Liability in an ADA Compliant Commercial Lease

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires anyone who owns, leases, or operates a place of public accommodation to make sure that the place or premises complies with ADA guidelines. This means that when drafting an ADA compliant commercial lease, a property owner must address how the parties to the agreement will comply with the ADA, and who will absorb the cost of a potential ADA lawsuit.

Title III of the ADA requires “barrier removal” for existing structures and prevents modifications or new construction that can impede access by the disabled persons. Barrier removal imposes a range of compliance obligations that may include installing ramps, creating designated and accessible disabled  parking spaces for the disabled, widening doors, installing special door hardware, and removing certain types of carpeting.

Determining and memorializing which parties are responsible for meeting ADA requirements is important. At least one individual will have the burden of paying the costs associated with ADA compliance. Generally, the landlord will be responsible for meeting any compliance requirements that deal with the structure of the building, while . A tenant will usually be responsible for issues that are solely within the tenant’’s control. To avoid any confusion about who has what responsibilities, there should be a provision clear language in the commercial lease spelling out the landlord’s and tenant’s respective responsibilities.

NoteablyNotably, both a landlord and tenant can be held liable to a third party plaintiff for violations of the ADA. In Botosan v. Paul McNally Realty, 216 F. 3d 827 (2000), a court held that despite the tenant’s contractual responsibility to ensure ADA compliance, either a landlord or tenant can be liable to a third party.

At the very least, a commercial lease should include language representations and warranties stating whether the property complies with the ADA, provisions setting forth who will be responsible for any required retrofitting, how future liability will be allocated, and how the potential cost of compliance costs will be allocated.

If you have any questions about ADA compliant commercial lease terms, consult with an experienced attorney. Ezer Williamson Law provides a wide range of both transactional and litigation services to individuals and businesses. We have successfully prosecuted and defended various types of business, commercial and real property claims. Contact us at (310) 277-7747 to see how we can help you.

Contract Law: Defining Conflicting Terms- Part 2

Previously on the blog, we discussed ambiguous and conflicting terms in contracts. Most contracts include clauses which provide interpretation rules for ambiguous and conflicting terms. In the absence of such a clause (or if the provisions of the clause do not resolve the conflict), certain California statutes, and case law interpreting and applying those rules, will provide the method of determining  which, if any, ambiguous or conflicting terms can be enforced.

Generally speaking, an ambiguous term can reasonably be read in more than one way.  Likewise, a conflicting term exists where compliance with one or more contractual provisions would violate another contractual provision.

The California Legislature codified contract interpretation rules in the California Civil Code to cover a variety of circumstances that can arise with ambiguous or conflicting terms. A summary of a few of the most common principles  follows below.

Contract Interpretation in General

  • A contract must be interpreted to give effect to the mutual intention of the parties as they existed at the time of contracting, so far as such intentions are both ascertainable and lawful. Civil Code § 1636
  • The whole of a contract should be taken together, so as to give effect to every part, if reasonably practicable, with each clause helping to interpret the other. Civil Code § 1641
  • Several contracts relating to the same matters, between the same parties, and made as part or parts of substantially one transaction, are to be taken together. Civil Code § 1642
  • A contract may be explained by reference to the circumstances under which it was made, and the matter to which it relates. Civil Code § 1647
  • No matter how broad a contract is, it extends only to those things the parties intended to contract. Civil Code § 1648
  • Inconsistencies in a contract must be reconciled, if possible, by an interpretation that will give some effect to the inconsistent clauses, subordinate to the general intent and purpose of the whole contract. Civil Code § 1652

Interpreting Specific Contract Language

  • Contract language should be understood in an ordinary and popular sense, not in its strict legal meaning. The exception to this is when parties use words meant to be taken in a technical sense. For example, construction contracts often use language that references published trade standards, which can be used to interpret the contract. Civil Code § 1644
  • Technical words should be interpreted as usually understood by individuals in the profession or business to which they relate, unless clearly used in a different sense. Civil Code § 1645
  • Contract words that are wholly inconsistent with a contract’s nature, or with the main intention of the parties, are to be rejected. Civil Code § 1653

If you have any questions about ambiguous or conflicting terms in a contract, consult with an experienced attorney. Ezer Williamson Law provides a wide range of both transactional and litigation services to individuals and businesses. We have successfully prosecuted and defended various types of business, real estate, construction and property claims. Contact us at (310) 277-7747 to see how we can help you with your business, real estate or construction law needs.

Using Power of Attorney in a Real Estate Transaction

A power of attorney is a legal document that grants a person the legal authority to sign documents and enter into transactions on someone else’s behalf.  If you give a trusted professional, friend, or family member power of attorney, their signature on your behalf is legally effective to the same extent as if you had signed.

