Deciding to Hire a Lawyer

(Page 2 of 2 of When Should a Landlord Hire a Lawyer? )

Defending Your Reputation

If a serious crime or accident occurs on your property, or if one of your employees makes headlines for an unflattering reason, your business could suffer from the negative publicity (on top of any lawsuit that may take place).

Especially if you're not used to dealing with public relations, you should consider talking with a lawyer about how to handle the press. The lawyer can advise you on what you should -- and shouldn't -- say, or speak for you, and perhaps recommend action you can take to draw positive attention to your property and business.

Anytime You're Going to Court

Aside from evictions, personal injury, and discrimination lawsuits, you may need to go to court for one of a number of other reasons, either as plaintiff or defendant. For example, a former tenant may take you to housing or small claims court, claiming you wrongfully withheld the full amount of his security deposit. Or you may decide to bring a civil action against a contractor to get compensated for shoddy or incomplete work.

If you're going to court, or if you're entangled in a legal dispute that may lead there, at the very least consider consulting a lawyer, even if it's just to get some coaching. Whether to hire a lawyer should depend on: the complexity of the situation, how much is at stake, your budget, your confidence in handling the matter (or part of it) yourself, and your experience (if any) with a similar matter in the past.

Changing Your Business Structure

You may decide your business would be better served as a limited liability company instead of as the S-corporation you've been running for years. Or, after operating as a sole proprietorship, you may want to get a partner involved. It's wise to consult a lawyer to discuss your options and what each one entails.

Depending on your choice of business structure, you may need to file certain documents with your state on a one-time or annual basis (which you can often handle yourself). Any decision regarding your business structure will have important tax and legal ramifications, which your lawyer can explain. (To learn more about the various business structures available, see Nolo's area on Ownership Structures.)

Buying or Selling Property

Buying or selling property may be common, but it's filled with more complexities and legal risks than many people are aware of, especially if that property also has a business (such as a building full of tenants) that goes along with it.

A lawyer knows the steps and can walk you around common pitfalls, from negotiation to closing. For example, a lawyer can help resolve environmental or structural issues that come to light in an inspection report, and can commit the seller to removing liens, mortgages, judgments and tax levies to ensure you get "clean title" -- that is, ownership that's free of claims.

Dealing With Problem Employees -- Or Employment Problems

Employment issues can arise whether you manage a large staff or have just one person helping you with your business. If you need to fire an employee for a valid reason but are afraid the employee may sue you for discrimination, or if tenants complain that an employee is harassing them, even a quick consultation with a lawyer may help steer you away from legal trouble. (To learn more about employment issues, see Nolo's area on Human Resources.)

Protecting Your Intellectual Property Rights

When surfing the Web, did you happen to find a company logo that's strikingly similar to the one you paid a graphic designer to create for you several years ago? Did you spot language on another landlord's website or marketing materials that looks eerily familiar? These types of issues relate to your business' intellectual property rights. If you try to enforce them on your own -- for example, by contacting the alleged offender about the apparent violation -- and get nowhere, consult a lawyer who's an expert on copyright and trademark issues.

Additional Resources

For more on this topic, read Every Landlord's Legal Guide  by  Janet Portman, Marcia Stewart, and  Ralph Warner (Nolo). Or, to locate an attorney in your geographic area, visit Nolo's Lawyer Directory, where you can view information about each lawyer's experience, education, and fees, and perhaps most importantly, the lawyer's general philosophy of practicing law.

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