Before, it took a costly site investigation for the information, but now there are online environmental databases available at a fraction of the cost. Anyone can access reports on otherwise hard to detect environmental issues. With these databases, it is possible to obtain a listing of hazards near a property, or spills and violations attributed to businesses nearby.
Some reputable databases include VISTA Information Systems, located in San Diego, California, which allows you to register and search the data bank for free, and E Data Resources, which is located in Southport, Connecticut. These services are all relatively inexpensive, but can provide you with priceless information that is useful before you make a purchase.
Lead poisoning is especially a problem in cities with older buildings. Typically, lead is present in the paint from older buildings, in the water supply, and in the environment from cars and buses. Preventing lead poisoning in large cities, where there is so much possibility for exposure is both difficult and expensive. Federal programs have attempted to address this problem.
For buyers and sellers, lead poisoning is also an issue. Houses that were built before 1978 probably have paint that contains lead. Federal law requires that sellers disclose known information on lead-base paint hazards before selling a house. Sales contracts must include a federal form about lead-based paint in the building. Buyers will have up to 10 days to check for lead hazards and are likely to stipulate corrections.
Radon is produced when small amounts of uranium and radium in soil and rocks decay. Radon gas will also decay into smaller and radioactive particles that can be inhaled into the lungs where it can damage cells and cause lung cancer.
Radon is mainly released from soil, water and natural gas which have already been exposed to radon, from solar-heating systems that use radon-emitting rocks, and from uranium or phosphate mine tailings. Radon is naturally released in low concentrations, but inside your house, radon gas can become more concentrated. Lack of ventilation exhaust fans that bring in air from outside can increase the amount of radon in your home.
The Environmental Protection Agency suggests that homes be tested for radon, which should have a radon level of 4 picocuries per liter or less. For people selling their homes, the EPA recommends that the house be tested for radon, and radon levels be reduced, if necessary. Radon levels can be reduced by increasing the airflow into the house, keeping the vents open year round, and discouraging smoking in the house. For people buying homes, the EPA recommends obtaining radon test results in addition to information about radon reduction systems.
If you are planning to have your home tested for radon, the EPA recommends that the test be conducted in the lowest level of the home that is suitable for occupancy, and you should make sure that the test is done correctly by following the EPA Test Checklist.
There are two different types of testing devices available: passive devices and active devices. Passive devices, such as charcoal canisters, alpha track detectors, and charcoal liquid scintillation devices are exposed to air in the home for a specified amount of time, and sent to a laboratory to be analyzed. Active devices, like continuous radon monitors and continuous working level monitors, continuously measure and record the amount of radon in the air, and require operation by trained testers. These tests can be performed over a long term, or a short term, with the long term tests by active devices considered to be more accurate.
Underground Heating Oil Tanks
Leaks are caused by the rust inside underground tanks, or by an electrical condition sparked by electric utility lines.
Buyers should have the tank inspected to make sure that it is structurally sound. Buyers who do not want an underground fuel tank can arrange for an above ground tank to be installed in the basement, an underground tank to be shut off. Cleanups of any leaks will also have to be taken care of.
For buyers, the underground heating oil tank should be written in the sales contract. For sellers, your lawyer should make sure that the description and condition of the underground heating oil is accurate and up-to-date.
Common Ways of Holding Title
How Should I Take Ownership of the Property I am Buying?
Real property has become increasingly more valuable and the question of how parties can take ownership of their property has gained greater importance. The form of ownership taken — the vesting of title — will determine who may sign various documents involving the property and future rights of the parties to the transaction. These rights involve such matters as: real property taxes, income taxes, inheritance and gift taxes, transferability of title and exposure to creditor’s claims. Also, how title is vested can have significant probate implications in the event of death.
The Land Title Association (LTA) advises those purchasing real property to give careful consideration to the manner in which title will be held. Buyers may wish to consult legal counsel to determine the most advantageous form of ownership for their particular situation, especially in cases of multiple owners of a single property.
The LTA has provided the following definitions of common vestings as an informational overview. Consumers should not rely on these as legal definitions. The Association urges real property purchasers to carefully consider their titling decision prior to closing, and to seek counsel should they be unfamiliar with the most suitable ownership choice for their particular situation.
Common Methods of Holding Title
Sole ownership may be described as ownership by an individual or other entity capable of acquiring title. Examples of common vestings in cases of sole ownership are:
1. A Single Man/Woman:
A man or woman who has not been legally married. For example: Bruce Buyer, a single man.
