Lawyers fight homelessness

adequate housingThe American Bar Association is taking a major step to fight homelessness.

The group’s House of Delegates passed a resolution last week that “urges governments to promote the human right to adequate housing for all through increased funding, development and implementation of affordable housing strategies and to prevent infringement of that right.”

The resolution was spearheaded by the ABA Commission on Homelessness & Poverty and the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty.

The intent is for the resolution to be a tool for lawyers to work with governments to find solutions to homelessness and lack of adequate housing in the country.

The resolution was passed during the ABA’s annual meeting in San Francisco.

With foreclosures, it’s ‘buyer be insured’

During the foreclosure crisis, much of the attention has focused on the people who have lost their homes.

But what about the purchasers of the foreclosed properties faced with what 50 state attorneys general – including Maryland’s Douglas F. Gansler — say is the real possibility that those foreclosures contained paperwork errors?

The situation illustrates why buyers should always insist on having their own title insurance coverage, rather than relying on the title policy the lenders insist they purchase, says real-estate attorney Lawrence S. Conn, of Baxter, Baker, Sidle, Conn & Jones PA in Baltimore.

“This is exactly the type of title defect that title insurance is designed to protect,” Conn said of paperwork errors in the foreclosure process.

The lender’s title policy, though, protects only the lender. Anything beyond that, such as the buyer’s down payment, would require an owners’ title policy, which is only marginally more expensive.

A buyer neglects this added coverage at his or her own peril, Conn added.

“Make sure that in this climate, [purchasers] certainly have title insurance,” he said.

Divorce lawyers duke it out

You would have thought the lawyers were going through the divorce.

I’ve seen some heated courtroom exchanges, but nothing like what I saw during a contempt hearing Tuesday in Baltimore County Circuit Court.

The hearing stemmed from the divorce proceedings of Michael C. Hodes of Hodes, Pessin & Katz P.A. and his wife, Lois.

At issue was, of course, money — specifically, how much of it Mr. Hodes owes Mrs. Hodes at this point, based on a November 2008 marital settlement.

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Pleasure, pain and a zoning dispute

Certain people would have no problem being snow-bound for a couple days at the Bethesda home featured Friday in a fabulous Washington Post story. The Tone Drive mansion has hosted several BDSM parties the past few months.

(“BDSM”, as the story notes, stands for “bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism.” If you want to find out more, I suggest using your home computer, not your work one.)

The story is about how one of the home’s renters received a written warning from Montgomery County zoning officials because he has been charging admission to the parties, commercial activity largely prohibited in residential areas.

The zoning issue alone would have been enough for me to blog about this story. But then there’s this gem of a quote about the type of people who attend the parties:

“An amazing cross-section of humanity,” says Susan Wright, founder of the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom. “Men, women, transgender, heterosexuals, gays, bisexuals. Every ethnicity. White-collar and blue-collar. It’s really very, very diverse — though we do have an unusually high percentage of lawyers. I don’t know why.”

Sounds like I have a story to work on after I dig out of the snow.

This Week in Maryland Lawyer

On the cover: With their progressive pilot potentially on the chopping block, the OPD’s Neighborhood Defenders in Park Heights are defending not only their clients but their problem-solving approach. Also, Caryn Tamber talks to University of Maryland law professor Danielle Citron about her research into online gender harassment and the law.

In the news: An EPA official says the agency wants more weapons in its arsenal; Maryland’s top court upholds a sex-abuse conviction based on the testimony of a 6-year-old victim; Mike’s Train House is sued for infringement; and an offshoot of the “driving while black” case will be the subject of a rare Court of Special Appeals en banc hearing.

 Also:

  • Verdicts & Settlements features the case of an HIV-positive teacher who was fired from his job at a private elementary school in Arnold.

  • Before there was “The Power of Nice” or his success as a sports agent, there was the Modern Bar Review Course. In My First/Business, Ron Shapiro reflects on the lessons learned from his initial foray into commerce.

  • In Opinion/Commentary, Jack L.B. Gohn weighs in on the narrowing difference between blogs and journalism, while Edward J. Levin points out a key requirement under a Maryland deed of trust: naming an individual as the trustee. 

  

The files go virtual, but the filing cabinets just go

Sometimes what surprises you in life is what you don’t see, like someone gets a haircut shorter than usual.

Case in point: I was walking through a second-floor hallway on the Bosley Avenue side of Baltimore County Circuit Court building in Towson on Tuesday morning when I did a double-take. Dozens of hulking metal shelves and filing cabinets had been ripped out of the floor, leaving an open space more than 50 feet long by my rough estimate. It looked like part of a forest had been cleared for new development.

The shelves and cabinets used to hold land records, but those were removed last year after all of the paperwork was scanned into computers, according to a few title researchers I talked to. The shelves and cabinets sat empty until they were removed last week.

Tim Sheridan, the court’s administrator, said the space will remain empty for now but said it could eventually become additional office space for the clerk of the court, which currently occupies much of the second floor.

