finding the right listing price is crucial. Brokers have the skills and resources to help advise you on the realistic value of your property, and a listing price that will attract several ready, able and willing buyers.  It is common for homeowners to over estimate the value of their homes based on their own personal attachment and knowledge of the property. A broker can provide you with a neutral and experienced third party opinion on the value of your real estate.  If you list your property too low, then you are not maximizing the sale price. If you list your property too high, then you will scare off buyers, particularly the ones who are taking out a mortgage and are responsible for a 20% down payment.  In this instance, the value of a broker should not be underestimated. 

All the "little things" - Who is going to collect signatures and deposits for the purchase and sale agreement? Who will make the mandatory disclosures and obtain the required certificates for closing? Who will coordinate inspections, viewings, and walkthroughs?  Who will serve as tour buffer and advocate if your transaction enters troubled waters? Who will greet potential buyers and handle inquires at open houses? Do you have an expansive and established network in the area that you are selling your home that you can market to? This list is limited, and can very extensive, and all the "little things" that a real estate broker will do for you to ensure that you close on-time are invaluable. 

The above list is not an exhaustive description of all the benefits of real estate brokers in transactions. From a legal observational standpoint, we have noticed a trend that real estate brokers provide tremendous value in each transaction and help smooth the process until closing. If you are preparing to sell your home, and would like to consult with a real estate lawyer, please contact us at 781-463-6063.  

Concerns for the First Time Home Buyer

With the short supply of turn key "starter" two and three bedroom homes for sale in Eastern Massachusetts, first time home buyers are now faced with new pressure to quickly make an offer and get under contract as soon as possible.  It is understood that a first time buyer is eager to end the long and enduring search for a new home, however, failure to pay attention and overlook important pitfalls and traps may lead to long term issues.  

Inspections - We are hearing more and more often that buyers are willing to waive inspections and blindly accept the condition of the property being purchased "as is." Unless you are a third generation trades person or have substantial experience in inspecting and renovating residential homes, it is highly likely that you will be unable to identify some serious, and expensive, issues with the property.  Waiver of inspections solely benefits the Seller in the transaction and provides no benefit to the buyer.  If you do not have the property inspected by a certified and qualified home inspector, you could inherit serious issues such that affect the building structure, mechanical systems, or cause other problems such as pest infestation, mold, or others. 

Repair Credits - If you are waiving inspections, and are not asking for credits to allow for the improvement or repair of certain features and systems at the property, then you will essentially inherit a liability for those items after the completion of the sale. It is common for purchasers to request that the sellers provide a credit to repair or replace, for example, a leaking roof, faulty electrical panel, non-functioning oil / gas boiler, rotted eaves-flashing-siding issues, and the like.  If you are not taking a credit at closing for these repairs, then your cost of purchasing the home will increase by the cost of these repairs. 

Short Closing Window - Unless you are paying cash for your new Massachusetts real estate purchase, you should not agree to complete the sale in less than forty-five days. Your mortgage broker and/or lender will be hard pressed to complete and clear your loan to close on short notice.  Your real estate attorney, who will be abstracting and reviewing your title, will also have to place a rush order on all work, and may have difficulty obtaining all items necessary to close.  In other words, if you agree to a short deal time frame, it is entirely possible that you will have to request an extension from the Sellers. Your mortgage lender and closing attorney cannot control all contingencies that can potentially extend the deal time frame. There are limited circumstances and contingencies that allow extensions of the time for performance (deadline to close), and you may end up risking your deposit if you encounter sellers that are unforgiving and who will not agree to extension. 

These are some initial concerns for a first time home buyer of real estate in Massachusetts. Our firm represents buyers and sellers of real estate in Essex, Middlesex, and Suffolk counties, including the cities and towns of Boston, Peabody, Danvers, Lynnfield, Wakefield, Woburn, Andover, Burlington, and others.  We will update this blog article shortly with additional concerns and recommendations for the first time home buyer.  If you are purchasing a new home, please feel free to consult with us anytime at 781-463-6063. 

Issues With Mortgage Contingency Clauses in Purchase and Sales Agreements

During the drafting and negotiation of the purchase and sale agreement concerning any real estate transaction in Massachusetts, it is important to understand how your mortgage contingency clause may come into play if you are trying to sell your current residence and purchase a new residence.  Often real estate lawyers in Massachusetts are requesting a provision that does not allow a purchaser of real estate to withdraw from a transaction without penalty if a mortgage commitment contains a condition that an existing residence be sold prior to the purchase.  The clause will often read as follows: "The BUYER understands and agrees that rejections for mortgage financing on the basis of the unsold status of his/her present home will not be a reason to terminate Agreement pursuant to the mortgage contingency."  This provision can create substantial issues for a purchaser as the deadline to close rapidly approaches. 

It may be that a lender will not issue at mortgage commitment due to the fact the buyers have not sold their present residence.  In this instance, under the terms of above clause, the buyers will not be able to terminate the agreement pursuant to the mortgage contingency under this scenario. It must be for an entirely different reason other than failure to sell a present residence.  

