Articles Posted in REAL ESTATE LITIGATION, DISPUTES, AND LIENS

As a Atlanta lawyer, I realize the importance of new Atlanta construction arbitration and its binding effect. The legal forum for resolving Georgia new construction disputes is usually binding arbitration and triggered by a clause in the “New Construction Dispute Resolution Section” in the “Home Purchase Agreement”. In most cases, the arbitration ruling is final. This means there is no chance to challenge the arbitration ruling, such as an appeal. In short, new home construction arbitration in Georgia is final. Should you disagree with the arbitrator’s award or judgment in your case, you are stuck with their ruling – and, no legal recourse. In your new home construction arbitration case, I know the importance and necessity of having affordable, zealous, and aggressive legal representation leading the way.

As an Atlanta construction law attorney, I have successfully represented countless clients in Georgia home construction defect arbitration cases. I have also represented countless clients in Georgia home construction defect negotiations. What is more, I have successfully brought contractors, builders, sub-contractors, and architects who are at fault, “to the table”, forced them to take responsibility and for their defective construction or design and pay damages, forced them to correct the defects at no charge to the home buyer, or both. It therefore stands that I know what you must look for in choosing a lawyer to represent you in a Georgia construction dispute. This is especially true if your dispute is to be decided through binding arbitration. Regardless, you must decide when it is the right time to seek the assistance of a Georgia construction attorney.

I would presume you found this article because you believe you have a construction defect in your home or other structure, which was caused by or through the negligence, malfeasance, or fraud of your contractor, builder, sub-Contractor, or architect. You will be glad to know, your search has landed you in the right place. The order of events in discovering and addressing a construction defect in your new home are as follows:

• You have found what you believe to be a construction defect


• You have tried to get the contractor to correct what you believe to be a defect, but you can’t get your contractor to correct the problem, or your problem gets the proverbial “band aid” placed on it

• You realize this is your house, it’s probably the biggest purchase you’ll ever make, you will call this place home, and your sixth sense tells you this is not a situation to take lightly and you should see a professional, such as a Georgia Construction Defect Law Attorney!

When you have verified that something is wrong with your home, and that the contractor, builder, sub-contractor, architect, etc. are not going to assist you in addressing or correcting the situation, it’s time to move on to more assertive behavior to protect your asset, as follows:

• Notify the contractor that there is a problem and give him one last chance

• Verify through a third party expert that the problem you believe is a home defect is the type of defect the contractor, builder, sub-contractor or architect should be responsible for, and should correct

• Verify through a third party inspector, expert, or other such person privy to the costs of correcting construction defects, and determine that the costs involved in hiring an attorney are justified. Make sure you consider the total affect the defect will have on you such as diminution in value, future sale value, the problem becoming worse over time, etc.


Now, you have properly identified and noted a construction defect for which the contractor, builder, sub-contractor or architect should be responsible, but will not correct. You have double-checked your findings through a third-party, and you have calculated that the problem is significant monetary issue to seek the assistance of a professional. Now it’s time to seek out your Georgia construction defect attorney to assist you.

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Construction defects can be costly to rectify and can negatively affect the value of a home and the ability to resell it (this is often called a diminution in value). Some of the more serious and difficult to fix issues stem from a defective home foundation. A home’s foundation can withstand hundreds of years of use if correctly constructed and usually can outlast the home built on top of it. However, if built poorly, a foundation can be the source of problems that threaten the stability of the home and, ultimately, the homeowner’s investment.

It is sad to know, that whether I am working in Sandy Springs as a “Sandy Springs Construction Home Defect Attorney,” the Buckhead Area as a “Buckhead Construction Home Defect Attorney,” in Fulton County as an Atlanta Construction Home Defect Attorney, in Gwinnett County as a Duluth or Lawrenceville Construction Home Defect Attorney, in Forsyth County as a Cumming Construction Home Defect Attorney, in Cobb County as an Acworth, Kennesaw or Marietta Construction Home Defect Attorney, and/or last but not least, in DeKalb County as a Decatur Construction Home Defect Attorney, the critical foundation problems I see in my Atlanta-Based Home Construction Defect Law Practice all stem from common defective construction that could have been prevented had the builder, contractor, or sub-contractor taken care in the construction of the home, and in particular, the foundation.

