What is “usury”, and how are you protected from it?
In making of loans to conventional real estate buyers and “flippers”, investors should remember that for most private transactions, California enforces its usury law against excessive interest charges, with certain exemptions for seller carry back loans, and loans “made or arranged” by a licensed broker.
Usury is defined as charging a rate of interest in excess of the legal limit, and for personal, family or household purposes it is 10% per year, and for loans for “any other purpose”, the legal rate is either 10% per year, or 5% per year plus the federal discount rate that exists on the 25th day of the month preceding the date of the loan contract or date the loan was made, whichever is greater. The rate is set by California’s constitution, but there are exceptions for federal banks, credit card companies, and other institutional lenders, including the VA and FHA.
Investment loans used to purchase, build or improve real estate, also known as “hard money loans”, are considered loans for “any other purpose” and are subject to the higher of the 10% rate or the rate based upon the federal discount rate. Continue reading
With Deception, Comes Consequence
For transactions with a middleman that deceives both the seller and buyer, section 3543 of California’s Civil Code can break the tie where both parties are negligent, stating where one of two innocent persons must suffer by the act of a third (i.e., middleman), he, by whose negligence it happened, must be the sufferer. Huh? What does not mean in simple English?
In other words, if both parties are negligent in closing a sale after being deceived by the middleman, the one who is more responsible for the loss must suffer and bear the loss. That appears easier to understand, but the application of section 3543 depends on the facts.
First, being the victim of deception can be interpreted as negligence or unreasonable conduct, a rather sad commentary on our internet society that almost demands that you mistrust, confirm and verify everything you may be told. So it may not be enough to prevail by claiming there was no resisting the false promises or conduct of the middleman. 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: 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