The 3 Types of Real Estate Co-ownership in Maryland: What Every Owner Should Know


Do you co-own, or are you planning to co-own, real estate in Maryland?  Perhaps you are married or planning to marry, you are acquiring property with others, or you have inherited a property along with others.  There are many decisions to make when considering real estate co-ownership, one of which is the type of co-ownership you should enter into, referred to legally as your estate in the property.  In fact, as circumstances change, you may benefit by changing your type of co-ownership.  However valid your reason for sharing ownership in a given property may be, you should clearly understand the type of co-ownership you have, because it matters a great deal more than you may realize. 

Consider these three important questions:

  • Can you convey your share of the property by gift or sale, or devise it in a will, without consent of your co-owners?
     
  • Is your property vulnerable to a creditor who may be actively seeking to collect on a personal debt you owe, or on the debt of a co-owner?
     
  • What happens to your property interest in the event of a divorce or death?

There are three types of real estate co-ownership in Maryland:  Joint Tenancy, Tenancy by the Entirety (a.k.a. Tenancy by the Entireties) for married couples and Tenancy in Common.

  1. JOINT TENANCY is when two or more co-owners simultaneously have an interest in the whole property, as well as a separate, undivided individual interest.  Each Joint Tenant enjoys a shared right of possession to the whole property, while holding title to a portion of it.  Joint Tenancy requires that the Joint Tenants acquire their interests at the same time, by the same instrument (e.g. deed or will) and in equal interests.  The hallmark of Joint Tenancy is a right of survivorship.  When one Joint Tenant dies, by operation of law the decedent’s interest is automatically transferred proportionally amongst the surviving Joint Tenants.  The intent to form a Joint Tenancy must be clearly expressed in the instrument.  If the instrument does not contain the words “Joint Tenants” or “Joint Tenancy,” it must otherwise clearly intend a right of survivorship.

    Pros & Cons of Joint Tenancy:  In one sense a right of survivorship is an advantage, because there is no need to record a deed verifying that the survivor(s) now owns the decedent’s interest.  However, this also means that a Joint Tenant cannot devise her property interest to her heirs.  Joint Tenants are only responsible for their respective share of cost of maintaining the property, such as property taxes, mortgage and insurance.  Moreover, Joint Tenants are entitled to share proportionally in any income the property earns.  Also, if a Joint Tenant incurs a debt unrelated to the property, any resulting judgment lien is only against her apportioned interest in the property.  However, if a judgment creditor successfully levies the property within the debtor Joint Tenant’s lifetime, the other Joint Tenants may suffer the consequences of either a forced sale or partitioning (physical division) of the property.  A Joint Tenant retains the right to sell or gift his/her interest in the property without permission of the other Joint Tenants, but in doing so, the Joint Tenancy is severed, creating a Tenancy in Common with the remaining Joint Tenants.  In Maryland, a Joint Tenant’s mortgage of his/her property interest also converts his/her co-ownership into a Tenancy in Common.  Finally, an individual Joint Tenant may file a lawsuit to potentially force a partition of the property, or a sale in lieu of partition, in which case the proceeds are distributed amongst the Joint Tenants.
     
  2. TENANCY BY THE ENTIRETY is a form of Joint Tenancy recognized under common law for married couples.  In Maryland, couples who are married when executing the deed to a property are presumed to take title as Tenants by the Entirety unless otherwise provided in the instrument.  However, if two persons marry while already owning property together as Joint Tenants, their ownership is not automatically converted into a Tenancy by the Entirety. They must update their deed. Conversely, when the Court grants an absolute divorce, the Tenancy by the Entirety is severed by operation of law and their co-ownership is converted into a Tenancy in Common, thus extinguishing the right of survivorship.

    Pros & Cons of Tenancy by the Entirety:  Under a Tenancy by the Entirety there is only one shared interest between the married co-owners, consequently one spouse cannot sell or otherwise convey the property without the consent of the other.  Also, if only one spouse owes a debt to a creditor, that creditor cannot force a sale to satisfy the debt; the property is shielded from the debts of one spouse.
     