Unfortunately, these issues may not become known until several years after the building is complete. The result can be a nightmare scenario that leaves the homeowner unsure of what recourse is available under Georgia law. In many cases, by the time the defect is noticed, the builder or contractor responsible for the poor work usually denies that the foundation defects are their responsibility. For this reason, we also may engage various insurance companies to seek a remedy and relief for the homeowner in addition to pursuing the builder and contractor.

The foundation is especially critical because not only does it support the house, it also provides a moisture barrier that keeps the home dry and mold free. A solid foundation also insulates the home from cold and protects the home from damage caused by the ground shifting. Poured concrete reinforced by steel is thought by some experts to be a stronger material for foundations than concrete block or stone, and foundations can be built below ground on footings to provide a basement, or built as a slab. Regardless of the materials used to build the foundation, or its type of construction, all foundation types can fail for a variety of common reasons.

Improper initial site evaluation by the builder is one common cause of foundation issues. The first thing a builder must do when planning new construction is to evaluate the property’s soil type, water table, and grade. This will allow the builder to determine where to place the home on the property and what materials to use. Once that decision has been made, the soil preparation, process of laying the concrete and backfill used around the foundation all will affect the integrity of the foundation.

The foundation must be poured over solid ground that is prepared correctly, and compacted, so it does not settle and cause the foundation to crack. Properly leveling and packing crushed stone before pouring a slab, for example, will help prevent the slab from cracking. If the property contains any landfill material that may decompose over time, the soil must be reengineered to withstand the force of the foundation and the building. Additionally, concrete should be poured in one day to avoid creating a “cold joint” between fresh and semi-cured or cured concrete. This condition usually results in a cracked foundation that will leak. Concrete must also be allowed to cure slowly. Only by curing slowly will the concrete reach a strength that will support the weight of the house (around 3,000 pounds per square inch). Finally, the material used to backfill around the foundation will affect the longevity of the structure. Soils with a high clay or organic content absorb and hold water and can cause cracks in the foundation during freeze/thaw cycles when used as backfill.
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As an Atlanta, Georgia construction lawyer I stay very busy when I am preparing for a Georgia construction arbitration proceeding/hearing. Sometimes I have little contact with the outside world news. However, some matters do keep my attention in this upcoming election, such as healthcare reform, the estate tax debate, the “Buffet Rule”, and withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan — ending a long war. These changes are taking place on a national level and to some extent, a local level. It is my opinion that if the Republicans control Congress after the 2012 elections and President Obama is not re-elected, then much of President Obama’s attempted changes will be put to rest. Thus, it is understandable we are living in uncertain times wherein we do not know what or will not change. What will not change is Georgia construction law and the need to proactively protect your property/real estate interests from unscrupulous Georgia builders, contractors, and sub-contractors. Georgia construction defects will continue at a high rate as Georgia builders, Georgia general contractors, Georgia sub-contractors, and other Georgia building professionals try to cut corners to make ends meet and extend their profits. This is being done at the expense and hardship of Georgia homebuyers and new home purchasers.

Fortunately, under Georgia Construction Law, there are options to hold your Georgia builders, general contractors, and sub-contractors liable for their negligence, shoddy construction, construction defects, and more. Please read on and into my article discussing some of the issues a homeowner, buyer, or purchaser of a new home should be aware of to protect their home investment interests. I offer you the following:

In my Atlanta, Georgia construction law firm, all of the Atlanta, Georgia construction lawyers are sure that current Georgia construction law and Georgia construction defect problems (especially in big metro areas like Atlanta) are here to stay. Every building over time will see the results of wear and tear, but knowing whether the problem is an easy fix or a major reconstruction project needs to be determined before you buy. After all, construction defects can reduce the value of your property significantly. These defects can range from design issues to faulty systems to failure to meet Georgia industry building standards. Remember – not all construction defects are created equal. What may look like a simply crack in the ceiling could actually turn out to be a major architectural default or foundational defect.

