Benny Kass is a practicing attorney in Washington. There he has been writing the Housing Counsel column weekly since the early 1970s and ...

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Benny L. Kass

Benny L. Kass

Housing Counsel


Exorbitant time-share fees tick off longtime owners

April 13, 2014

Q: We started with a time share in Mexico paying $425 per year and were told we could cancel at any time.

  • Know your rights if mortgage sold to another lender

    April 4, 2014

    Q: My mortgage was sold twice, ending up with an out-of-state lender. That is when the problems started. It paid our insurance from escrow when we are escrow waived and have been for 24 years. Then they dropped my wife's name from the account and have even sent us a default notice. All of these are "keystroke" errors as they told us. On top of that, they have the worst customer service I have ever seen. I never asked for this company; we were sold to them.

  • How to get financially struggling tenant to move out

    March 30, 2014

    Q: We own and live in a small, four-unit apartment building. One of the tenants stopped paying rent in November. Because she had lost her job, she asked us to bear with her until she got back on her feet. We didn't start an eviction procedure because of the severe winter, and she is a longtime tenant who was always responsible.

  • If you barter with contractor, the IRS might want its cut

    March 21, 2014

    Q: I am a plumber, and for the last few years business has not been good in my area. Accordingly, I have often traded my services in exchange for work that is done on my house.

  • Transfer property into trust to avoid probate

    March 14, 2014

    Q: Eleven years ago, my wife and I set up a trust and know we must restructure it now.

  • Borrower loses home but still has to pay equity loan

    March 7, 2014

    Q: My home was foreclosed a few years ago. At that time, I had a home equity line of credit on the property. I am not responsible for the main mortgage. Unfortunately, this didn't seem to affect my equity loan, and I am still making payments on it. What options do I have? I'd like to stop payment or settle for a lesser amount owed.

  • How to avoid adverse possession of your property

    February 28, 2014

    Q: We had a survey done on a house we bought in September that showed a neighbor has a fence protruding some 14 feet in our property. Though it is a wooded area and we have no plans to do anything in that part of our yard, is there anything we should do legally to preserve our legal status for that part of our yard? The fence is not significant to us at the time, but we don't want any problems with questions about it being our land.

  • Builder wants buyer to sign first, ask questions later

    February 23, 2014

    Q: Is it legal for a builder to show model town homes with various upgrade options but refuse to disclose the upgrade costs until after I sign a contract for the base home? Even after I signed the contract, they refused to provide me the upgrade costs because my attorney rider has not yet been accepted by my attorney.

  • Buyer will have to prove seller knew about leakage

    February 14, 2014

    Q: My daughter bought a house in June, as is. The seller's disclosure stated there was no water seepage problem in the basement. We questioned the pallets and were told they were just a precaution.

  • Oral agreement not legally binding in property transfer

    February 7, 2014

    Q: I am interested in a property in Maryland. I contacted the owner, who told me I can have the house. But she did not sign a quitclaim deed. What can I do to transfer the property to me without the deed? All I have is her word of mouth.

  • Dig deeper to determine mineral rights under land

    January 31, 2014

    Q: How do you know if you own the mineral rights under your property?

  • Tips for buying a condo with help from parent

    January 24, 2014

    Q: My mother plans on lending me enough money so I can buy a condo. What is the process? What documents do we need?

  • Military lease termination puts landlord in costly bind

    January 19, 2014

    Q: I own a rental property in Florida. I recently received a letter from my tenant through an attorney that claims to terminate my lease pursuant to Florida Statute 83.682.

  • Proceed with caution on property value estimates

    January 10, 2014

    Q: In a previous column, you mentioned a hard-money loan. Do you know any companies that make these types of loans to homeowners?

  • What to consider when giving home to children

    January 4, 2014

    Q: My wife and I are in our mid-50s. We have a 30-year-old daughter who owned a home years ago and now resides in an apartment. Our son is 21 and also lives in a rental apartment. We want to put our home that we have lived in for 15 years into our kids' names. About three more years remain on the mortgage.

  • Always obtain land survey before buying property

    December 30, 2013

    Q: At our recent closing, we were charged $225 for a survey. We were told this was required by the lender. What exactly is a survey?

  • Rental properties ineligible for mortgage debt relief

    December 20, 2013

    Q: I am hoping you can clarify debt relief as it applies to rental property. My sister has a single-family residence that she rents out, and is now letting the house follow the path to foreclosure. She received info from a real estate attorney that didn't make sense to me nor could I find any information that substantiated the info.

  • Look before you leap into a time-share contract

    December 14, 2013

    Q: I have given some thought to the time-share thing — and yes we had one and paid money to get rid of it.

  • Ways to get security deposit back from landlord

    December 6, 2013

    Q: My daughter and a friend put down a deposit on an apartment they rented. Their lease expired in July, and they were to receive their deposit as stipulated in their lease agreement within three months.

  • Understanding responsibilities of a life estate tenant

    November 30, 2013

    Q: I am writing in regards to a question posed to you regarding a grandson buying his grandmother's house while she continues to live there, with direct ownership transferring to him after her death.