There are several reasons why you may give someone power of attorney, such as anticipation of your own incapacity or extended travel. In the actual power of attorney document, you can limit the extent of an individual’s powers to sign agreements on your behalf. For example, you may give someone power to only handle medical or only financial matters.

Similarly, some power of attorneys are granted specifically for real estate transactions only.  In fact there are often practical considerations that weigh in favor of considering a power of attorney in a real estate transaction. If you are in the middle of a real estate purchase or sale, it can be hard to predict a close of escrow date, or difficult to coordinate a close date with work or leisure travel schedules.  By granting your attorney or other trusted professional power of attorney in a real estate transaction, he or she can sign all the closing documents while you maintain your travel plans.

Another reason to consider a power of attorney for real estate transactions is to protect your interests in the event of your incapacity. Planning for incapacity by creating a power of attorney can make sure your real estate is taken care of as you intend by allowing someone else to step in and take care of your property for you.

Always remember that when an individual uses their power or attorney to sign on your behalf, they are binding you to all agreements just as if you had signed them yourself. A power of attorney does not absolve you of any future responsibilities or obligations associated with a real estate transaction.

Ezer Williamson Law provides a wide range of both transactional and litigation services to individuals and businesses. We have successfully prosecuted and defended various types of business, real estate, construction and property claims. Contact us at (310) 277-7747 to see how we can help you with your business, real estate or construction law needs.

What is Incorporation by Reference in a Contract?

Previously on our blog, we discussed how more complex contracts allude to other existing contracts and documents. Incorporation by reference is the method of making these alluded-to documents part of a contract, and is often used to save space when parties want to include or reference another legal document or contract into a new contract. To properly incorporate another document by reference, it has to be adequately described in a new contract, and it is good practice also to attach a copy of the referenced document to the new contract to which it is being incorporated.

The concept of incorporation by reference is similar to that of flow-down contract clauses in construction contracts.  For example, a flow-down clause is used to bind subcontractors to the general contractor in the same fashion as the general contractor is bound under its contract with the property owner. In the same vein, subcontracts usually incorporate general contracts by reference.

When drafting an incorporation by reference clause, parties have the option to incorporate certain provisions of an existing legal document, or the entire document. If the parties make it clear that only certain provisions are to be incorporated, the incorporation by reference clause should be explicitly clear in its limited scope and purpose. However, if the incorporation clause is very general, this could lead to potential disputes about which provisions to a contract were incorporated. To avoid any confusion, parties should specify exactly which terms are being incorporated.

Any time existing legal documents are incorporated by reference, there is a potential for conflicting terms. It is therefore important that all provisions are reviewed for conflicts, and a contract provision dictating how conflicting terms will be resolved should also be included.

Ezer Williamson Law provides a wide range of both transactional and litigation services to individuals and businesses. We have successfully prosecuted and defended various types of business, real estate, construction and property claims. Contact us at (310) 277-7747 to see how we can help you with your business, real estate or construction law needs.

Obtaining a Variance to a Zoning Restriction

In order to build a development, home, or addition that does not comply with local zoning ordinances or restrictions, a property owner or developer must obtain a variance. The exact process of obtaining a variance will vary based on applicable city or county laws, and can vary depending on the scope of the project and the type of variance sought.

For example, there could be different processes or requirements for “residential use” variances versus “residential area” variances.  Generally speaking, there are two types of variances: an “area variance” and a “use variance.” An area variance can be requested by a property owner or developer who is seeking an exception to a regulation dealing with land configuration or physical structure improvements.  A use variance, on the other hand, seeks an exception to the type of use of land permitted by a zoning ordinance or restriction.

Similarly, the process or requirements for residential variances differ as compared to variances for agricultural, industrial, recreational, or commercial property.  Once you have determined the type of variance you will need, the next step will be to contact the local city or county government office that handles development in the area where the property is located.  The local government office will usually have an application that must be completed, and typically require copies of relevant site plans, floor plans, and elevation drawings, as well as the payment of any fees associated with application submission.  Once complete, a city board will review your application and may require public hearings on the application.  If the variance request is denied, there is generally an appeals process.

If you have questions about obtaining a variance, consult an experienced attorney. Ezer Williamson Law provides a wide range of both transactional and litigation services to individuals and businesses. We have successfully prosecuted and defended various types of business, real estate, construction and property claims. Contact us at (310) 277-7747 to see how we can help you with your business, real estate or construction law needs.

Complying with the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act

Every contract in California (and across the country) must meet certain legal requirements to be considered “valid,” such as the manifestation of assent by both parties to be bound by the terms of the transaction.  For centuries parties have been “signing on the dotted line” to evidence their assent to the terms of the agreement.

