Real Estate Law

Real Cases in Real Estate By Andrea Lee Negroni, Esq. – January 25th, 2012 Update

Real Cases in Real Estate is a weekly update on real estate law, with legal principles illustrated and explained by lawsuits from around the country. The topics are wide-ranging for appeal to a broad spectrum of readers including lawyers, homeowners, investors and the general public. Andrea Lee Negroni, a Washington DC attorney and legal writer with 25 years of experience in financial services and mortgage law, contributes the case summaries.

Followers of Real Cases in Real Estate will learn and be entertained by lawsuits involving nuisance, trespass, zoning violations, deed restrictions, title insurance, public utilities, mechanics liens, construction defects, adverse possession, foreclosure and eviction, divorce and marital property rights, tenants' rights, and more. Real Cases in Real Estate uncovers the unpredictable, amusing, and sometimes outrageous disputes between next-door neighbors, contractors and homeowners, condo boards and residents, real estate brokers and homebuyers, and zoning administrators and developers.

Each fully cited case summary highlights the essential law of the case and explains the principal legal theories and concepts relevant to the outcome. Plain language treatment makes Real Cases in Real Estate accessible to lawyers and laymen alike.

Whether you follow real estate law professionally or as a hobby, you'll find something new and useful every week in Real Cases in Real Estate.

Updates for the Week of January 25th, 2012

A Massachusetts Painter Successfully Sued to Collect Her Fee, Despite Lack of a Home Improvement License.

Victoria Febonio needed a property appraisal and Helen Thelen, an appraiser, needed some painting done in her home. The women's children were playmates so the women "swapped" their services. Helen expanded Victoria's assignment by asking her to do a bathroom remodeling job, which resulted in Victoria's billing Helen for $1,705. Helen never paid the bill so Victoria sued her in small claims court.

Helen's principal defense was that Victoria could not collect from her because Victoria did not have a home improvement license as required by Massachusetts law. However, the law that requires home improvement contractors to be licensed declares that contracts violating the licensing law "shall not be invalid solely because of non-compliance."  The jury returned a verdict for $2,500 in favor of Victoria, which was $800 more than the bill for her work. Helen appealed the verdict on the ground that $2,500 was excessive, as Victoria hadn't presented sufficient evidence proving her damages.

The Massachusetts court found that the painting and home improvement contract was voidable, but not void, because of the licensing issue. It reasoned that the public interest in requiring home improvement contractors licenses did not outweigh the injury to Victoria. Moreover, the appeals court noted that Helen deliberately "sought the services of someone who was working at the fringes of the economy" and refused to let her take advantage of a person in such a precarious position by allowing the licensing law to be used as weapon by a homeowner trying to gain an economic windfall.

As to the damages, even though the jury awarded 50% more than the amount claimed, the absolute amount of the excess, $800, was deemed insufficient grounds to set aside the verdict.

Febonio v. Thelen, No. 07-ADMS-70011, Mass. App. Div. (Dist. Courts Dept., Western District), March 17, 2010 (not reported) [enhanced version available to subscribers / unenhanced version available from lexisONE Free Case Law].

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