Although a lender may issue a mortgage commitment, it may contain a condition that the buyers must close the sale of their existing home prior to loan approval or consummation of the purchase of the new property.  This will create a timing issue with the transaction; now the buyers are acting in two different roles (as buyers and sellers), and relying on two separate lenders to finance two separate transactions.  This situation involves a high amount of stress on the homeowners as well as puts deposits at risk, and may involve a temporary move to a hotel until the completion of the purchase.  

To avoid the severity of this clause, it should be disclosed as early as possible (preferably in the offer to purchase) to the sellers that you currently own a property that is presently for sale, and request a prior sale contingency. The timing of the sale of your residence and new purchase can also be adjusted, and you may have to consider a transitional period between your two homes.  If you are concerned that your offer will be rejected with a prior sale contingency, you should speak with a qualified real estate lawyer about carefully crafting the mortgage contingency provisions in your purchase and sale agreement.  

Before You Overbid Listing Price and Waive Inspections on that New Home...

It is a little known secret that the residential real estate market in Eastern Massachusetts, particularly the Greater Boston area, is a Sellers' market.  There is a shortage of turn key homes at affordable prices and, at the same time, mortgage interest rates have been climbing slowly.  The prices of residential homes, particularly in the "starter home" category, in the $300,000 - $400,000 range continue to rise.  And with a healthy economy in Massachusetts, and a vibrant job market, the demand for real estate also continues to rise steadily.  

Our Lynnfield real estate lawyers have made numerous observations concerning potential home buyer's decisions while making a new offer to purchase a single family home or condominium. In an effort to make a more compelling offer to purchase that will be accepted by the sellers of the home, buyers are electing to waive inspections and are offering prices that exceed the listing price. Our real estate attorneys, who typically begin representation during the purchase and sale agreement, have reviewed numerous offers whereby buyers demonstrated that they have made aggressive efforts to secure the right to purchase a home. But at what cost?

Before you overbid the listing price on a residential property in Massachusetts, it is important to consider the possible results of your overbid.  If you are borrowing from a mortgage lender, that company will conduct an appraisal of the property to ensure that there is sufficient equity in the property to secure the lender's mortgage.  Lenders will also want to see a lower loan to value ratio (LTV) that averages 80.00% (Check with your mortgage broker for specific requirements).  In other words, the amount that you are borrowing should be 20% less than the purchase price.

If you are overbidding the purchase price of a home, and do not have sufficient cash on hand to achieve an average 80.00% LTV ratio, you may: 1. Not receive a mortgage commitment, or be denied financing that may put your deposit at risk depending on the language and timing the mortgage contingency clause in your purchase and sale agreement.  2. Receive a higher interest rate from your lender, which means that your overall cost of borrowing the funds will increase and so will your monthly payment. 3. You may have to purchase private mortgage insurance (PMI), which will increase your monthly payment and the overall cost of borrowing; and/or 4. You will be scrambling to pull together additional cash proceeds so that you may close the transaction.  These are less an ideal scenarios, and it is recommended that you remain in close contact with your mortgage broker and real estate lawyer when you are considering an overbid on a property.  

Our real estate lawyers have also noticed that many potential purchasers of real estate are waiving inspections.  In other words, the inspection contingency clause contained in the offer to purchase has been stricken and waived.  When in effect. this clause makes the transaction contingent on the buyer's satisfactory inspection of the property, which is usually conducted by a certified home inspector.  These inspections can reveal potentially expensive and critical defects in the structural, electrical, plumbing, mechanical, heating and air conditioning systems, as well as other features of the property.  It is not recommended to waive property inspections (even with new construction) and this appears to be an imprudent concession by a potential buyer who is making one of the largest financial investments during their lifetime.  

If you are a potential buyer or buyer of real estate and require assistance with your offer to purchase or purchase and sales agreement, please contact one of our real estate attorneys at 781-463-6063.  We provide all real estate legal services throughout Eastern Massachusetts. 

 

Inheriting Tenants at a Residential Property

Our real estate lawyers at the Law Office of Stefan Cencarik, PLLC located in Lynnfield, Massachusetts are addressing the potential issues that may arise when a new property owner inherits tenants. In other words, what types of liability issues may a purchaser / incoming landlord take on when acquiring real estate that is rented to residential tenants? 

The first question that should be asked is what type of contractual relationship exists between the outgoing landlord and the residential tenants. Are the tenants at will? Does a written lease agreement state a certain term of months of years for the tenancy? Any real estate lawyer representing you in the purchase of the property will need to know the type of tenancy and need to review copies of all lease agreements.  This is so that your counsel may determine whether the outgoing landlord and tenants are meeting their obligations; determine what rights and responsibilities each party have; as well as determine the material components of the leasing arrangement such as monthly rent, term, security deposits, maintenance responsibility and others.  

