Q: My neighbor’s camphor tree has branches that overhang the wall between our properties, and its roots are extending into my yard and damaging both the wall and my patio deck. Can I cut the branches and roots and bill my neighbor?
A: With recent developers positioning houses very close to the property lines to maximize the number of houses in the development, it is more common for branches and roots of a tree to extend over and into the property of the adjacent owner. Although the adjacent owner has rights to cut the intruding branches and use any overhanging product, such as fruit, both the tree’s owner and the adjacent owner have certain duties and responsibilities depending upon the particular circumstances.
First, the location of the trunk of the tree determines who owns it, even if the roots grow into the land of another. If the tree is located directly on the boundary line between the properties, then both landowners have common ownership of the tree which affects application of the rules described below. Neither owner has a right to cut down a tree on the property line or cut any part without the consent of the other owner, even if the tree is causing damage. Continue reading
Q: For a long time, my neighbor has used a trail across my backyard, even though I repeatedly told him he was trespassing. He recently told me that he would continue to use the trail and there was nothing I could do about it. Is he right, and what can I do to prevent his use of the trail?
A: There are many types of real property concepts that have continued since the middle ages, but a prescriptive easement is one of the more egregious types because it enables a person who is not an owner and who has repeatedly trespassed despite objections, to have the right to use the land together with the rightful owner. Once established, the prescriptive easement lasts forever, and must be disclosed as a cloud on the title to the property that can reduce the value of the property. Therefore, an owner must be vigilant when another person is repeatedly using the land. Continue reading
Q: I own my residence with my wife and a friend mentioned that I should record something called a declaration of homestead because I have been sued and a judgment may be entered against me, but I do not know what it is, how to prepare it, or what benefit it may provide to me. Should I prepare and record a homestead declaration and what do I need to do to have it become effective?
A: So long as the statutory specified procedures are followed, any owner of a residence can declare that it is the owner’s homestead. Article XVII of the California Constitution creates the right and the California Code of Civil Procedure, sections 704.720 through 704.995 provide the statutory procedures that must be followed to declare a homestead. The owner does not have to be a citizen of the United States, and an unmarried person can record a declaration on his or her undivided interest in the property that is owned in co‐tenancy with the other owner. Continue reading
Q: I have a residence that I have been renting and I want to sell it, delay payment of the capital gain tax, and then purchase an office building. Can I use a 1031 tax deferred exchange to delay payment of the tax I would otherwise have to pay?
A: Subject to the extensive tax code and rules and regulations of the IRS, the use of an exchange of property under section 1031 of the tax code should be considered as a method of delaying payment of the capital gains tax owed on the proceeds of the sale of relinquished property. However, it is a relatively complex transfer of real property that has significant tax issues, and the advice of a qualified and trustworthy accommodator should be sought before making a decision about using a 1031 tax deferred exchange. Continue reading
Q: I recently purchased a second home with the intention to rent it, but I do not know how much I can charge as a security deposit, or the procedure I should follow in accounting for the security deposit after the tenancy ends. Can you provide me with the basic information I need to follow regarding security deposits?
A: Security deposits on residential rental property are governed primarily by California’s Civil Code, section 1950.5. Residential rental “security” is “any payment, fee, deposit or charge” that is imposed at the beginning of the tenancy to be used to reimburse the landlord for costs associated with processing a new tenant or imposed as an advance payment of rent, to be used for a default in the payment of rent, for the repair of damage to the premises other than ordinary wear and tear, for cleaning necessary to return the unit to the same level of cleanliness it was in at the inception of the tenancy and, if the rental agreement expressly so provides, to remedy tenant defaults in the obligation to restore, replace or return personal property or appurtenances (exclusive of ordinary wear and tear). The label given a payment at the outset of the tenancy is not controlling and any fee, however denominated, is considered a security deposit. Continue reading
Q: As a broker representing a seller of a single family home who has been leasing the property, what should I be aware of during the sale transaction and how can I ensure that my client will not have any legal issues with the buyer regarding the tenant?
A: A property that is listed for sale when occupied by one or more tenants presents special issues that must be recognized and addressed during the negotiations with both the buyer and the tenant. The California Association of Realtors residential purchase agreement (“RPA”) provides in paragraph 5‐C that with respect to tenant occupied property, the property shall be vacant at least 5 (or other designated days) prior to close of escrow, unless otherwise agreed in writing. If the seller is unable to deliver the property vacant in accordance with rent control or other applicable law, the seller may be in breach of the RPA. Therefore, when representing a seller of property occupied by a tenant, any offer in the form of the standard RPA should be countered with a provision that addresses the terms under which the seller is able to have the property vacant during the escrow if the standard provision cannot be complied with. Continue reading
Q: The heavy rains this winter severely damaged the roof and interior of my house and although I have insurance coverage, how can I be sure that I recover all of the benefits I am entitled to under my insurance?
A: After a claim is reported to an insurance company, it will conduct an investigation to determine whether the claim is covered under the policy, and the nature and extent of benefits the policy holder is entitled to receive. But the person assigned to investigate or adjust the claim is hired by the insurance company and is required to follow the company’s policies in handling the claim, even if they limit the ultimate recovery by the insured. Continue reading
Q: I hired a landscaper knowing he did not have a contractor’s license and after I paid for several months of work at my house, I want to terminate the contract and recover all of the compensation I paid the landscaper. Can I retain the benefits of the work performed and also recover the amount I paid the landscaper, even though I knew he was unlicensed when I hired him?
A: Yes, although it seems unfair that a homeowner may retain the benefits of work performed by the landscaper even though the homeowner knew he was not licensed before the work began, section 7031 of California’s Business and Professions Code provides the hiring party with both a defensive shield against any claim for payment by the unlicensed contractor, and an affirmative sword to sue the unlicensed contractor for all compensation paid under the contract. Equitable defenses such as unclean hands, estoppel, unjust enrichment, and even claims of fraud by the hiring party, will normally not be available to the unlicensed contractor, even if they are based upon the hiring party’s prior knowledge of the unlicensed status. Continue reading