  3. TENANCY IN COMMON differs from Joint Tenancy in that each co-owner has a divisible interest in the property, and there is no right of survivorship.  When a Tenancy in Common is formed, the property interests will be apportioned equally between the Tenants in Common, unless allocation is otherwise specified.  Any property granted to two or more unmarried persons is a Tenancy in Common unless there is a clear intention in the instrument to form a Joint Tenancy.

    Pros & Cons of Tenancy in Common:  A Tenant in Common may convey, encumber and devise his/her property interest as he/she wishes without the consent of the other co-owners.  However, a Tenant in Common’s interest in the property is susceptible to liens and judgments.


As a co-owner in any arrangement, you should understand the ramifications of your type of co-ownership.  This is particularly true when facing litigation. It is important to consult a professional to review your deed, and discuss how your property interest may be impacted if you are facing litigation or other situation.

James (Jamie) Roth is an Associate in the Litigation Practice Group at Miller, Miller & Canby. He concentrates his practice in real estate litigation with a focus in eminent domain, as well as business and commercial litigation. He has enjoyed a long-standing and distinguished career as a successful real estate consultant, including more than twenty years of private and public sector experience in project management, strategic planning, asset management and risk mitigation.  

Contact Jamie at 301.762.5251 or via email.

For more information on Miller, Miller & Canby’s Real Estate Litigation Practice, click here.

DISCLAIMER - This article is offered as an overview for educational purposes, it is not a comprehensive coverage of the law, and it is not a substitute for an attorney’s consultation.

 





U.S. News & World Report and Best Lawyers Name Miller, Miller & Canby among 2020 “Best Law Firms”


Miller, Miller & Canby is pleased to announce the firm has been recognized among the  2020 “Best Law Firms” in the Washington, DC metro area and across the nation.

U.S. News & World Report and Best Lawyers publicly announced the Tenth Edition of the Best Law Firms rankings this month. Miller, Miller & Canby received Metropolitan Tier 1 honors in two practice areas:  Eminent Domain and Condemnation Law, and Land Use and Zoning Law.  The firm’s Land Use and Zoning practice also achieved a National Tier 1 Ranking.  Tier 1 is the highest rank given; the rankings are based on a rigorous evaluation process that includes the collection of client and lawyer evaluations, peer review from leading attorneys in their field, and review of additional information provided by law firms as part of the formal submission process.

“For the 2020 ‘Best Law Firms’ publication, the evaluation process has remained just as rigorous and discerning as it did when we first started ten years ago,” says Phil Greer, CEO of Best Lawyers. “This year we reviewed 14,931 law firms throughout the United States – across 75 national practice areas – and a total of 2,106 firms received a national law firm ranking. We are proud that the ‘Best Law Firms’ rankings continue to act as an indicator of excellence throughout the legal industry.”

“We are honored to be recognized in this prestigious publication, across both the metropolitan and national categories,” said Miller, Miller & Canby’s Soo Lee-Cho, who Co-Chairs the firm’s Land Use and Zoning practice along with Jody Kline.  Mr. Kline, who has led the practice group since 1974, has been named to the US News “Best Lawyers” list for 14 consecutive years.

“It is particularly gratifying for our practice to be named to this list, as both our clients and colleagues in the legal industry contribute to this process,” said Miller, Miller & Canby’s Joseph Suntum, who leads the firm’s Eminent Domain and Condemnation Law practice. “We take great pride in our dedication to our clients and to be recognized for this service is a privilege.”

The U.S. News – Best Lawyers® “Best Law Firms” rankings are based on a rigorous evaluation process that includes the collection of client and lawyer evaluations, peer review from leading attorneys in the field, and review of additional information provided by law firms as part of the formal submission process. To be eligible for a 2020 ranking, a law firm must have at least one lawyer recognized in the 25th Edition of The Best Lawyers in America list for that particular location and specialty.

National and metropolitan tier 1 rankings will be featured in the physical edition of U.S. News – Best Lawyers “Best Law Firms”, which will be distributed to more than 30,000 in-house counsel. The 2020 “Best Law Firms” rankings can be seen in their entirety by clicking here.