2. An Unmarried Man/Woman:
A man or woman who was previously married and is now legally divorced. For example: Sally Seller, an unmarried woman.
3. A Married Man/Woman as His/Her Sole and Separate Property:
A married man or woman who wishes to acquire title in his or her name alone.
The title company insuring title will require the spouse of the married man or woman acquiring title to specifically disclaim or relinquish his or her right, title and interest to the property. This establishes that it is the desire of both spouses that title to the property be granted to one spouse as that spouse’s sole and separate property. For example: Bruce Buyer, a married man, as his sole and separate property.
Title to property owned by two or more persons may be vested in the following forms:
1. Community Property:
A form of vesting title to property owned by husband and wife during their marriage which they intend to own together. Community property is distinguished from separate property, which is property acquired before marriage, by separate gift or bequest, after legal separation, or which is agreed to be owned only by one spouse.
Real property conveyed to a married man or woman is presumed to be community property, unless otherwise stated. Since all such property is owned equally, husband and wife must sign all agreements and documents of transfer. Under community property, either spouse has the right to dispose of one half of the community property, including transfers by will. For example: Bruce Buyer and Barbara Buyer, husband and wife as community property.
2. Joint Tenancy
A form of vesting title to property owned by two or more persons, who may or may not be married, in equal interest, subject to the right of survivorship in the surviving joint tenant(s). Title must have been acquired at the same time, by the same conveyance, and the document must expressly declare the intention to create a joint tenancy estate. When a joint tenant dies, title to the property is automatically conveyed by operation of law to the surviving joint tenant(s). Therefore, joint tenancy property is not subject to disposition by will. For example: Bruce Buyer and Barbara Buyer, husband and wife as joint tenants.
3. Tenancy in Common:
A form of vesting title to property owned by any two or more individuals in undivided fractional interests. These fractional interests may be unequal in quantity or duration and may arise at different times. Each tenant in common owns a share of the property, is entitled to a comparable portion of the income from the property and must bear an equivalent share of expenses. Each co-tenant may sell, lease or will to his/her heir that share of the property belonging to him/her. For example: Bruce Buyer, a single man, as to an undivided 3/4 interest and Penny Purchaser, a single woman, as to an undivided 1/4 interest, as tenants in common.
Other ways of vesting title include as:
1. A Corporation*:
A corporation is a legal entity, created under state law, consisting of one or more shareholders but regarded under law as having an existence and personality separate from such shareholders.
2. A Partnership*:
A partnership is an association of two or more persons who can carry on business for profit as co-owners, as governed by the Uniform Partnership Act. A partnership may hold title to real property in the name of the partnership.
3. As Trustees of A Trust*:
A trust is an arrangement whereby legal title to property is transferred by the grantor to a person called a trustee, to be held and managed by that person for the benefit of the people specified in the trust agreement, called the beneficiaries.
4. Limited Liability Companies (L.L.C.)
This form of ownership is a legal entity and is similar to both the corporation and the partnership. The operating agreement will determine how the L.L.C. functions and is taxed. Like the corporation its existence is separate from its owners.
*In cases of corporate, partnership, L.L.C. or trust ownership – required documents may include corporate articles and bylaws, partnership agreements, L.L.C. operating agreement and trust agreements and/or certificates.
How title is vested has important legal consequences. You may wish to consult an attorney to determine the most advantageous form of ownership for your particular situation.
Who are the parties to a Trust?
A typical trust is the Family Trust in which the Husband and Wife are the Trustees and, with their children, the Beneficiaries. Those who establish the trust and transfer their property into it are known as Trustors or Settlors. The settlor’s usually appoint themselves as Trustees and they are the primary beneficiaries during their lifetime. After their passing, their children and grandchildren usually become the primary beneficiaries if the trust is to survive, or the beneficiaries receive distributions directly from the trust if it is to close out.
What is a Living Trust?
Sometimes called an Inter-vivos Trust, the Living Trust is created during the lifetime of the Settlors (as opposed to being created by their Wills after death) and usually terminates after they die and the body of the Trust is distributed to their beneficiaries.
Can a Trust hold title to Real Property?
No; the Trustee holds the property on behalf of the Trust.
Is a Trust the best way to hold my property?
Only your attorney or accountant can answer the question; some common reasons for holding property in a Trust are to minimize or postpone death taxes, to avoid a time consuming probate, and to shield property from attack by certain unsecured creditors.
