What is Real Estate Litigation

Legal Article

What is Real Estate Litigation

Buying real estate, whether commercial or residential, is likely the largest purchase someone will make in their life. Furthermore, this purchase is extremely important. This is because purchasing real property allows someone to add to their family’s wealth, launch a business, or start a family. Because purchasing real estate is such a large part of someone’s life, if a conflict occurs relating to this transaction, many people may need to resolve a dispute to protect their real estate and financial future. Thus, because real estate litigation can occur in many different instances, real estate litigation can be used by and against, property owners, property purchasers, two parties that jointly own a property or are looking to jointly purchase a property, real estate agents and brokers, landlords, and tenants.

Furthermore, real estate litigation is extremely complex. The reason for this is that this legal issue involves many laws, legal rights, and government policies. Finally, real estate litigation attorneys attempt to resolve these issues and pursue or defend their clients against these claims.

Most Common Causes of Real Estate Litigation

Real estate litigation can occur in many situations involving both commercial and residential real estate. However, the most common causes of real estate litigation are breach of contract, failure to disclose property defects, negligence or breach of duty, specific performance matters, and boundary disputes.

Breach of Contract

A breach of contract—for both sale or lease contracts—is the most common reason why real estate litigation occurs. In any real estate transaction, the terms and conditions of a contract will include specific details focused on the closing date, title clearance, assets included in the transactions, or if a rental property, details relating to the security deposit, and other aspects of the lease. In a real estate litigation lawsuit, the plaintiff—the person who was financially damaged in the contract—will claim a breach of contract and must prove that they fulfilled their contractual duties. Additionally, the plaintiff must show that the person who inflicted the damages—the defendant—did not uphold their contractual obligations. If this level of proof is met, the plaintiff will typically be able to receive compensation that matches or even exceed their financial losses due to the breach of the contract.

Failure to Disclose Property Defects

In almost every U.S. state, a person selling real property must disclose any non-evident and known defects that could affect the value of the property to potential buyers. However, if a buyer finds an undisclosed defect after the closing of the property, the buyer can initiate legal action against the seller of the property. There are a few things a plaintiff must show to be successful in this type of lawsuit. The plaintiff must show that the seller of the property knew that the defect existed, reasonably could have known if they did not know, or purposefully concealed the defect.

Negligence or Breach of Duty

This cause of real estate litigation most commonly occurs between a property buyer or seller and their real estate agent. In most contracts, real estate agents or realtors are legally required to act in the best interest of their client and not in the interest of the seller or another third-party. Furthermore, realtors and real estate agents are obligated to keep private, sensitive, or other financial details of their clients confidential.

A realtor or real estate agent must also disclose any information that may be beneficial to their client. This includes informing their client of comparable purchase or rent prices or anything that could help their client. Furthermore, an agent or realtor must perform their duties and use their knowledge of the case to the best of their abilities. Showing negligence in any of these matters will likely lead to financial losses or other disadvantages to their clients. If this occurs, the client will likely be able to sue their realtor or real estate agent.

Realtor and real estate agent negligence is based upon the actions of other people in the profession. Thus, if a reasonable realtor or real estate agent would not have performed a certain duty or would have done that duty in a drastically different manner and completing this duty occurred in a financial loss for the client, negligence occurred.

Specific Performance Matters

When you are in a commercial or residential real estate contract and do not perform an action that the contract specifies, the other party may file specific performance. Specific performance is a court order where the party who broke the contract is forced to comply with their duties outlined in the contract. The specific performance remedy requires taking an objective approach to the language of the contract. The remedy is requiring the breaching party to perform the specific terms of the contract. Thus, it is important to know exactly what those specific terms imply.

Boundary Disputes

Boundary disputes occur when a party does not correctly register their property. This dispute can also happen if they use a practical property line instead of the legal one. This can occur when your neighbor, their property, or their pets invade your property. Thus, when you purchase a property or someone buys property next to you, you should have an attorney research the legal property lines so that you do not encounter any legal issues.

Other Causes of Real Estate Litigation

Though the most common causes of real estate litigation are from the issues discussed above, real estate litigation can also arise in the following situations.

  • Landlord/tenant disputes
  • Breach of construction contracts or terms
  • Zoning disputes
  • Encroachments
  • Easements
  • Title disputes/defects of title
  • Land use disputes
  • Foreclosure issues
  • Implied warranties
  • Mortgage disputes or default (including foreclosure)
  • Condominium issues (e.g., conflict between condo boards and owners, or between condo association and management company)

Who Should Hire a Lawyer for Assistance with Real Estate Litigation

Real estate litigation can occur at any time during a real estate transaction. Thus, if you are someone who commonly partakes in residential or commercial real estate deals, it may make sense to contact a real estate lawyer that you can keep on retainer. However, even if you are preparing to purchase your first home or commercial property, you should probably get in touch with a lawyer. Thus, if you are involved in real estate litigation, you will have someone on your side who can quickly help you move your claim forward or defend you against these claims. Below is a list of people that should consult an attorney before engaging in a real estate transaction.

  • Current homeowner
  • Property buyer
  • Property seller
  • Tenant
  • Landlord
  • Condo association
  • Real estate developer
  • Lender
  • Real estate agency or agent

Alternative Ways to Handle Real Estate Litigation

If you are in a real estate dispute, you do not have to use litigation to resolve your issue. Instead, you could seek to use a form of alternative dispute resolution such as arbitration or mediation. In arbitration, the two disputing parties must pick and then agree on one or multiple arbiters. These arbiters have the ability to decide who wins the case. Conversely, in mediation, instead of a judge ruling on the case, a neutral third party called the mediator resides to hear the case and works to facilitate discussion and negotiation between the parties

Final Thoughts

With over 20 years of experience, Antonoplos & Associates real estate attorneys have the knowledge and experience required to assist clients with real estate litigation in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. Furthermore, our attorneys have a strong background in real estate, construction law, and business law. Because of this experience, we are uniquely equipped to assist clients with real estate litigation. Finally, we are able to help you before, during, and after your real estate litigation. This is true whether you need assistance with personal or commercial legal issues.

Contact our DC Law Office for More Information

Finally, for more information regarding what is real estate litigation, contact us at 202-803-5676. You can also directly schedule a consultation with one of our skilled attorneys. Additionally, for general information regarding real estate law, check out our blog.