Miller, Miller & Canby has more than 70 years of land use & zoning, real estate, eminent domain and condemnation law focus —protecting clients’ rights throughout the condemnation process. For more information about Miller, Miller & Canby’s Eminent Domain and Condemnation Law practice click here or for information about Miller, Miller & Canby's Land Use and Zoning Law practice click here. View the firm press release by clicking the Download button below.





Attorneys James Thompson and Jody Kline Selected for 2020 Best Lawyers in America® for 14th Year


Miller, Miller & Canby’s James (Jim) Thompson and Joel (Jody) Kline have been named Best Lawyers for the 2020 edition of Best Lawyers in America.®  Both attorneys have been recognized on the Best Lawyers list in their respective areas of practice every year since first being named in 2007. Mr. Thompson has been recognized for Eminent Domain and Condemnation Law and Mr. Kline for Land Use and Zoning Law.  Mr. Thompson is also named a “Best Lawyer of the Year” for 2020 for his accomplishments.   This is the second year Mr. Thompson has achieved this recognition.

Jim Thompson
has been a leader in Miller, Miller & Canby's Litigation Group for more than 35 years, concentrating his practice in eminent domain (with partner Joseph Suntum) and in real estate valuation litigation, as well as in property tax assessment appeals (with partner Michael Campbell) and general civil litigation. For more than a decade, Mr. Thompson represented Maryland as the sole member in the Owners’ Counsel of America, a national network of property rights attorneys with demonstrated excellence in this area, focusing upon the representation of landowners in eminent domain litigation. He has also served in numerous leadership roles within the legal community in Maryland, including President of the Maryland State Bar Association.

Jody Kline
has led Miller, Miller & Canby’s Land Development department since 1981, focusing his practice in land use, zoning and subdivision law and representing clients in many of Montgomery County’s planning and economic development initiatives. In addition to zoning and subdivision law, he represents clients in matters related to master planning, zoning text amendments, conditional use permits, building permit issuance, and other administrative and real estate matters related to land use and development. His clients include residential and commercial developers, private individuals, religious institutions, private schools, non-profit entities and municipal corporations and agencies.

Best Lawyers in America is the oldest and most respected attorney ranking service in the country. Recognition is based entirely on peer review. For more than 30 years, the organization has assisted those in need of legal services to identify the attorneys best qualified to represent them across hundreds of areas of practice.

Best Lawyers publishes a stand-alone publication which announces recognized attorneys. Best Lawyers lists are also published in local, regional, and national print and digital versions of leading publications, including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and the Washington Post.

For more information about Jim Thompson and Miller, Miller & Canby’s Eminent Domain and Condemnation Law practice click here or for information about Jody Kline and Miller, Miller & Canby's Land Use and Zoning Law practice click here. View the firm press release by clicking the Download button below.
 





MM&C Attorney James Thompson Selected 2020 Best Lawyers in America® “Lawyer of The Year"


Miller, Miller & Canby’s James (Jim) Thompson has been named a Lawyer of the Year for the 2020 edition of Best Lawyers in America.®  This is the second year Mr. Thompson has achieved this recognition.  

Jim Thompson
has been a leader in Miller, Miller & Canby's Litigation Group for more than 35 years, concentrating his practice in eminent domain (with partner Joseph Suntum) and in real estate valuation litigation, as well as in property tax assessment appeals (with partner Michael Campbell) and general civil litigation. For more than a decade, Mr. Thompson represented Maryland as the sole member in the Owners’ Counsel of America, a national network of property rights attorneys with demonstrated excellence in this area, focusing upon the representation of landowners in eminent domain litigation. He has also served in numerous leadership roles within the legal community in Maryland, including President of the Maryland State Bar Association.

The “Lawyer of the Year” recognition is exclusive, meaning there is only one attorney selected for each metropolitan area and practice area. Mr. Thompson also won this recognition in 2013.

Best Lawyers in America is the oldest and most respected attorney ranking service in the country. Recognition is based entirely on peer review. For more than 30 years,  the organization has assisted those in need of legal services to identify the attorneys best qualified to represent them across hundreds of areas of practice.

