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Real Estate Law

Real Cases in Real Estate by Andrea Lee Negroni, Esq. – May 9th 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 May 9th, 2011

A yard sign inviting the public to ask the homeowners why not to buy a homebuilder's products is Constitutionally protected speech.

The Chaneys bought a house in Atlanta that was built by Harrison & Lynam. Before closing, the builder disclosed to the buyers that the property had drainage problems but the Chaneys closed anyway, believing the builder would fix the problems. The builder took some steps to solve the flooding and drainage problems, including installing a catch basin, but the Chaneys, and eventually some of their neighbors became unsatisfied enough with their homes to put up yard signs with the message: "Ask Our Opinion Why Not to Buy a Harrison & Lynam Home."

The Chaneys believed the City of Atlanta had some responsibility for the drainage problems, and wrote to several city officials to advise them he planned to sue the builder for negligent construction and for damaging a storm drain.

The builder sued the Chaneys, claiming the yard signs and their correspondence to the City were defamatory. The Chaneys obtained a summary judgment. In analyzing the yard signs, the Georgia appeals court observed that "as a general rule, a mere statement of opinion is not considered defamatory."  The reason is that an opinion is a subjective assessment which cannot be proved false. Since the Chaneys' sign merely invited others to ask them their opinion, it could not have been defamatory. In fact, their sign was Constitutionally protected speech.

The decision discussed another Georgia case in which a homeowner put up a sign saying "This lemon is for sale. Built by Janet Ricker Builder, Inc." Even this language, referring to a home as a "lemon," is a Constitutionally protected expression of opinion.

The Chaneys' correspondence to the City was privileged and therefore could not support a defamation claim by the builder because it was deemed to be a statement made in good faith by the Chaneys to further free speech or the right to petition government for a redress of grievances. In effect, the Chaneys reported their drainage complaints to the City because they believed the City might have some responsibility to resolve the problem. Their communications to the City were not made with the "actual malice" required to defeat a claim to privilege. subscribers can view the enhanced version of Chaney v. Harrison & Lynam, LLC, 2011 Ga. App. LEXIS 282 (Ga. Ct. App. Mar. 25, 2011)

Non-subscribers can use lexisOne's Free Case Law search to view the free, un-enhanced version of Chaney v. Harrison & Lynam, LLC, 2011 Ga. App. LEXIS 282 (Ga. Ct. App. Mar. 25, 2011)


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