  • Home seller hit with sticker shock after closing

    November 22, 2013

    Q: About a month ago, our son sold his home he had owned for nine years. Three years ago, he obtained a loan modification to lower his payments. The title attorney that handled the recent closing received a payoff from the lender.

  • For the record, make sure property deed recorded

    November 15, 2013

    Q: Back in 1997, I bought a condominium from my mother for a nominal sum. At that time all the papers were sent to her attorney for processing. I received copies of the transaction stating that the deed was conveyed into my name.

  • Neighbors at wit's end over unfinished rehab of house

    November 1, 2013

    Q: I live in a well-kept, desirable neighborhood with median prices for houses around $300,000. In December 2011, a neighbor hired a contractor to replace windows and siding and do other work. By January 2012, all of the siding was removed and some windows were replaced. By the next month, the bottom half of one side of the house was re-sided.

  • Beware of using generic forms in real estate deals

    October 24, 2013

    Q: Do you know where I can find a lease with option to purchase contract?

  • IRS use test can make selling a home less taxing

    October 17, 2013

    Q: We have been living in our house for over 30 years. With our grown children no longer living with us, we have reluctantly decided to sell and move to a smaller place. We bought the house for $150,000, and now we think it can sell for over $800,000. But we don't want to pay a lot of taxes, since the sales proceeds will be used for our lifestyle. We were told that we may have to pay capital gains tax on the $650,000 profit. Any suggestions?

  • Breaking up is hard to do with shared property

    October 4, 2013

    Q: I have a horrific situation not for the faint at heart. We are two brothers fighting worse than in a Spanish bullring. Animosity exists between my older brother and my wife. He enjoys the comfort when he comes to town to stay as long as he wishes in the basement of our two-flat and collects rent from the first floor.

  • Where there's smoke, there's ire from neighbors

    September 27, 2013

    Q: Our neighbors have been burning garbage, paper boxes, and logs, and the smell is terrible. They do this even when the temperature/air pollution, ozone alert is high, day or night.

  • Maintenance of estate a sticking point among heirs

    September 20, 2013

    Q: My mother died in April, and her will provides a life estate for me. I have lived in the house 14 years. My sister is the executor of the estate, which isn't large. If I move, or don't maintain the house, the proceeds are to be divided three ways among me, my sister and my deceased brother's family.

  • Town house association wants back taxes — from new owners

    September 13, 2013

    Q: Are we responsible for paying back taxes on a town house from 2005 until 2010 although we purchased the unit in December 2011? Is this legal? We were never told that by purchasing a new unit (never occupied) we would be responsible for this. Last year, my husband was contacted by the town house association's attorney asking owners of nine units to pay a balance of $17,631.16.

  • Property heir wants fair share of rental revenues

    September 6, 2013

    Q: I inherited eight pieces of property that include vacant lots and two houses. I own them with nine other people who grew up with my deceased father.

  • Guardrail blocks new homeowners' view of lake

    August 30, 2013

    Q: Earlier this year we built our retirement home in a newer community that has a small lake as its focal point. One of the strongest selling points was the lake view. Our house sits on the lake side of the main road with the patio facing toward the lake. Our garage door also faces the lake, and they had to put in a small access road to our driveway (which is on common property).

  • Overhanging tree limbs a special branch of the law

    August 22, 2013

    Q: My neighbor has several trees on his property at the property line. The branches come over my lawn, roof and driveway. I have requested many times that he trim the branches but to no avail. When they asked me to cut a tree that they feared would fall on their house I complied, no question asked.

  • Smart move is to pay on loan with largest balance

    August 9, 2013

    Q: We have seven rentals. It seemed like a good idea to refinance them but very difficult with over four properties. The only one that was easy to do was underwater. I am going to continue working on it, but meanwhile, we are scheduling our monthly payments so that they will be paid off in 15 or (fewer) years.

  • Take time to thoroughly read closing documents

    August 2, 2013

    Q: In my 20s —23 years ago — I bought my first house in California. When I signed the final paperwork at the escrow office to close, I read thoroughly the contracts for the first time in my life and saw many boilerplate statements. I also read a boilerplate paragraph that did not make sense to me and asked the escrow officer to explain. She said something to the effect that she did not know the contents of the paperwork and could not explain the meaning.

  • Explore options for selling jointly owned property

    July 26, 2013

    Q: My former boyfriend and I bought a home in 1988. He left five years later, and I remained in the home and took care of all of the bills. I made several attempts to ask him to sign a quit claim deed, but he works for personal injury attorneys and was advised not to. He has since married and continues to remain on the deed.

  • Earnest money dispute teaches a valuable lesson

    July 19, 2013

    Q: You have repeatedly advised that any earnest money be deposited with escrow. In my unfortunate experience, this didn't protect the seller, me, against a default.

  • Beginners advice on protecting rental property

    July 12, 2013

    Q: What is needed in landlord insurance? My husband and I have become accidental landlords due to me not wanting to sell my family home after my father's passing.

  • Possible rescue plan for owner of underwater condo

    July 5, 2013

    Q: I wanted to ask your advice on a possible short sale. I own a one-bedroom condo as a second home that I am upside down by probably $50,000.