Best Lawyers publishes a stand-alone publication which announces recognized attorneys. Best Lawyers lists are also published in local, regional, and national print and digital versions of leading publications, including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and the Washington Post.

For more information about Jim Thompson and Miller, Miller & Canby’s Eminent Domain and Condemnation Law practice click here or for information about the Maryland Property Tax Appeals practice click here. View the firm press release by clicking the Download button below.
 





Miller, Miller & Canby Announces Five Attorneys Named as 2019 DC Super Lawyers


Miller, Miller & Canby is pleased to announce our attorneys who have been named to the list of Super Lawyers in the D.C. Metropolitan area for 2019. Attorneys James Thompson, Jody Kline and Donna McBride have been once again selected for this honor, and attorneys Diane Feuerherd and Callie Carnemark have been named to the 2019 Rising Stars list, which recognizes attorneys under the age of 40.

2019 marks the 13th year that James (Jim) Thompson has been named to the list. He has led Miller, Miller & Canby's Litigation Group for more than 25 years, concentrating his practice in eminent domain and real estate valuation litigation, as well as in property tax assessment appeals. For more than a decade, Mr. Thompson represented Maryland in the Owners’ Counsel of America, a national network of property rights attorneys with demonstrated excellence in this area. In 2018, Mr. Thompson was recognized with the President's Citation for Outstanding Service by the Montgomery County Bar Association. He was also selected as the Senior Lawyer of the Year by the Maryland State Bar Association. 

Jody Kline has been a named Super Lawyer for each of the past 12 years, and has led Miller, Miller & Canby’s Land Development and Zoning practice group since 1981. He focuses his practice in land use, zoning and subdivision law and representing clients in many of Montgomery County’s planning and economic development initiatives. In addition to zoning and subdivision law, he represents clients in matters related to master planning, zoning text amendments, conditional use permits, building permit issuance, and other administrative and real estate matters related to land use and development.

Donna McBride has been a named Super Lawyer since 2014, and has been a partner in Miller, Miller & Canby’s Litigation practice since 2009. She focuses her practice in litigation in the following areas:  business and commercial, employment, estates and trusts, personal injury and insurance, as well as real estate. In 2019, Ms. McBride was admitted to the American College of Trial Lawyers as a Fellow. In addition to her background as a trial lawyer, Ms. McBride is a member of the Court of Appeals Standing Committee of Rules of Practice and Procedure, where she was appointed to serve a second 5-year term beginning in 2018. She is also a member of the Trial Court's Judicial Nominating Commission, the Montgomery County Inn of Court, a former co-chair and current member of the Maryland State Bar Association's Judicial Selections Committee and has volunteered as a mediator for the District Court since 2008. In 2018, she was elected to serve as Treasurer for the Montgomery County Bar Association, to serve the 2018-2019 term. 

2019 is the fourth year that attorney Diane Feuerherd has been named to the Super Lawyers “Rising Stars” list. She has briefed and successfully argued cases before the Court of Special Appeals and the Court of Appeals, including a notable representation of a commercial developer challenging the validity of Montgomery County’s Rain Tax.  Ms. Feuerherd is active in state and local bar associations, including:  the Maryland State Bar Association, where she was named a Fellow of the prestigious Leadership Academy and now serves on the Judicial Appointments Committee; the Bar Association of Montgomery County; and the Montgomery County Inns of Court. In 2016, she was appointed to a social media workgroup for the Judicial Council, which is a policy advisory body to the Maryland Judiciary. She has also worked with the Finding Justice Project, a committee of the Women's Bar Association Foundation, to research and memorialize the history of women lawyers. 

2019 is the first year that attorney Callie Carnemark has been recognized as a Super Lawyers “Rising Star.” An associate in the Litigation group, she focuses her practice on real estate and business litigation as well as the firm’s appellate practice. She is a member of the Montgomery County Inns of Court, the Montgomery County Bar Association, the Maryland State Bar Association and the Montgomery County Women’s Bar Association. She is a graduate of the 2017 Class of the Montgomery County Bar Association Leadership Academy. 