A title that is truly abstract

Normally, I wouldn’t pass along something that is possibly apocryphal, but today I found it apropos.

I closed on a mortgage refinancing this morning. The process was relatively painless, just lots of paperwork to sign and initial. Part of the closing costs includes title charges. My building is only five years old and I’m only the second owner of my condo, so the title abstract, I would assume, is brief and easy to locate.

So I laughed when I found in my inbox an e-mail about a New Orleans lawyer trying to secure a Federal Housing Loan for a client. The lawyer was told the loan would be granted if he could provide the title to a property being offered as collateral. The challenge? The title dated back to 1803.

It took the lawyer three months to track down the title, after which he sent it to the FHA. The agency responded in part:

While we compliment the able manner in which you have prepared and presented the application, we must point out that you have only cleared title to the proposed collateral property back to 1803. Before final approval can be accorded, it will be necessary to clear the title back to its origin.

The lawyer then wrote back a letter that began:

I note that you wish to have title extended further than the 194 years covered by the present application. I was unaware that any educated person in this country particularly those working in the property area, would not know that Louisiana was purchased, by the U.S., from France in 1803, the year of origin identified in our application.

You can see the lawyer’s entire response here. The loan was ultimately approved.

Connecting with: Derek Massey, real estate lawyer

This is the third in an occasional series of interviews with local businesspeople who blog or use social media to promote themselves or their industry. Our goal is to show the business and legal community how to harness the power of the Web professionally. If you’re interested in being profiled, contact @mddailyrecord on Twitter or email jackie.sauter[at]mddailyrecord.com.

dm.jpgIn step with Derek Massey, attorney and president of Mid-Atlantic Settlement Services.

Hi, Derek. Tell us about yourself and where you blog from.

I’m the president of Mid-Atlantic Settlement Services, a title and closing company headquartered here in Hunt Valley, MD. My main business blog is www.masettlement.blogspot.com. I have another blog in the works, but it’s not quite ready for public consumption yet!

What prompted you to start?

I believe in open, honest, timely communication, and I’m somewhat of a tech geek. Put that together, and why wouldn’t you embrace the blogging and social media world? I am somewhat new to this – maybe a year in. Twitter has really opened my eyes to how much my industry (real estate) embraces and utilizes blogging. Probably my biggest influence is the Real Estate BarCamp movement, which really showed me what social media is doing for this industry.

How long have you Twittered and what do you like about the service?

According to www.whendidyoujointwitter.com I joined on May 29, 2008. So it’s been a little less than a year. I tweet under @DerekMassey and my company, @MASettlement. To me, Twitter is the only one of the major social media sites that helps me meet new people, and not just keep in touch with existing friends. Twitter’s low connectivity barrier (no “request” and “accept” requirement) makes it very easy to reach out and shake hands with people you’ve never met, and then keep in touch and cultivate the relationship.

What’s your favorite part of using social media?

I’m always connected with someone when I want to be. Friends, clients, potential clients, co-workers…they are all a click or two away. And if I want to shut down, I can shut down. I love learning new things. I believe I actually do business differently now. I connect with people more regularly, and even when I’m in the office or at home, I’m completely in touch.

List three or four of the blogs you visit the most.

My favorite real estate blog is Continue reading

Buy a house, get a divorce lawyer for free

For homebuyers who just can’t bear the thought of driving around a free-but-gas-guzzling SUV, realtors in Spain are offering the next big incentive: a free divorce.

Spanish real estate company Geimsa is throwing in a divorce lawyer with the purhcase of a three-bedroom house (minimum $89,000) in the Andalucian province of Huelva, Spain, according to a recent UPI article.

Officials with Geimsa realtors said the deal is aimed at couples who have been postponing divorce because they can’t afford new homes, Britain’s The Daily Telegraph reported Thursday.

“A divorce is very expensive,” said Vanesa Contioso of Geimsa. “So we are offering new clients the free use of our lawyers to handle the process.”

That sure beats a free lunch.

Hat tip: Maryland Divorce Legal Crier.

Religion and the real estate agent

The Post had a story the other day on Christian real estate agents who market themselves to other Christians. Not that it’s an exclusive phenomenon — there are Jewish referral networks and agencies that cater to observant Muslims, for example — but in recent years, the Post says, “an increasing number of real estate agents have begun using Christian messages to market their businesses.”

From the article:

Nonetheless, groups such as the Christian Real Estate Network, or brokers such as [Philip] DeLizio, are walking a fine line, even if they use a disclaimer, said Connie Chamberlin, president of Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia, a nonprofit group dedicated to fighting housing discrimination.
“If this said black real estate network, or white real estate network — looking for a white real estate agent to buy or sell a home? — how would that sound?” Chamberlin said. She added that eventually the courts will weigh in. “Some day one of these things is going to be litigated all the way to the Supreme Court — because there is so much of it.”

What do you think? Have you seen this type of religion-centered pitch among lawyers?

CARYN TAMBER, Legal Affairs Writer