  • Exploring pros and cons of a living trust

    June 28, 2013

    Q: I keep hearing that it is beneficial to have your home in a trust versus owning it in your own name. What are the benefits or non-benefits?

  • Title insurance protects your interest in property

    June 21, 2013

    Q: On new construction and paying cash (no lender financing), do I need to obtain title insurance on my new home?

  • Rewards and risks of gifting property to relatives

    June 14, 2013

    Q: We have a condo that we will gift our granddaughters when and if they graduate from the Air Force Academy a few years from now. Since my wife and I can gift $12,000 a year to each of our two granddaughters, in four years we would be able to completely transfer the property, which is worth about $196,000, and avoid any gift tax.

  • Cohan rule offers some relief on tax deductions

    May 31, 2013

    Q: I built my own house. At first, I stuffed receipts into a folder but toward the end when things got hectic, I forgot. I probably have receipts amounting to a quarter of what I believe I spent, land included. How can I establish a credible basis when it comes time to sell? The good news is the house is probably now worth a million and I think I spent less than $150,000.

  • Legal complexities of passing home to heirs

    April 5, 2013

    Q: I live with my 87-year-old widowed mother. Five years ago, she had the house title changed to add my sister and me to it (no other heirs) because she wanted us to be able to sell if she needed to go into a nursing home and also to avoid probate. She has no will and no other significant assets. Our names are also on her bank accounts.

  • Look before you leap into buying vacant house

    March 29, 2013

    Q: I was negotiating with an owner to purchase a property containing a vacant, boarded-up house. Over the years, the owner would occasionally come into town and clear the weeds, as he lived out of state. During one of these visits to his property he and I engaged in discussions for selling. He looked into finding the property value with a local Realtor before heading back home. Six months later I learned that he unfortunately passed away.

  • Paying off mortgage with lower-rate home equity line

    March 15, 2013

    Q: I have about $40,000 left on my 15-year fixed mortgage at 4 percent interest. I owe about $13,000 on a home equity line that is 2.99 percent variable rate. I have a $100,000 equity line open. I have no other debt. I am considering paying off my remaining mortgage with the lower-interest home equity line. Do you think that is a good idea since I am giving up a fixed rate for a variable rate? I would pay both off in about three years. Also, if I close out my mortgage, can I still declare the interest on my taxes from the home equity line?

  • The last resort for time-share owner

    February 22, 2013

    Q: My time-share maintenance fees exceed $2,000 per year. While this does not cause a real hardship on me, I was wondering what happens to the time-share ownership if the primary deed owner dies. When I die (I'm 80 now), I assume the time-share points go into my estate. And, if they do, does that obligate my heirs to continue to pay the annual maintenance fees in perpetuity?

  • Steps to protect condo funds from embezzlement

    January 25, 2013

    Q: I have just been elected president of my 200-unit condominium association and have heard that some property managers throughout the country have embezzled association funds. How can we protect ourselves and our money?

  • Defining 'capital improvement' for tax purposes

    January 10, 2013

    Q: Is the definition of capital improvement something that increases the actual value of the house, even if it may not trigger a change in taxes, or must it be taxable?

  • Resident desperate for relief from elevator noise

    December 13, 2012

    Q: We live in a large condominium complex, and our unit happens to be close enough to the lobby that we hear the elevator constantly. The sound, what I call harmonizing, has been occurring for the last five to six years. I have spoken to the management many times and they have responded by repairing, but the fix is never long-lasting.

  • Make sure estate plan for son is trust-worthy

    November 29, 2012

    Q: I put my estate in a trust. I would like to make sure that I understand everything correctly. I am leaving my house in the trust to my son. I was told that when I die the trust prevents probate. I want to make sure that when I go my son will just have to go to the courthouse and have the house moved out of my name into his with out any cost to him or having him to go through probate. Am I right about this?

  • What buyers need to know about a home inspection

    November 1, 2012

    Q: When buying a home, is there anything in the home inspection that the seller must fix before the completion of the sale?

  • Refinance misstep costs homeowners low rate

    November 1, 2012

    Q: A mortgage broker advised us several years ago to split our mortgage into a $400,000 mortgage and a $100,000 line of credit (we had $300,000 total available on the home equity line of credit.

  • Don't buy house without these 3 contract contingencies

    September 27, 2012

    Q: I am in the midst of house hunting. Do you have an example of contingency language for financing and inspections that you have used in the past?

  • Board has an uncommon view of common areas

    September 27, 2012

    Q: I live in a freestanding house that is part of a homeowners association. We have a neighbor who parks a 32-foot motor home in four guest spaces just outside our fence, with permission of the manager, for 24 hours every three or four weeks.

  • Condo owner want to eliminate party fees

    September 6, 2012

    Q: I thought condo fees were for the maintenance and repair of homes and grounds, and for lawn care. Our association fees also pay for parties. I think the people who participate in the parties should pay for the parties themselves.

  • Owning property as tenants in common

    August 23, 2012

    Q: Exactly what does "tenants in common" mean? That's the way the title is to the house that I own with my boyfriend.


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