These five attorneys join other Miller, Miller & Canby attorneys previously named Super Lawyers including Joe Suntum, who practices in the field of eminent domain and commercial litigation, and Pat McKeever, whose practice focuses in real estate law.

Each year, Super Lawyers recognizes the top lawyers in the nation’s capital through a patented multiphased selection process which involves independent research, as well as peer nomination and review/evaluation. The objective is to create a comprehensive listing of exceptional attorneys to be used as a resource for both referring attorneys and consumers seeking legal counsel. Attorneys are selected from more than 70 practice areas and a variety of firm sizes. The lists are published annually in leading city and regional magazines and newspapers nationwide. In 2019 the DC list will be published in the June issue of Washington Lawyer magazine and The Washington Post Magazine on Sunday, April 21, which reaches more than 800,000 readers.

View the firm press release by clicking the Download button below.





MM&C Litigation Attorney Joseph Suntum Selected as Board Member of Owners’ Counsel of America


Miller, Miller & Canby litigation attorney, Joseph (Joe) Suntum, was nominated and selected as one of three new Board Members of Owners’ Counsel of America (OCA) for 2019.

"I have known all three of these individuals for a long time," says OCA Executive Director Leslie Fields, "and I am confident they will bring a tremendous amount of energy and enthusiasm to the task of leading this great organization."

Click here
to read the March 6, 2019 press release by The Owners' Counsel of America.

Joe Suntum
is a principal with Miller, Miller & Canby and leads the firm’s Eminent Domain and Condemnation Group. His decades of trial experience and his in-depth knowledge of real property valuation and the law of eminent domain allow him to protect his clients’ property rights and maximize compensation for his clients when their properties are targeted for condemnation. Mr. Suntum speaks regularly on issues pertaining to eminent domain practice. He is the Owners’ Counsel of America (OCA) member attorney for the State of Maryland. Membership in the OCA, a national network of experienced condemnation attorneys who represent property owners in federal, state and local condemnation proceedings, is restricted to only one member attorney per state.

U.S. News - Best Lawyers awarded Miller, Miller & Canby a “First-Tier” honor for its Eminent Domain and Condemnation practice. For information about Miller, Miller & Canby’s eminent domain and condemnation practice click here, or contact Mr. Suntum directly at 301.762.5212 or via email.





MM&C’s Joe Suntum and James Roth Set to Speak at ALI’s Eminent Domain and Land Valuation Litigation


Two of Miller, Miller & Canby’s eminent domain attorneys will join the national Eminent Domain and Land Valuation Litigation 2019 Conference as presenters. The annual conference is the country’s preeminent gathering of eminent domain professionals. The conference brings together “national experts on the cutting edge of eminent domain and related topics under one roof," said planning co-chair, Robert H. Thomas.

Mr. Suntum will speak to “Tips and Traps for the New Eminent Domain Lawyer”. Mr. Suntum is a principal at Miller, Miller & Canby with decades of trial experience, and he is the firm’s eminent domain practice group leader. He is the Owners’ Counsel of America member attorney for the state of Maryland.  The Owners’ Counsel is a national network of seasoned eminent domain attorneys; membership is selective and restricted to only one member attorney per state.  Mr. Suntum is a nationally-recognized speaker on topics related to eminent domain and condemnation and lectures extensively throughout the country for a variety of legal and educational organizations.

Mr. Roth will address “Fence and Wall Condemnations.” Prior to becoming an attorney and joining Miller, Miller & Canby, Mr. Roth spent over a decade consulting U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to manage land acquisition required for numerous facilities and border infrastructure construction projects, including some 600 miles of fence construction initiated under the Bush administration.  In that role, he supported attorneys from the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and CBP in the litigation of over 300 eminent domain cases across the U.S./Mexico Border.

In addition to private practitioners, faculty will include law professors, government officials and members of the judiciary.  