In my practice as an Atlanta, Georgia lien attorney, I can assure you Georgia liens are an important tool that builders, subcontractors and suppliers use when a property owner is delinquent on payment for a construction project. As a Atlanta, Georgia Construction lien attorney, I have seen changes in recent years to Georgia lien laws that have had a dramatic impact on the outcome of payment disputes on construction projects. The changes include important benefits for all concerned.

Changes to the law include how a lien is filed, removal of a lien and enforcement of a lien. One important modification is that in Georgia, only a licensed Georgia attorney may file a lien. Some of the changes to the law are so subtle, that only lawyers specializing in Georgia construction law may be able to properly file a lien. As a result, property owners, contractors, subcontractors and suppliers should always seek the qualified counsel of a Georgia construction attorney to handle lien issues.

Benefits of the changes in the lien law include the following. Property owners can contest a lien by sending the contractor a “Notice of Contest.” After receiving the notice, if the contractor wants to proceed, then the contactor must file a lawsuit within 60 days. Failure to file within 60 days invalidates the lien. Another benefit to the property owner is that an expiration date now is required on the lien. The modified law states that contractors will receive a copy of a filed lien when a “Notice of Commencement” is issued and subcontractors and suppliers will be notified when the property owner has bonded out a lien.
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In my Atlanta, Georgia Commercial Real Estate law practice, I help clients with all types of Atlanta, Georgia real estate transactions, disputes, and litigation. While some consider only consulting with a lawyer when problems occur, an experienced Georgia commercial real estate lawyer will work with his clients to prevent problems from occurring. Commercial real estate brokers and lawyers provide valuable services to anyone buying or selling commercial real estate. In fact, it is even more imperative to protect yourself in the current tumultuous and fragile real estate environment.

When selling and/or purchasing commercial property it is a good idea to work with both a commercial real estate broker and a commercial real estate lawyer. Real estate brokers help clients find properties and will negotiate the terms of the purchase agreement. A good commercial property broker has a wealth of knowledge about the market and will network with other brokers to gather information that will ultimately benefit the client. Real estate brokers also have contacts in related fields, such as mortgage brokers, and property inspectors.

Atlanta, Georgia Commercial real estate lawyers can help commercial property investors because they are qualified to dispense legal advice and will protect the client from costly mistakes. As an expert in real estate law, I know an our Georgia real estate attorneys will draft effective legal documents to represent and protect their both in and of court. An experienced Atlanta, Georgia commercial real estate lawyer can handle a wide variety of real estate issues, such as construction defects, land use and zoning and contract disputes. Moreover, at the end of the day, an Atlanta commercial real estate lawyer has no qualms about killing a deal, which does not serve his client’s bests interests. This is inherent because commercial real estate lawyers are usually paid hourly, and not only if the deal goes through. This is oftentimes the case with commercial real estate brokers and I fear there have been times when they have looked the other way to ensure the deal goes through, and thus payment of their commission is ensured.
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In my real estate litigation law firm, I wanted to make you aware that home sellers are required to disclose the home defects to any buyers or they could be held liable for failure to disclose defects when selling the home. Georgia law requires disclosure of defects on the “Seller’s Disclosure Statement“, which is part of most sales contracts and incorporated into the contract. The seller of a home must disclose defects, which are not readily discoverable by the homebuyer.

Conversely, the homebuyer cannot just rely on the home seller to gain a full knowledge of the condition of the home they are purchasing. The homebuyer must use due diligence to inspect the home and discover and defects which could be reasonably discoverable upon a diligent inspection. Homebuyers are not required to discover latent defects or defects hidden by the home seller. When a homebuyer is tricked by a home seller into buying a home through fraud and misrepresentation, many causes of action may be brought against the home seller. Unfortunately, in today’s real estate market where homes are hard to sell, our Georgia real estate fraud law firm is seeing more and more cases where the sellers of a home have engaged in fraud, fraudulent inducement, or misrepresentation of material issues in order to effectuate the sale of their home.
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As an Atlanta, Georgia real estate litigation lawyer, I often work with clients to ensure that title disputes do not inhibit the sale of property. This two part series outlines several ways to resolve title disputes, including Quiet Title Actions. In this segment, I discuss how you can “quiet a title” without going to court, the circumstances under which you might need a Quiet Title Action to clear a title, and the two types of Quiet Title Actions in Georgia.