In an increasingly digital economy many contracts are being consummated electronically.  The Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (the “UETA”) (found at Civil Code § 1633.1 et seq.) responds to the proliferation of contracting and business conducted by electronic means in California.  By following the guidelines of the statute the parties can complete all parts of the transaction entirely by electronic means, including through the transmission of electronic signatures.

Recently, the California Court of Appeal ruled on a case that dealt with the UETA’s provisions governing electronic signatures.  In J.B.B. Investment Partners, Ltd. v. Fair, ___ Cal.App.4th ___ (December 30, 2014) 2014 WL 7421609, the issue that the court addressed was whether the defendant’s “printed name at the end of his e-mail was enforceable under both UETA and, if not, by the law of contract.”

Interestingly, the defendant in J.B.B. Investment Partners, Ltd. at first appeared to agree via email to the settlement agreement proposed by the plaintiffs.  However, once the plaintiffs filed suit to enforce the settlement, the defendant said that there had been no agreement under the UETA because he did not intend for his printed name in his emails to be an “electronic signature.”  The trial court disagreed, ruled to enforce the settlement agreement, and the defendant appealed.

The appellate court focused in on the definitional requirement for a signature under the UETA (Civil Code § 1633.2(h)), which requires that an electronic signature have the “intent to sign the electronic record.”   The court further found that another relevant factor was the apparent lack of agreement to conduct the settlement by electronic means, while acknowledging that the statute specifically does not require an express agreement, allowing the intent to be gleaned from “the context and surrounding circumstances, including the parties’ conduct.”

In the this case, somewhat surprisingly, the appellate court found that despite the defendant’s repeated emails saying “I agree,” the plaintiff’s failed to meet their burden of showing that the parties had agreed to consummate the transaction via electronic means.  While the court acknowledged that simple “names typed at the end of emails can be electronic signatures,” the issue here was that the agreement that plaintiffs were attempting to bind defendant did not appear to be a final agreement (here, meaning that additional terms were added later).  The court also found that later versions of the settlement agreement contained specific electronic signature provisions not found in the version that the defendant said he agreed to (such provisions requiring the use of commercially available electronic signature software), and that there was no agreement between the parties that a simple printed name at the bottom of an email would constitute a signature.  These same facts also led the court to conclude that there was no agreement under “the law of contract.”

Ezer Williamson Law provides a wide range of both transactional and litigation services to individuals and businesses. We have successfully prosecuted and defended various types of business and property claims. Contact us at (310) 277-7747 to see how we can help you with your business law needs.

Examples of California Unfair Competition Lawsuits

Previously on the blog, we discussed what constitutes unfair competition in California. In this article, we will share a few examples of recent unfair competition lawsuits involving California businesses.

As a refresher, California Business and Professions Code Section 17200 prohibits “unfair competition,” which includes any unlawful, unfair or fraudulent business act or practice. It also includes any unfair, deceptive, untrue or misleading advertising, as well as any other act prohibited by the Business and Professions Code. A  violation under this code section is often one of the many allegations making up a lawsuit accusing a business of some sort of fraud or deceptive practice prohibited by a different state rule or statute leading to wide variation in unfair competition lawsuits in California.

Recent unfair competition lawsuits include:

  • The district attorney offices for the counties of Los Angeles and San Francisco claimed that Uber violated California’s unfair competition laws by misguiding and overcharging consumers;
  • The district attorney offices for the counties of Yolo, Sacramento, and San Joaquin  filed an unfair competition lawsuit against chocolate Easter bunny candy-maker R.M. Palmer Co., alleging that the false-bottomed boxes used to sell the product “Too Tall Bunny” amount to deceptive packaging; and
  • In a case that could impact millions of Americans, two private individuals have brought an unfair competition lawsuits against Apple, alleging that the company falsely advertised the storage capacity available in its iPhones, iPads and iPods, because the large data footprint of the iOS 8 operating software eats into the advertised capacity of Apple’s mobile devices, making a fraction of the advertised capacity of the devices available to users.

Ezer Williamson Law provides a wide range of both transactional and litigation services to individuals and businesses. We have successfully prosecuted and defended various types of business, real estate, construction and property claims. Contact us at (310) 277-7747 to see how we can help you with your business, real estate or construction law needs.

Selling Partnership Shares

Selling partnership shares often involves various considerations.  In most partnerships, partners can choose to sell their share of the partnership to the partnership or a new potential partner as part of the resolution of a partnership dispute or simply because the individual or entity no longer desires to be part of the partnership.

Selling partnership shares will be governed by a partnership agreement, or if there is no partnership agreement, state law will govern sale of a partnership share. It is especially important to check the provisions of a partnership agreement before selling a partnership share, as there might be restrictions on share sales.  For example, a “right of first offer” provision may subject the selling partner to financial penalties or a lawsuit if there is no initial offer to existing partners before offering to sell to outsiders. Also, a partnership agreement might have certain notice requirements that a partner must follow when considering selling his, her or its share.