Other conference highlights will include:
• Navigating displacement of immigrant and refugee
communities
• A look at the Supreme Court's revisit of ripeness
• Flood, wildfire, and other inverse cases
• Proving just compensation for loss of access and damages
• Correcting misconceptions about eminent domain in the media and social platforms
• Pipelines, challenging the take, and compensation pitfalls

The 2019 conference will be held in Palm Springs, California, January 24-26.  For more information click here.

For more information about Miller, Miller & Canby’s eminent domain practice, click here, or contact Joe Suntum or James Roth at 301-762-5212.





Five Miller, Miller & Canby Attorneys Named 2019 Maryland Super Lawyers


Miller, Miller & Canby is proud to announce the following five attorneys have been named to the 2019 list of Super Lawyers for the State of Maryland:  James Thompson, Jody Kline, Donna McBride, Diane Feuerherd and Callie Carnemark. Mr. Thompson has been named to the prestigious list every year since 2007, Mr. Kline every year since 2008 and Ms. McBride every year since 2014. Ms. Feuerherd and Ms. Carnemark are named to the “Rising Stars”, recognition for attorneys under the age of 40.
 
James (Jim) Thompson
has led Miller, Miller & Canby's Litigation Group for more than 25 years, concentrating his practice in eminent domain and real estate valuation litigation, as well as in property tax assessment appeals. For more than a decade, Mr. Thompson represented Maryland in the Owners’ Counsel of America, a national network of property rights attorneys with demonstrated excellence in this area. In 2018, Mr. Thompson was recognized with the President's Citation for Outstanding Service by the Montgomery County Bar Association. He was also selected as the Senior Lawyer of the Year by the Maryland State Bar Association.

Jody Kline
has been at the forefront of Miller, Miller & Canby’s Land Development department since 1981, focusing his practice in land use, zoning and subdivision law and representing clients in many of Montgomery County’s planning and economic development initiatives. In addition to zoning and subdivision law, he represents clients in matters related to master planning, zoning text amendments, conditional use permits, building permit issuance, and other administrative and real estate matters related to land use and development.

Donna McBride
, a partner in Miller, Miller & Canby's Litigation practice, focuses her practice in litigation in the following areas:  business and commercial, employment, estates and trusts, personal injury and insurance, and real estate.  In addition to her extensive background as a trial lawyer, Ms. McBride is a co-chair of the Maryland State Bar Association’s Judicial Selections Committee and is a member of the Standing Committee on Practice and Procedures, where she was appointed to serve a second 5-year term beginning in 2018. She is also a member of the Trial Court's Judicial Nominating Commission, the Montgomery County Inn of Court, a former co-chair and current member of the Maryland State Bar Association's Judicial Selections Committee and has volunteered as a mediator for the District Court since 2008. In 2018, she was elected to serve as Treasurer for the Montgomery County Bar Association.

Diane Feuerherd
is an associate in the firm’s Litigation practice. She has briefed and successfully argued cases before the Court of Special Appeals and the Court of Appeals, including a notable representation of a commercial developer challenging the validity of Montgomery County’s Rain Tax.  Ms. Feuerherd is active in state and local bar associations, including:  the Maryland State Bar Association, where she was named a Fellow of the prestigious Leadership Academy and now serves on the Judicial Appointments Committee; the Bar Association of Montgomery County; and the Montgomery County Inns of Court. In 2016, she was appointed to a social media workgroup for the Judicial Council, which is a policy advisory body to the Maryland Judiciary. She has also worked with the Finding Justice Project, a committee of the Women's Bar Association Foundation, to research and memorialize the history of women lawyers. 2019 is the fourth year in a row that she has been recognized as a Super Lawyers Rising Star.

Callie Carnemark
is an associate with the Litigation Practice Group, focusing her practice on real estate and business litigation as well as the firm’s appellate practice. She is a member of the Montgomery County Inns of Court, the Montgomery County Bar Association, the Maryland State Bar Association and the Montgomery County Women’s Bar Association. She is a graduate of the 2017 Class of the Montgomery County Bar Association Leadership Academy. 2019 is the first year Ms. Carnemark is being honored as a Super Lawyers Rising Star.