If the source of the problem with a title is already known, as might be evident in a case with a hostile partner who you know has no real interest in the land itself, you can opt to obtain a quitclaim deed from that person and put that on title. This will allow you to clear the title without going to court with a Quiet Title Action. But often the source of a dispute is not apparent and legal action with a Quiet Title Action is necessary. Disputes over titles can arise from tax sales, mechanics’ and materialmen’s liens, historical mechanics’ liens, issues of hostile ownership, boundary disputes, federal or state tax liens and disputes with a spouse or business partner (former or current). Adverse possession or prescription of title also cloud titles when an individual claims to have held the property for a long period of time without documentation or when, under Color of Title, that individual possesses a defective document that appears to show ownership.

Most of the issues listed above can be resolved using a Quiet Title Action, with the exception of federal or state tax liens and disputes involving a spouse. Federal and state tax liens must be addressed by another court and disputes involving a spouse fall under the domestic relations statutes in Georgia. When a Quiet Title Action is necessary, it is wise to seek the assistance of an experienced Atlanta, Georgia real estate lawyer. Your lawyer will choose from the two methods available to “quiet a title.” Both types fall under the Equity Code in Georgia (Chapter 23). The first is the Conventional Quiet Title Action that removes a known instrument or known instruments (Chapter 23-3-40). This method is not very common, but it is useful when you know exactly what is clouding the title and who is behind it. With this type of case you do not need to serve everyone with the petition, since you already know what and who is at the root of the issue.

Much more usual is use of the Quiet Title Act of 1966 (Georgia Equity Code Chapter 23-3-60 through 23-3-73). This method clears all known clouds on titles and as such, requires that the whole world be served with the petition. Because everyone is served, all disputes can be aired and resolved. This allows the title insurance company to insure the title, so that the seller can pass the property on to the purchaser with what is called “good and marketable title”. Because this form of Quiet Title Action clears any and all disputes on the title, it is an effective way to guarantee that a title is free and clear.

Keep an eye out for my next installment of this series on resolving Georgia title disputes. I will examine the general guidelines that need to be followed if you do go to court with a Quiet Title Action and take a look at a typical timeline for these cases.
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In the previous segment on resolving title disputes with Quiet Title Actions, I discussed what Quiet Title Actions are used for, in what types of title disputes they can be effective and the two types of Quiet Title Action lawsuits. In this installment I will explain where the case is tried and the general guidelines that need to be followed when going to court with a Quiet Title Action. We will also take a look at a typical timeline for Quiet Title Action cases.

Georgia’s Equity Code provides that a Quiet Title Action may only be filed in the county where the land in question is located. Because Georgia has 159 counties, it is critical to be specific about where the land is located and in what county the claim is filed. In Georgia, the highest plenary court in any county is the Superior Court, so these lawsuits must be filed in the Superior Court of the county where the land is located. When filing a petition it is required that you state specifically what land you are suing to remove the clouds from and the suit must be signed and verified by you, the petitioner (as a petition in equity, the petitioner must swear to the facts). If you are filing under the Quiet Title Act of 1966, you must petition to remove all disputes, or clouds to title. Also, you must file a recent plat of the land, a copy of a recent survey of the land and a copy of the immediate deed or interest of the petitioner (this is the document that indicates that the petitioner is the true owner of the land). Once the petition is filed, a notice to “the whole world” must be filed at the land records office stating that there is a lawsuit pending regarding the land and that anyone that takes the land by deed or transfer, takes it subject to the lawsuit under lis pendens.

When the lawsuit is filed, the Superior Court judge of the county will assign the case to a lawyer, called a Special Master. From this point on the Superior Court judge typically has limited involvement. The Special Master is a lawyer that resides in the judicial circuit or county where the Superior Court is located and who has experience in real estate law. The Special Master is charged with examining the title. He does this by holding a hearing, and sometimes a trial, and by reviewing the petition to see that everything has been filed appropriately. He will also ensure that everyone that was required to be served the petition was served. It is important to note that all neighboring landowners will be served, so that they have an opportunity to bring up any outstanding disputes, such as boundary issues. Everyone served has 30 days to respond to the claim.