It is also important to consider what will and will not change as a result of the  sale of a partnership interest.  For example, according to California Corporations Code Section 16201, “partnership is an entity distinct from its partners.” Therefore, if a partner sells their share, that change alone will not dissolve a partnership or create a new one. The original partnership entity will continue to exist despite such changes.  Similarly, section 16502 of California’s Corporation Code provides that a partner’s only transferable interest is “the partner’s share of the profits and losses of the partnership and the partner’s right to receive distributions.” This means that when a partner is selling partnership shares, they are really only transferring their financial interest in the partnership. All other interests are separate, and must be dealt with separately.

If the partner had a managing role in the partnership, the new partners should update the partnership agreement to make sure the new ownership and responsibilities are memorialized in writing.

If you have any questions about selling partnership shares, consult with an experienced attorney. Ezer Williamson Law provides a wide range of both transactional and litigation services to individuals and businesses. We have successfully prosecuted and defended various types of business, real estate, construction and property claims. Contact us at (310) 277-7747 to see how we can help you with your business, real estate or construction law needs.

What Constitutes Doing Business in California?

Even if your business is not based in California, you may be held to certain California filing obligations and tax liabilities if your business meets the legal definition of “doing business” in California.

There are two definitions for doing business in California. One is from the Franchise Tax Board, and determines whether an individual or business will have tax liabilities in California. The other is established by the California Corporations Code, and it determines what corporate filing obligations an out-of-state business will have with the California Secretary of State.

Doing Business in California According to the Franchise Tax Board

According to the Franchise Tax Board, doing business in California consists of “actively engaging in any transaction for the purpose of financial or pecuniary gain or profit.” An out-of-state entity is treated as “doing business” in California if:

  • The entity is commercially domiciled in California (meaning the entity is controlled in California, like a headquarters);
  • Sales in California exceed the lesser of $500,000 or 25% of the entity’s total sales;
  • The entity has real or tangible property in California exceeding the lesser of $50,000 or 25% of the entity’s total real and tangible property; or
  • The amount paid in California by the entity for compensation exceeds the lesser of $50,000 or 25% of the total compensation paid.

If none of those situations apply, an entity organized in a jurisdiction outside of California could still be considered to be doing business in California if it is a member or general partner of an entity that does business in California, or if any of the entity’s members, managers, or other agents conduct business in California on behalf of the entity.

Doing Business in California According to the California Corporations Code

Under the California Corporations Code, “doing business” is referred to as “transact[ing] intrastate business,” which is defined as “entering into repeated and successive transactions of its business in [California], other than interstate or foreign commerce.” An entity might need to register with the California Secretary of State if it meets this definition. However, the application and meaning of this definition differs from entity to entity. Because of this varied application, it is best to consult with an experienced business attorney to determine your precise tax liabilities  and filing obligations.

Ezer Williamson Law provides a  wide range of both transactional and litigation services to individuals and businesses. We have successfully prosecuted and defended various types of business and property claims. Contact us at (310) 277-7747 to see how we can help you with your business law needs.

Tips for Creating a Successful Joint Venture

Previously on our blog, we discussed what a joint venture actually is and how to create one. Now we will share a few tips for making a joint venture relationship more successful.

  1. Have a Written Agreement

By its very nature, a joint venture is a commitment by two or more different individuals or entities to work together on one single goal.  Much like any relationship, this set up leaves a joint venture vulnerable to management and financial problems.  Having a written agreement that anticipates potential disputes and controls how they will be handled is critical, and it is always best for parties to a joint venture to agree and sign a written agreement at the outset of the joint venture. This agreement should especially cover matters of asset control, asset valuation methods, how disputes will be handled, and how the winding-up process will work.

  1. Protect the Joint Venture from Liability

Unless a joint venture is otherwise characterized as a separate legal entity, its members are vulnerable to personal liability. Members should therefore consider forming a corporation or limited liability company or corporation to protect themselves from potential liability. Additionally, if the venture is unsuccessful, the parties will not be personally liable for the resulting debts, as long as the entity was properly funded and properly formed.

  1. Financial Planning

If the parties to a joint venture do not have a solid financial plan, they can find their financial resources evaporating too quickly. Prudent joint venturers will anticipate the need for additional capital and determine acceptable sources of funding in the initial joint venture agreement.

If you have any questions about creating a joint venture, consult an experienced attorney. Ezer Williamson Law provides a wide range of both transactional and litigation services to individuals and businesses. Contact us at (310) 277-7747 to see how we can help you with your real estate, business, or contract law needs.