The second question that should be asked concerns the financial affairs of the outgoing lessor and tenant-lessee relationship. Your Greater Boston real estate lawyer will need to understand the rent payment history; present amount of rent; method of payment; amount of security deposit; location and type of holding account for the security deposit; and others. This is in addition to any expenses required for tenant unit maintenance and repair issues. 

Finally, your real estate attorney will need to understand whether there are any civil or insurance claims, or other State or local administrative or regulatory actions, demands, or issues associated with the tenants.  In most cases, these types of problems are rare, however, it is not uncommon for landlords to be subject to claims by tenants for negligence (such as slip and fall on the exterior premises); negligence or breach of the warranty of habitability (concerning the condition of the property); or a landlords' failure to comply with zoning or other fair housing laws.

The reason that a buyer of a tenant occupied property must review these issues is that residential landlords in Massachusetts are subject to a tremendous amount of regulations and liability. There are statutes and regulations concerning fair housing, sanitary codes, security deposits, rent deposits, and others. Additionally, Massachusetts General Laws ch. 93A, regulating unfair and deceptive trade practices, also applies to residential landlords, and violation of the regulations concerning residential properties constitute per se deceptive and unfair trade practices.  The penalties for a G.L. ch. 93A violation include up to triple damages and reimbursement of legal fees and costs associated with prosecution of the claim.  

If you are buying real estate in Massachusetts that contains tenants, you should consult with a real estate lawyer that specializes in residential and commercial transactions, and has deep knowledge of the due diligence process.  This expertise is crucial so that you purchase an investment without fear of liability and to ensure that you are making a prudent financial decision.  The Law Office of Stefan Cencarik, PLLC provides commercial and residential real estate services and is able to serve as your real estate lawyer in Lynnfield and the Greater Boston area.  

Real Estate Ownership Divorce: The Right to Partition

How does a property owner divide or force the sale of real estate? All joint owners of real estate, except for property held by spouses as "tenants by the entirety," have the right to sever their ownership interest, request physical division of the land and/or force liquidation of the property.  In Massachusetts, M.G.L. ch. 241 s. 1 permits owners of real estate who own an undivided interest in the property to request that the Massachusetts Land Court or Probate & Family Court order the partition the property.  In other words, property ownership in Massachusetts is not intended to ensnare and force unwilling participants in continued joint ownership arrangements. 

The partition statute has few exceptions and provides joint owners of real estate a "way out" of a ownership arrangement.  This may be a useful tool to property owners who no longer wish to be part of an informal business partnership; separated partners and co-habitants; individuals who have inherited property from deceased relatives; or joint property owners who are not "pulling their weight" in relation to maintenance, insurance, property taxes, and upkeep.  In these instances, a property owner may file a petition for partition, which is an extreme remedy after informal efforts have failed to amicably divide or separate the ownership interests.  

In most partition cases that involve property in the well developed areas of Eastern Massachusetts, some type of building (single or multi-family houses, or condominium) and land, in the cases of houses, will be involved.  In some cases, if undeveloped land is subject to a partition action it is possible to request that a Court fairly divide the land between the owners, and then each owner will be free to sell, develop, transfer, encumber, and otherwise take any action that a owner in full possession may do. In other cases, for example, that involve a single family home that is occupied by one or more of the owners, it is likely that a partition action will result in a court order to sell the property on the retail real estate market. A real estate broker will need to be retained; the property will be marketed and sold to the highest offeror; and the proceeds will be divided according to the Court's order. There is an option to hold a public auction for the property, however, this is unlikely to maximize the sale price on the open retail market. Or in some cases, property owners often enter into a buyout arrangement where one owner will purchase the interest of the other in the context of a private sale. 

The partition of real estate has some drawbacks in terms of the financial cost of litigation as well as the infighting over the division of financial proceeds that may result.  The sale of the property must also provide for the payment of all liens of records, including mortgages, executions, property and income tax liens, and other of record. This will, of course, reduce the amount of net proceeds after the sale in addition to reductions for real estate broker commission, legal fees, tax stamps, recording fees, and other closing costs.  Despite these costs, many property owners may wish to seek a partition if there is no other way out of the joint ownership arrangement. 

The Law Office of Stefan Cencarik, PLLC of Lynnfield, Massachusetts maintains a comprehensive real estate practice from representation of buyers and sellers of residential and commercial property; resolution and litigation of issues with real estate; representation of commercial landlords and tenants; and condominium associations.   If you have any questions about these matters,  please feel free to contact one of our Greater Boston real estate lawyers at 781-463-6063.  We provide a free initial consultation, and are responsive to the deadlines and timetables of any new matter. 

Chapter 93A Demand Letters: Flammable Materials for Any Business

Chapter 93A Demand Letters: Flammable Materials for Any Business

Receipt of a G.L. ch. 93A demand letter by any business is a serious legal issue. It is a pre-text for costly State Court litigation and sets a path for litigants to use the law to impose severe financial penalties on businesses that have violated the statute. This Article will examine the severity of the statute and why it is a good idea to take these letters very seriously. These demand letters should be treated as flammable.  With due care, expeditiously and from a distance.  

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