What taxes can I avoid by putting my property in trust?
Married persons can usually exempt a significant part of their assets from taxation and may postpone taxes after the first of them to die passes. You should check with your attorney or accountant before taking any action.
Can I homestead property which is held in a Trust?
Yes, if the property otherwise qualifies.
Can a Trustee borrow money against the property?
A Trustee can take any action permitted by the terms of the Trust, and the typical Trust Agreement does give the Trustee the authority to borrow and encumber real property. However, not all lenders will lend on a property held in trust, so check with your lender first.
Can Someone else hold title for me “in trust?”
Some people who do not wish their names to show as titleholders make private arrangements with a third party Trustee; however, such an arrangement may be illegal, and is always inadvisable because the Trustee of record is the only one who is empowered to convey, or borrow against, the property, and a Title Insurer cannot protect you from a Trustee who is not acting in accordance with your wishes despite the existence of a private agreement you have with the Trustee.
What is a Mello-Roos District?
A Mello-Roos District is an area where a special tax is imposed on those real property owners within a Community Facilities District. This district has chosen to seek public financing through the sale of bonds for the purpose of financing certain public improvements and services. These services may include streets, water, sewage and drainage, electricity, infrastructure, schools, parks and police protection to newly developing areas. The tax you pay is used to make the payments of principal and interest on the bonds.
Are the assessments included within the Proposition 13 tax limits?
No. The passage of Proposition 13 in 1978 severely restricted local government in its ability to finance public capital facilities and services by increasing real property taxes. The “Mello-Roos Community Facilities Act of 1982” provided local government with an additional financing tool. The Proposition 13 tax limits are on the value of the real property, while Mello-Roos taxes are equally and uniformly applied to all properties.
What are my Mello-Roos taxes paying for?
Your taxes may be paying for both services and facilities. The services may be financed only to the extent of new growth, and services include: Police protection, fire protection, ambulance and paramedic services, recreation program services, library services, the operation and maintenance of parks, parkways and open space, museums, cultural facilities, flood and storm protection, and services for the removal of any threatening hazardous substance. Facilities which may be financed under the Act include: Property with an estimated useful life of five years or longer, parks, recreation facilities, parkway facilities, open-space facilities, elementary and secondary school sites and structures, libraries, child care facilities, natural gas pipeline facilities, telephone lines, facilities to transmit and distribute electrical energy, cable television lines, and others.
When do I pay these taxes?
By purchasing an interest in a subdivision within a Community Facilities District you can expect to be assessed for a Mello-Roos tax which will typically be collected with your general property tax bill. These special tax payments are subject to the same penalties that apply to regular property taxes.
How long does the tax stay in effect?
The tax will stay in effect until the principal and interest on the bonds are paid off along with any reasonable administrative costs incurred in collecting the special tax or so long as it is needed to pay the expenses of services, but in no case shall exceed 40 years.
What happens if a general tax payment is not made on time?
Because the Mello-Roos tax is typically collected with your general property tax bill, the Facilities District that obtained the lien may withdraw the assessment from the tax roll and commence judicial foreclosure.
What is the basis for the tax?
Most special taxes levied on properties within these districts have been structured on the basis of density of development, square footage of construction, or flat acreage charges. The act, however, allows for considerable flexibility in the method of apportionment of taxes, and the local agencies may have established an entirely different method of levying the special tax against property in the district in question.
How much will the Mello-Roos payment be?
The amount of tax may vary from year-to-year, but may not exceed the maximum amount specified when the district was created. In the case of the purchase of a new house within a subdivision, the maximum amount of the tax will be specified in the public report. The Resolution of Formation must specify the rate, method of apportionment, and manner of collection of the special tax in sufficient detail to allow each landowner or resident within the proposed district to estimate the maximum amount that he or she will have to pay.
How is the special tax reflected on the real property records?
The special tax is a lien on your property, essentially like a regular tax lien. The lien is recorded as a “Notice of Special Tax Lien” which is a continuing lien to secure each levy of the special tax.
How are Mello-Roos taxes affected when the property is sold?
The Mello-Roos tax is assessed against the land, but is not based upon the value of the property, therefore, the possible increased value of the property does not affect the amount of the tax when property is sold. The amount of the tax may not exceed the original maximum amount stated in the Resolution of Formation. Any delinquent payments must be satisfied before the sale of the real property since the unpaid amounts are a lien against the property.