These five attorneys join other Miller, Miller & Canby attorneys previously named Super Lawyers including Joe Suntum, who practices in the field of eminent domain and commercial litigation, and Pat McKeever, whose practice focuses in real estate law.

Super Lawyers, part of Thomson Reuters, is a research-driven, peer influenced rating service of outstanding lawyers who have attained a high degree of peer recognition and professional achievement

The annual selections are made using a patented multiphase process that includes:
•    Peer nominations
•    Independent research by Super Lawyers
•    Evaluations from a highly credentialed panel of attorneys

The objective of Super Lawyers is to create a credible, comprehensive and diverse listing of exceptional attorneys to be used as a resource for both referring attorneys and consumers seeking legal counsel. The Super Lawyers lists are published nationwide in Super Lawyers Magazines and in leading city and regional magazines and newspapers across the country, as well as the Maryland Super Lawyers Digital Magazine.

Learn more about Miller, Miller & Canby by visiting millermillercanby.com
 





Is Your Commercial Lease Boat Ready for a Condemnation Storm?


Think of your commercial property lease as a boat for a moment, and condemnation by the government as a storm – is your lease ready for a condemnation storm?  The most basic level of preparedness, the equivalent of having the right number of reliably functional life jackets, is to have an effective Condemnation Clause in your lease.  Just as many boat owners and passengers do not give their life jackets a second thought in advance of a voyage, the same is true of Condemnation Clauses.  Then when a condemnation storm unexpectedly hits the property, landlords and tenants reach for the lease only to find they are not adequately covered by the Condemnation Clause, or worse, there is no Condemnation Clause.

Ambiguous Condemnation Clause – A Faulty Life Jacket
Ideally, the Condemnation Clause in a commercial lease will provide clear guidance for the landlord and tenant in the event the property faces eminent domain before the lease expires.  What is the difference between condemnation and eminent domain you may ask?  While “eminent domain” is the constitutional power of the government to take all or a portion of a privately owned property for public use in exchange for just compensation, “condemnation” is the term used for the act of exercising that power, the process of the taking itself.  Unfortunately, not all Condemnation Clauses are clearly drafted, leaving landlords and their tenants to litigate over the ambiguities, where they could otherwise be working together to weather the storm.  Taking an adversarial position to resolve ambiguities is costly, time-consuming and can take a toll on valued long-standing business relationships.  Better to have condemnation contingencies clearly framed at the outset of the lease.

Condemnation Triggers Lease Termination – Don the Life Jacket
The primary guidance the Condemnation Clause provides landlords and tenants is to affirm the circumstances under which condemnation triggers the lease’s termination; whether the lease will terminate only by a complete taking or also by a partial taking of the property. The Condemnation Clause should also define the apportionment of the just compensation proceeds, if any, between the landlord and tenant.  Regardless of whether the tenant is entitled to a share of any proceeds under the lease, the government will still pay the tenant’s relocation expenses, including a portion of the tenant’s resulting increased rent at a comparable new location.  The tenant may also be compensated for certain improvements (fixtures) to the property the tenant installed, but cannot relocate to a new space.

Complete or Partial Takings – The Type of Storm Matters
The complete taking of a property through eminent domain will terminate a tenant’s leasehold interest in the property, just as it will terminate the landlord’s ownership interest.  A Condemnation Clause will provide how the compensation paid by the government will be allocated between the landlord and tenant.

If only a portion of a property is taken, a good Condemnation Clause will state whether either the tenant or landlord may terminate the lease and under what circumstances.  The partial taking may only impact property value, or it could render the property unable to function as currently used, thus triggering lease termination.  A partial taking scenario raises many challenging questions that a thoughtfully-drafted Condemnation Clause should address, including:  Will the lease continue if there is a partial taking, or will even a partial taking trigger automatic lease termination, making it indistinguishable from a complete taking?  Will the lease continue at the landlord’s option, or will the tenant get to decide whether to continue based upon its own assessment of whether its use of the property is significantly impaired?  Will there be a pre-agreed rent abatement as incentive for the tenant to remain, or perhaps a pre-agreed apportionment of the just compensation proceeds between the landlord and tenant?

