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Homeowner Rights and Protecting Your Property Value: An Interview with Brian Daughdrill of Giacoma Schleicher Roberts & Daughdrill LLC

By Brian Daughdrill

Tell us a little bit about your experience and the services you offer.

My partners and I concentrate much of our practice around real estate issues from handling complex commercial closings to negotiating boundary line agreements between two homeowners. Collectively, our firm has more than 70 years of experience in the real estate market. I have experience both as a real estate broker and developer before coming to the practice of law and my partner Shea Roberts still maintains an active real estate license.

We handle virtually every type of issue that arises from homeownership, including negotiating or enforcing easements, boundary line agreements, negotiating and enforcing real estate contracts, securing variances and permits for renovations and new construction, resolving title issues, dealing with trespass and nuisance claims, and storm water issues.

What are two or three of the biggest concerns for Georgia homeowners when it comes to protecting their legal rights?

One of the biggest issues that homeowners today face, particularly following the Great Recession, is making sure they know what they are buying. Many homes were foreclosed and the institutional knowledge of a home's history is far less than the knowledge of the previous homeowner. We are encountering title issues and encroachment issues that need to be resolve to give a new homeowner a defensible title to their property.

If a homeowner is buying an existing home, the Seller's Disclosure is a critical piece of information and a careful review of the information contained in that document is very important. If there is something adverse about a home disclosed, the homebuyer needs to ask questions and get answers until they are comfortable with those answers. If they aren't sure about what the information means, they need to discuss it at length with their home inspector. We regularly are involved in cases where disclosures were not reviewed or no follow-up questions were asked. Georgia still trends toward a "buyer beware" position in the courts and a buyer has a duty to inquire about all facts made known to them before closing on the home.

Can you briefly describe how a Homeowner Association or similar entity typically affects a homeowner or condominium owner in a subdivision or planned unit?

Homeowner associations are essentially a private governing authority over the subdivision. If the subdivision is newer, the developer may still be acting as the Board; whereas an older subdivision, the HOA may be governed by an elected Board from your neighbors. Most typically, an HOA will govern architectural aspects of your home, what can be done in your yard and, even, how you can decorate the exterior of your home.

If you are buying in a subdivision and the Seller discloses that the house is in an HOA, you need to add to the list of things that are being reviewed a copy of the covenants (which are essentially a private contract between the homeowners and the association to allow the Association to govern) to determine how dues are assessed, how architectural decisions are made, when elections and meetings occur. The Association can dramatically influence how much you enjoy your new home and getting a copy of the Covenants, By-Laws and, if there are any, the Design or Architectural Guidelines and actually reviewing them is critical to getting off on the right foot.

Is there something that most people not know about HOAs in Georgia that they should consider before buying a house or condo that is subject to HOA rules and regulations?

Homeowners' associations are not a government and you do not have the same constitutional rights with an HOA that you do with your local government. They can and do vary positions as the private boards change. What most people call "grandfathered" rights do not necessarily apply in an HOA so it is important if you are purchasing in an HOA-controlled subdivision, you get from the previous homeowner any evidence (emails, letters, or "permits" from the HOA authorizing any work which has been done on the Property. Many HOA's have authority to suspend your recreational rights (use of community facilities) or even your voting rights if you aren't current on your dues so a dispute with the HOA over the dues should not be resolved by just not paying them.

What are some of the most common property issues that you've seen happen between homeowners and a government agency?

This is a large part of our practice. We regularly handle variances, rezonings, and special permits. Interaction with the local government can range from pulling a permit to remove a tree, to a variance to build a deck that encroaches on a set-back, to a special permit to operate a private day care in your home.

The worst thing that you can do is take action without determining what the local government requires in the way of permitting. Often the permit fees/fines are double or even more if you come in after you are "caught." It's cheap insurance to hire a real estate professional to advise you if a permit is required and remember, just because your contractor said you don't "need" a permit, it doesn't mean he's right. If he is caught, the local government will look to the homeowner, not the contractor, to fix the situation.

What basic steps would you advise a homeowner to take if they are experiencing one of those issues?

The old saw that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure has never been more applicable. Retaining a real estate professional to give you an hour of advice is inexpensive compared to doubled or tripled fines and fees. If the homeowner has gotten into the situation, remember, you are being prosecuted for a municipal code violation, which is often a misdemeanor.

You are far better getting a professional to seek resolution on that than you are trying to handle this yourself because once you are in the system for a violation, there are specific deadlines which extinguish legal rights and there is no way around those deadlines.

What's the best way for people to reach you and your practice?

Our office is located in Buckhead in the Resurgens Plaza. Our telephone is 404-924-2850, and my email is bdaughdrill@gsrdlaw.com.

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About The Author

Mr. Daughdrill comes to the practice of law with an extensive background in real...

Phone: 404-924-2854

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