Then, just like any other trial, the case goes into an evidentiary phase during which there may be requests for documentation, depositions, physical inspections of the land, subpoenas and any other action that is allowed in Superior Court. As the petitioner, you may do anything you want to acquire evidence to prove your case. You must have proof of ownership, though, as it is not enough to just disprove someone else’s claim to the land. Failure to show proof of ownership is grounds for dismissal of the lawsuit. Once the evidence is gathered, the Special Master will review everything and send a written report to the Superior Court judge. The Superior Court judge will then make a determination of the title. Most times the judge will make this ruling based on the Special Master’s report, but in rare cases the judge might ignore the Special Master’s report and require that a trial be held or that evidence be reviewed. Usually though, the Superior Court judge accepts the Special Master’s report, processes an order which decrees the title to the land (eliminating clouds to title) and files the order with the court clerk.

Once the judge files the order with the clerk, the title is considered “good and marketable” in Georgia, although technically at this point there is a 30-day waiting period to allow for all final appeals to run out. This appeal period allows for anyone in the world, who did not have notice of the case, to come forward and file an appeal. To be recognized however, anyone stepping forward during this appeal period has to prove that they did not originally receive notice of the Quiet Title Action lawsuit. When the 30-day period ends the judgment is considered final, and once this occurs it is very difficult to reopen the claim. All title companies in Georgia will issue a “good and marketable” title at this point when the appeal period is over and the judgment becomes final and non-appealable.
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Atlanta business law firms that practice in the area of fraud litigation have seen a dramatic rise in the number of cases. The fraud lawyers at my firm believe the increase in the number of fraud cases is due to the troubled economic times that persons and businesses in the Atlanta, Georgia, area are experiencing. In this troubled economy, we believe otherwise honest people have turned to fraudulent activities to make ends meet.

In a well-known case, ReMax North Atlanta v. Clark, 244 Ga. App. 890 (2000), the Georgia Court of Appeals elaborated on the tort of fraud, which has five essential elements. They are as follows:

1. A false representation or omission of a material fact;

2. Scienter – or knowledge;

3. Intention to induce the party claiming fraud to act or refrain from acting;

4. Justifiable reliance; and,

5. Damages

Fraud can take place in many areas of business. Presently, our Atlanta fraud lawyers are seeing the largest number of fraud cases in the areas of real estate transactions, the construction and building of homes, and the accounting and managing of monies or assets.
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As Atlanta construction litigation attorneys and Atlanta Business attorneys alike, I know that one of the most important tools for contractors and subcontractors looking to protect their rights and ensure payment on a building or construction project is a lien. I also recognize that nothing is more frustrating to a new homeowner or property owner than an improperly filed lien, or an unexpected lien filed by a subcontractor after the property owner believes everyone has been paid.

The Georgia Legislature has recently made subtle but significant changes to the lien laws in Georgia. These changes state when and how a lien must be filed, how it can be removed, and how the lien may be enforced.

Several years ago, the law was changed to state that only attorneys may file liens. However, even Georgia real estate and construction attorneys may not be familiar with these changes and the various statutory requirements and “hoops” one must “jump through” to have a valid lien on file in the property records. Consequently, it is very important to consult Atlanta Construction Lawyers very familiar with lien laws in general, and the new changes in particular, if you are a contractor, subcontractor, or supplier looking to protect your rights, or if you are a property owner looking to challenge a lien.

In this ever-changing real estate and construction market, it is increasingly important to protect your hard work and your real property investment. This is why you must choose Atlanta real estate, construction, and business attorneys who understand the complexity of these revised lien laws and who can advise you on how to protect your business, your hard work, as well as your investment.

The Libby Law Firm has been at the forefront of the revised lien laws and the new Georgia construction arbitration statutes as they relate to contractors, builders, and homeowners alike. Our Firm of Atlanta construction attorneys specialize in liens, the “Right to Repair Act,” the new Georgia construction arbitration statutes, procedures and laws.
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