No Condemnation Clause – No Life Jacket
Where there is no Condemnation Clause, the lease is still terminated by operation of law if there is a complete taking of the property, and no further rent is owed by the tenant.  However, the question of whether the tenant shares in the condemnation award is left open, which leaves the landlord and tenant to litigate the apportionment of the condemnation proceeds.  In a partial taking, the absence of a Condemnation Clause leaves many other unanswered questions, the foremost being whether the lease is terminated or if it may be terminated by either party.  There is no reason to allow this degree of unpreparedness, which can be easily avoided with a Condemnation Clause.

Prepare For the Storm Before It Comes
Hopefully the message is clear – if a condemnation storm hits your property, a Condemnation Clause is as imperative to a lease as life jackets are to a boat.  However, having one in your lease is not enough; you must also ensure that it is unambiguous and that it adequately addresses the challenging questions raised in the event of a taking.

Because of the competing interests between a landlord and tenant, the terms and conditions of Condemnation Clauses vary widely.  What is important is that the impact of a future condemnation be considered when the lease is negotiated.

James (Jamie) Roth
is an associate in Miller, Miller & Canby’s Litigation Practice Group where he concentrates his practice on real estate litigation with a focus in eminent domain, as well as business and commercial litigation.

Whether you are a landlord or a tenant, contact Jamie Roth at 301-762-5212 to discuss your Condemnation Clause, or if you have learned that the government may be taking all or a portion of your property. For more information on Miller, Miller & Canby’s Eminent Domain and Condemnation Law Practice and representative cases, click here.
 





MM&C Attorneys James Thompson and Jody Kline Honored for the 13th Year as Best Lawyers in America


Best Lawyers® released the 25th Edition of Best Lawyers in America on August 15, 2018. Miller, Miller & Canby’s Jim Thompson and Jody Kline have been recognized on the Best Lawyers list in their respective areas of practice every year since first being named in 2007. Mr. Thompson has been recognized for Eminent Domain and Condemnation Law and Mr. Kline for Land Use and Zoning Law. In 2013, Mr. Thompson was also named a “Best Lawyer of the Year” for his accomplishments. This prestigious award is a testament to their long-standing reputations for their individual legal abilities and professionalism.  

Jim Thompson has been a leader in Miller, Miller & Canby's Litigation Group for more than 35 years, concentrating his practice in eminent domain (with partner Joe Suntum) and in real estate valuation litigation, as well as in property tax assessment appeals (with partner Mike Campbell) and general civil litigation. For more than a decade, Mr. Thompson represented Maryland as the sole member in the Owners’ Counsel of America, a national network of property rights attorneys with demonstrated excellence in this area, focusing upon the representation of landowners in eminent domain litigation. Currently Mr. Suntum is the selected member for the state of Maryland. With Mr. Thompson’s breadth of legal experience, proven results, mature judgment, and tenured leadership within the judicial system and the bar, having served as president of the Maryland State Bar Association, he brings the ideal blend of proven trial experience and legal skill to client representations.

Jody Kline has led Miller, Miller & Canby’s Land Development department since 1981, focusing his practice in land use, zoning and subdivision law and representing clients in many of Montgomery County’s planning and economic development initiatives. In addition to zoning and subdivision law, he represents clients in matters related to master planning, zoning text amendments, conditional use permits, building permit issuance, and other administrative and real estate matters related to land use and development. His clients include residential and commercial developers, private individuals, religious institutions, private schools, non-profit entities and municipal corporations and agencies.

Best Lawyers® is the oldest and most respected attorney ranking service in the world. For more than 30 years, the organization as assisted those in need of legal services to identify the attorneys best qualified to represent them in distant jurisdictions or unfamiliar specialties. Best Lawyers lists are published in leading local, regional, and national publications across the globe.

For more information about Jim Thompson and Miller, Miller & Canby’s Eminent Domain and Condemnation Law practice click here or for information about Jody Kline and Miller, Miller & Canby's Land Use and Zoning Law practice click here. View the firm press release by clicking the Download button below.





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