Parent-Child Exclusion From Property Tax Reassessment

California provides various exclusions from reassessment of property tax when a “change of ownership” occurs.  One of the most common exclusions is used to prevent reassessment for transfers from a parent to a child or from a grandparent to a grandchild (often referred to as the “parent-child exclusion”).  However, it is important to understand when a “change in ownership” occurs and how long you have to apply for an exclusion from property tax reassessment.

“Change of Ownership”

Generally, Revenue & Taxation Code Sections 60 through 62 define the events (i.e., the sales and transfers) that trigger property tax reassessments under provisions of the California Constitution, commonly known as Proposition 13.  These trigger events are known as a change of ownership.  Generally, whenever a change of ownership occurs that is not subject to an exclusion provided under the Revenue and Taxation Code, the transferee must file a change in ownership statement in the county where the real property is located. Cal. Rev. & Tax. Code § 480(a).

Revenue and Taxation Code section 60 defines a “change in ownership” as “a transfer of a present interest in real property, including the beneficial use thereof, the value of which is substantially equal to the value of the fee interest.”  The transfer of a fee interest is commonly accomplished via a sale from one person or entity to another.

Transfers can also be through legal trusts.  In fact, transfers between parents and children typically take place through trusts that are set up by the parent(s) for the benefit of the child after the parent passes away.   The Revenue and Taxation Code also provides that circumstances constituting a “change in ownership” occur when any interests in real property which vest in persons other than the trustor (i.e., the trust creator) or when a revocable trust becomes irrevocable (such as the parent/trustor passing away).

Thus, there is a change of ownership when the children receive the full present interest in real property, even when the property remains in the trust.  Luckily an exclusion is available to prevent a costly property tax reassessment, but must be timely claimed.

The Parent-Child Exclusion

Certain constitutional initiatives (including Propositions 13, 58, and 193) were passed that provide for exclusions to reassessment when the transfer is from a parent to a child or from a grandparent to a grandchild.  Those initiatives were codified in the California Revenue & Taxation Code, which states (in relevant part) that “a change in ownership shall not include the purchase or transfer of real property . . . between parents and their children.”  Cal. Rev. & Tax. Code § 63.1.

But, in order to avoid reassessment under the parent-child exclusions described above, once there is a change in ownership a claim for the exclusion must be filed within three (3) years after the date of the purchase or transfer of real property, or prior to transfer of the real property to a third party (whichever is earlier).  If no claim for a parent-child exclusion is filed within the three (3) year period, then it may be filed within six months from the date of mailing of a notice of supplemental or escape assessment that was issued as a result of the purchase or transfer of the real property.  Cal. Rev. & Tax. Code § 63.1.

What is a Partition Action?

As a business law firm, we often deal with partnership disputes.  We have shared information on our blog on how to protect against partnership disputes, as well as tips for solving them such disputes.  Unfortunately, not all disputes can be prevented or solved.  In these circumstances, partnerships often dissolve. When that is the case, , and a partition action may be necessary to distribute partnership assets.

In a partition action, known as a partition of partnership property, a court is asked to divide partnership property equally between amongst interested parties. The guidelines for distributing assets in a partition action are set out in California Code of Civil Procedure section 872.010, et seq.  Although most partition actions involve real estate, but the laws of partition actions can be applied to distributing any type of partnership property, such as manufacturing equipment. Specifically, this type of action would be referred to as an action for partition of partnership property.

If a partner wants to file for a partition action, he or she will have to file a complaint with the court seeking a partition action is initiated like any other legal dispute, meaning that the partner would file a complaint in the appropriate court alleging a cause of action for partition of partnership property.  When the action involves real property, the plaintiff will shall also have to record a notice of pendency of the action, called a ““lis pendens,” in the office of with the county recorder of each county in which any real property described in the complaint is located.  Once recorded, the party should file a Notice of Lis Pendens with the court. This will prevent the other partner from selling or taking loans out on the property by putting buyers and lenders on notice of the pending action.

In general, a court will allow a partition unless it is against the interest of the parties. To determine whether the partition is in the best interest of the parties, the court will consider the character of the property and expenses associated with the partition.

If a court finds that a partition is in the best interest of the parties, it will usually order that the business or property be sold and the proceeds be divided amongst the partners. However, sometimes the parties are able to come to a partition settlement agreement, and the court will merely issue a judgment so that the agreement will be enforced.

If you have questions about partition actions or partnership disputes, 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, 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.

Defining Conflicting Terms in a Contract

Conflicting terms in a contract exist when there are certain provisions that cannot each be complied with because performing one would violate another, or where the use and meaning of a particular term or terms varies throughout the contract. This situation can occur  when multiple parties are drafting and revising a contract without carefully reviewing the impact of each change on other portions of the contract, or when conflicting changes are made to a standard form contract that one or more parties are not entirely familiar with, and again, do not carefully review the impact of each change.  Conflicts can also occur when the terms used in the agreement are not defined and are unclear to people unfamiliar with the deal, industry, or product.

For example, sometimes other contracts or documents are alluded to in a contract but not actually defined in the agreement.  A contract could also rely heavily on terms that are defined by industry standards but which are foreign to people outside of the industry. All of these situations cold give rise to potentially conflicting terms, such as a reference to a term where the industry meaning and usage is in conflict with the meaning and use applied  in the contract.

