Posted on 1 Comment

Question of the Week: Indemnity Agreement

This question comes from Mobile County. A tax sale investor wanted to exchange his tax certificate for a tax deed once he passed the three year date. The Probate Judge’s office told him that he would have to sign an indemnity agreement before they would give him the tax deed. They wanted him all tied up with legal documents before they would give him what he was entitled to!

The indemnity agreement said the investor would protect the county from any and all claims related to the tax sale property. In other words, if anyone at all sued the county for anything at all about the tax sale, even claims the sale process was void, the investor would have to pay up!

He asked my opinion, and I told him the ONLY requirement for getting a tax deed was paying a $5 fee. I told him to stand firm, refuse to sign the agreement, and insist on getting a tax deed.

He did exactly that. The Probate Judge’s office backed down and said he was not required to sign the agreement, but they were required to give it to him.

Any such “requirement” is just an internal procedure that has nothing to do with the law. If you are asked to sign anything at all before being given a tax deed or tax certificate, check with an attorney before signing away your life. Just because someone asks for something, doesn’t mean they are entitled to it. Even county officials.

Posted on Leave a comment

Question of the Week: Quitclaim & Quiet Title

This question comes from someone who bought a tax deed from the State two months ago, found the former owner, and wants to obtain a quitclaim deed from that person. The investor asked, “If I get a quitclaim deed, can I file my quiet title lawsuit right away, without having to wait three years?”

The answer is that the quitclaim deed gives him the owner’s redemption rights. Afterwards, those rights no longer exist since the tax deed and the redemption rights kind of got merged into each other, and now only the deed survives and is the winner. Quiet title lawsuits are to get rid of other people who might have rights in the property. The quitclaim deed does that all by itself, assuming there are no other owners and no lienholders. A quiet title lawsuit is not even necessary.

If there are lienholders, the investor might have to send out the certified letters and wait one year from RECEIPT (not from date of mailing) to clear out those redemption rights. After the year, the investor can file the relatively fast and cheap and easy in personam quiet title lawsuit. No guardian ad litem (GAL) is required because the GAL represents the interests of the unknown defendants. If all of your defendants are known and you can serve lawsuit papers on them, there is no need for a GAL.

In the question I received, there were no lienholders and no other person with ownership rights. In that case, with a quitclaim deed, the investor is good to go. I told him to approach a title insurance company to get title insurance on the property. That way, if there are any surprises, he learns about them BEFORE he gets ready to sell or finance.

Do you want to learn more about easy tax sale strategies to make wise decisions, avoid problems, and speed up the process? Check out the Alabama Tax Sale Investing introductory course, available live at locations around Alabama or over the Internet. Click HERE

Posted on Leave a comment

Fair Housing Exemptions

The most likely place for landlords to violate the Fair Housing laws is in the area of emotional support animals. Many small landlords think they are exempt, and can refuse to allow emotional support animals. Watch my video to learn about the Fair Housing exemptions. One of them applies to owners of single family rentals, but there are SEVERE limits on the exemption. “Know Before You Say No!” is my advice.

Link to YouTube video HERE. If you want more information about the Fair Housing laws and how to navigate those pitfalls, check out our Fair Housing for Landlords class and classroom videos, HERE

Posted on Leave a comment

Termite Protection as Preservation Improvement

Subterranean Termite Tube Into House

Do not overlook termite protection as a preservation improvement for a tax sale property. There is a foreclosure redemption case that says the redeeming borrower must pay for termite protection.  Durr Drug Co. v. Acree, 241 Ala. 391, 2 So.2d 903 (1941).  Foreclosure redemption includes all “permanent improvements” but that has been defined as any repairs or upgrades. A termite bond is not an upgrade, like adding a bathroom or something. So, it must fall under “repair.”

Because the tax sale “preservation improvements” include repairs, then I think the Durr case is good support for being able to collect them in a tax sale redemption. The statute says “preservation improvements shall mean improvements made to preserve the property by properly keeping it in repair for its proper and reasonable use, having due regard for the kind and character of the property at the time of sale.”  I certainly think termite control qualifies.

