Potential clients frequently ask me why they should not buy contract forms online or from an office supply store. Why pay for an attorney when I can buy a legal form for a nominal fee? I understand the inclination to go online because its entirely at your convenience and it is undoubtedly cheaper. However, this comes at a potentially high cost. Legals forms do not always comply with all legal requirements for a given industry and location (federal, state and local). The danger you expose yourself to by avoiding working with a lawyer is the unknown. It is the risks you don’t realize you are taking that frequently come back to bite you the hardest. I am writing this blog today as a cautionary tale why such forms should be avoided because of a recent conversation I had with a potential client.
The Form Office Lease
Last week a potential client came into my office with a complaint that a former tenant had recently filed against him. The tenant claimed damages against the landlord because the lease did not comply with the Philadelphia Lead Disclosure & Certification Law. This law applies to any dust, dirt/soil, paint, and as of March 1 pipes that drinking water may pass through. If the allegations set forth in the complaint are true, the landlord will have to refund all rents received during the rental period, pay for his tenant’s attorneys’ fees and other fines up to $2,000. The landlord in this case thought he followed all of the rules. He even showed me the lead based paint disclosure form that came with his form lease. Unfortunately, Philadelphia has very specific requirements concerning lead disclosures for buildings that were built prior to 1978. Moreover, not only are there requirements for what has to be disclosed; but the manner in which disclosures must be made are also regulated by code. In fact, this is such a prevalent problem in Philadelphia because it is such and old city that it has an excellent publication on this topic. Click here for Philadelphia Landlord’s Guide to Lead Disclosure. While, the form lease that was purchased at the chain office supply store might have complied with Pennsylvania state law, it did not satisfy the Philadelphia Code and this will be an unfortunate and expensive lesson for this landlord.
Advice From Lawyer Can Avoid Dangerous and Costly Business Practices
During the course of our meeting, I recognized this landlord had many other dangerous business practices that could have been avoided if he had simply met with a lawyer before he embarked on his career as a landlord. However, the landlord to be just did not know what he did not know. For example:
- If your building is more than 6 stories tall and located in Philadelphia, your building’s facade is subject to an initial inspection and thereafter a follow up inspection every 5 years. This local ordinance applies not to facades but also to to all buildings six or more stories in height; all buildings with any appurtenance in excess of sixty feet in height; and any building, other than one or two-family dwellings, greater than two stories located in specific areas.
- This landlord’s three unit brownstone was covered by this ordinance but I could tell from our conversations that no effort to comply was made. This wasn’t because the landlord was trying to avoid his legal obligations. No, rather it was simply just not being aware of what his responsibilities under the law required. This time, it was once again a local ordinance, as opposed to a state or federal law that was being violated. There is no way any form legal agreement purchased at an office supply store or online can protect you from what you do not know because you don’t have the opportunity to ask questions to a living person and the lawyer who drafted the agreement you are purchasing is not involved in the process.
Employment Application Forms
Another form that business owners repeatedly get into trouble with is relying upon store bought employment applications. In today’s legal environment, these forms need to be updated regularly. Consider in Philadelphia alone you can no longer inquire on the application if your applicant has a criminal record (effective March 2016) or what they were being paid at their current job (will become effective April 2017) . A recent corporate client asked me to review its employment application and his store bought forms did not comply with either Philadelphia specific legal requirement. In reviewing his other store purchased form we told him the restrictive covenant in its employment agreement was also not enforceable because it was too broad and that the manner in which it was implemented with respect to current employees was also an issue that prevented enforcement.
Doug Leavitt and the attorneys at Danziger, Shapiro & Leavitt, P.C. are available to assist you in connection with preparing or reviewing your transaction documents. An ounce of prevention is a good investment to make sure the agreements you are using will actually work and accomplish what you want to achieve. Please call us for a consultation to discuss your concerns. We look forward to hearing from you.
This entry is presented for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute legal advice.