A properly drafted contract will avoid conflicting terms and ambiguities, and, in anticipation of potential conflicts, include clauses which provide rules of interpretation. Contracts can also designate clauses in one portion of a contract to supersede conflicting provisions found in another part of the contract. Almost every contract will have a provision stating that if one provision is in conflict with another, the rest of the contract is still enforceable, and provide how the conflicting terms will be handled.

Also, a contract can very well provide a means for resolving conflicting terms and ambiguities, but still fail to resolve a conflict that arises under an unanticipated or obscure situation. In that situation, the contract parties can turn to California statutes and appellate court cases to find other rules of interpretation.

If you have any questions about 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.

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.

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.

House of Representatives Proposes Corporate Tax Breaks

In the U.S. Congress, members of both parties are working together to reduce the corporate tax rate and simultaneously limit business tax breaks. The plan to cut business tax rates is getting strong opposition from U.S. businesses.

Reducing corporate tax cuts and the corporate tax rate is a complicated issue because millions of U.S. businesses do not pay taxes through the corporate system. These businesses are often referred to as “pass-throughs” because the income they receive is not taxed at the corporate level but rather passes through to their owners’ tax returns.

According to the Tax Policy Center in Washington, approximately a third of all U.S. business activity is currently conducted through pass-throughs.  Pass-throughs account for almost 10% of adjusted gross income on individual tax returns.

A common misconception is that pass-throughs are mostly small businesses. In reality, some of the largest law and accounting firms, hedge funds, private-equity firms, and even some large manufacturers are pass-throughs. This means that tax breaks given to small businesses or pass-throughs amounts to a large amount of money, making it tougher to reduce the corporate tax rate.

The current approach to reducing tax rates and cuts focuses on the size of the business, potentially offering new tax breaks to only small businesses, and eliminating tax breaks for larger businesses in order to afford a lower corporate tax rate. While discussions regarding corporate tax cuts continue, lawmakers in both parties agree that they are too far apart on the issue of individual tax rates to reach any deal there. Therefore, individual taxes are likely to be left alone.

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 real estate, business, or contract law needs.

What Constitutes a Trade Secret?

Unlike patents and trademarks, trade secrets are protected without any procedural formalities associated with the benefits of registration with a government agency. The benefit to this is that a trade secret can be protected for an unlimited period of time and requires no public disclosure. The downside is that defining and protecting a trade secret can be trickier.

There are different definitions of what constitutes a “trade secret.” California law has adopted the Uniform Trade Secrets Act definition, qualifying a trade secret as “information, including a formula, pattern, compilation, program, device, method, technique, or process” that meets two qualifications. The first qualification is that the information must derive “independent economic value, actual or potential, from not being generally known to the public or to other persons who can obtain economic value from its disclosure or use.”  The second qualification is that the trade secret owner must take reasonable steps to maintain the secrecy of the information.

The Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement, an international agreement administered by the World Trade Organization, similarly defines a trade secret.  According to the TRIPS Agreement, trade secret information cannot be generally known among, or readily accessible to, circles that normally deal with the kind of information in question.  It must also have commercial value because it is a secret, and it must have been subject to reasonable steps by the rightful holder of the information to keep it secret.

Thus, if a company deals with third parties who are privy to a company’s trade secret, it is important to always have them sign confidentiality agreements to make sure they understand that the information is a secret.  Taking those steps not only gives the company a cause of action for breach, but also evidences reasonable steps to maintain the secrecy of the trade secret.  Information that constitutes a trade secret can include processes that make production more efficient, a formula (like the Coca-Cola soft drink formula), customer lists, and proprietary business plans.

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, contract, and property claims. Contact us at (310) 277-7747 to see how we can help you with your business needs.

Ridesharing Hit with More Business Lawsuits

California prohibits unlawful, unfair, and fraudulent business practices, as well as unfair, deceptive, untrue or misleading advertising. Recently, the district attorney offices for Los Angeles and San Francisco claimed that Uber, one of the the most popular ridesharing companies, violated these California business laws in recently filed actions against the company.

Uber (recently valued at $41 Billion and has backers from Wall Street to Silicon Valley), is no stranger to lawsuits, which are coming from all over the world. In California, the district attorneys’ offices are alleging that Uber misleads consumers about the service’s safety and overcharges them with unnecessary tolls in violation of California consumer protection laws.

According to the lawsuit, Uber claims to be an industry-leader in conducting background checks, but fails to fingerprint its drivers. The district attorneys’ offices claim that without fingerprinting, the company’s criminal checks are “completely worthless.”

The San Francisco district attorneys’ offices also accuse Uber of fraud for charging certain tolls. Uber charges a $4 “airport fee toll,” which is automatically added to rides to and from San Francisco International Airport, even when drivers do not pay a toll themselves. Uber also automatically adds a $1 “safe rides fee” to every ride, claiming that this fee goes to funding the company’s background checks.

The district attorneys’ offices have asked the court for an injunction that will force Uber to stop these practices immediately. They also seek restitution and civil penalties for riders who suffered economic harm from the unnecessary fees.

California law allows a $2,500 penalty to be issued for each violation of the business code. The district attorneys’ offices claim that that are “tens of thousands of violations,” meaning that Uber may be facing a very expensive lawsuit.

Lyft, a competing ridesharing company, who recently raised $700 million, chose to settle a similar lawsuit, agreeing to stop picking up passengers at airports until it obtains the necessary permits and approvals. Lyft will also submit its application to a California testing agency to measure its accuracy in calculating fares.

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, contract, and property claims. Contact us at (310) 277-7747 to see how we can help you with your business law needs