Posted on Leave a comment

Online Deed Research

The following counties have deed research capabilities on the county websites. Click on the county name to link to each one’s portal. Baldwin, Houston, Jefferson, Madison, Mobile, Montgomery, Shelby and Tuscaloosa Counties.  They are slightly different from each other, because they use different services to host their deed records. Check your county’s website to see if they have dedicated links on their site.

I’ve encountered some browser issues with the county websites. Sometimes the search feature works in Chrome, but not Microsoft Explorer. Sometimes the reverse. Please try a different browser if yours does not work for the search function.

Other counties use a service by a company named Syscon, and you have to go to THAT website for your research. Currently, you use Syscon for the following counties: Bibb, Calhoun, Clarke, Clay, Coffee, Colbert, Coosa, Cullman, Dale, Dallas, Elmore, Franklin, Geneva, Henry, Houston, Lauderdale, Limestone, Monroe, Talladega, Walker, Wilcox, Winston. Click HERE to get started.

Posted on 6 Comments

Is Self-Help Possession Okay?

Tax sale investors are entitled to possession of property as soon as they obtain their tax certificate. That is in the statutes, at Ala. Code Section 40-10-74. But, what does that mean? If property is vacant, can the investor change the locks and take over the property?

I think the answer is no. Some other lawyers disagree with me. Some agree. You pick your expert and your strategy, and go with it, in my opinion. Here are my arguments why self-help possession is dangerous.

The statute that allows possession also says that if possession is not surrendered within six months after demand, then the certificate owner can file an ejectment lawsuit. It does not say, “If somebody is occupying the property and does not surrender possession….” I take that to mean that surrender of possession by the owner, or ejectment lawsuit by the investor, are the only two choices for lawfully gaining possession.

In addition, the 1943 Alabama Supreme Court case of Tensaw Land & Timber Co. v. Rivers (244 Ala. 657, 15 So.2d 411) says that “a suit to oust one in constructive possession when no one is in actual possession is as necessary as a suit against one in actual possession.” In other words, even if nobody is there, you must file an ejectment lawsuit to gain lawful possession. This is an old case, but it has never been overturned and is still good law.

In a quiet title lawsuit, the plaintiff must be in peaceable possession. It cannot have gained possession by fraud, trickery, violence, or breach of the peace. Turnley v. Hanna,  67 Ala. 101 (1880) I think this rational applies to tax sales possession, also.

Finally, things will be too much of a mess if courts have to constantly decide where to put the line, and when people have gone over the line. What if the owner went to WalMart and the investor changed the locks? What if the owner had not been to the property in many months, but was paying the power bill and cutting the grass? What if they were working on it every now and then, as they saved money from their paycheck? What if they had been sick for six months and unable to go to the property? Is it really fair for an investor to swoop in, take possession, make improvements, and make a property too expensive to redeem? I think the courts would say, “No, it’s not fair. You can’t do that.”

A far more sensible rule is the one I advocate, and the one supported by the 1943 decision. If an owner surrenders possession (either by telling you that or signing a lease with you) then you can go into possession. If you have an ejectment order, then you can go into possession. If the owner TELLS you the property is abandoned and you can do whatever you want, you can go into possession. But, they have to tell you. Legally abandoned is completely different from “vacant and in really bad shape for many years.” (see case cites, below)

If someone tells you they intend to redeem, the property is definitely NOT abandoned.

Finally, if you have done everything you can to find the owner but can’t, then you just have to punt, as they say. Post your no trespassing notices. Talk to all the neighbors and tell them your plans. Board up the windows. Lean a 4×8 sheet of plywood against the front door, with several colors of paint on it, like you are trying to decide paint colors. Let things “season” for 60-90 days, to see if anybody comes out of the woodwork. If not, then proceed slowly and cautiously.

Relevant case cites:

•“Abandonment  is the relinquishing of a right or interest with the intention of never again claiming it.” L&N Enters., LLC v Lioce Props, LLP, 51 So.3d 273 (Ala. 2010) •Abandonment implies a voluntary act.  Rowland v. Landiga’s Heirs, 21 Ala. 9 (1852) •Abandonment is a jury question.  Buck v. Louisville & N. R. Co., 159 Ala. 305, 48 So. 699 (1909) •Temporary failure to maintain property is not an abandonment unless coupled with intention.  Hughes v. Anderson, 79 Ala. 209 (1885)