Many of us remember the infamous “Blizzard of ’78”. As a teenager growing up in Revere, the lockdown inspired by that event is still vivid in my mind – school was canceled, our parents’ workplaces were closed, few people could travel anywhere, the army set up shop at the high school, and residents displaced from their homes were forced to live and sleep on cots in the gymnasium. It was a frightening and unsettled time in our communities. I also recall certain instances in my legal and business career when time seemed to standstill and our economy came to a screeching halt, just as it has now with the invasion of Coronavirus. We survived the Blizzard of ’78 by trudging to our nearby food store across snow that was level with the roofs of parked cars and transporting our groceries home by sled. Now, we do our shopping with masks and gloves, being careful to sanitize carts and avoid human contact. The parallels between that time and this one are obvious: this crisis will pass; we must pull together as a community; and we must ensure that life moves forward for us and our families.
Business and economic disruptions contribute enormously to our anxiety during these uncertain times. In my 30 plus year legal career, there have been several periods when the country’s business climate was in crisis. There was great real estate instability during the late 1980’s, early 1990s and of course the collapse in 2008-2009, resulting in bank bailouts, massive foreclosures, loss of fair market values of real estate and a prolonged recovery period thereafter. We also had one of the greatest domestic tragedies to affect our country and us as Americans, 9/11, which brought financial markets to a halt. And for those closer to home, we had and survived the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. We were on lock down following that incident and came back stronger and more cohesive than ever as a state and nation afterwards. Of course it helps that the Red Sox have taken three World Series victories since that fateful 2001 despite all of our challenges in between!
There is no person, industry or business that is not negatively affected during this crisis. We are directed to socially distance ourselves and take extraordinary measures to ensure that we are not exposed to the virus. With all this down time, we are most likely trying to maintain some connection to our livelihood, focus on the essentials for existence, keep our children engaged and entertained and just trying to maintain some routine of “normalcy” in the face of critically short resources. For those of us operating businesses, we are committed to serving our existing clients and sharpening our focus on new and ongoing business, with no understanding of how long this will last. For me and other attorneys who regularly appear in Superior, District, Housing, Land and Probate Court, the closures have impacted clients and caused us to rethink our clients’ priorities. And, while our court dates have been canceled or postponed, we take the long view knowing that business will resume, and we’ll receive new court dates as we already have on some pending matters. Do I anticipate that the courts will be inundated once that occurs? The answer is most likely yes, but in the meantime, schedule a consultation to understand your options.
We have had one of the healthiest real estate periods, especially in this area, for several years now. Banks are still lending money and mortgage rates are the lowest in recent memory. While open houses may be canceled, realtors are very creative with virtual tours and other remote viewing options not requiring in person meetings. If you are thinking about buying or selling a property, consider a consultation to discuss preparing a purchase and sale (P&S) agreement to protect you as buyer or seller from the risks associated with your actions. I have drafted hundreds of P&S Agreements over the years, and given the current climate, much of that work can be done through email and electronically utilizing Doc-u-Sign and other electronic means. We are also enjoying historically low mortgage interest rates, and those employed new home buyers or existing home owners should recognize that this may be the best time to apply for a mortgage and move forward with that purchase or refinance that you have been putting off during the pandemic.
As we recall from history after the 2008-2009 real estate crisis, there were record personal and business bankruptcy filings. As a bankruptcy practitioner, I had a huge volume of Chapter 7 cases, and thankfully, the Bankruptcy Court accommodated those filings by adding additional meeting and hearing sessions. I anticipate that this will occur again if people are forced to seek this remedy in an effort to extricate themselves from great financial debt incurred as a result of this crisis. Just as I was committed during that time to represent clients in that process, I remain equally committed in the weeks and months ahead to provide similar support and representation. Please remember that filing bankruptcy should not be viewed in a negative manner, especially during this unprecedented time. Bankruptcy is a perfectly legal and viable “exit strategy” to allow you to receive a “fresh start” and re-establish your credit history. I have represented many people of all financial means and backgrounds who filed bankruptcy, obtained a bankruptcy discharge and later went on to obtain a mortgage and purchase a home or condominium. You will move forward from this crisis, and I am willing and available to review your options if you or your business is overwhelmed by creditor demands or payment worries.
For those of you seeking remedies as a landlord, it is a particularly unsettling time as you face concerns about paying your mortgage on rental property with little or no income to offset that obligation. While we are “frozen” in some ways with respect to Court hearings, that does not mean you are without legal remedies. You may wish to schedule a meeting or consultation to discuss your options and begin the process of eviction by serving a Notice To Quit. For a month to month Tenant-At-Will, a Notice must be served before the end of that month and the tenant is given 30 days until the 1st of the month following that period to vacate. For instance if the tenant normally pays rent on March1st, a Notice would need to be served by the end of March, and the tenant would need to vacate/move on or before May 1st. If the tenant refuses to move, a court action would need to be filed, and with the current court closures, your court date would be delayed. However, you may want to consider getting the Notice out sooner rather than later knowing that your proactive actions now could work to your advantage once the delays created by this pandemic are over.
We also can’t suspend our actions in the wake of certain life events that will not wait for the cycle of Coronavirus to be complete. The death of a family member is one such example where time will not defer to external events and the probate process should be discussed, planned and initiated, with proper considerations made for more complex estates requiring third party tax or financial advisors. As a rule, unfortunately, many of us have put off having a Will, Living Will, Trust, Durable Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy or other protective or estate planning documents completed. In our current climate, we cannot claim we are too busy or distracted to address these critically important arrangements, especially now when we have the time to do so, and certain of these remedies will enable you to avoid probate altogether All of these measures help ensure not only our peace of mind, but those of a spouse, child, parent or other dependent for whom protective care, physical or mental infirmity or end of life decisions could truly affect our loved ones’ quality of life.
Another life event that may prompt unavoidable action is the potential dissolution of a marriage. There are many aspects of such an action that should be discussed with an attorney that vary greatly by circumstances, and a consultation is easily arranged. For people who are contemplating divorce, and despite the fact that filings are still being accepted, the road to closure and finality can be a long one. Knowing that it can take months before you can get into court on your divorce matter, it makes sense to set aside time now to familiarize yourself with your options and determine a reasonable schedule for resolution. Many such conversations and plans can be instituted on a remote basis via telephone or video conferencing, and this down time can be used in a productive manner to prepare for the most beneficial outcome.
Life events can also happen through no fault of our own or through an illness, but because of the careless disregard or negligence of some third party. We are the unwitting victims of some physical or emotional injury over which we had no say or control. Accidents such as these happen even in the most uncertain of times, and if you have sustained personal injury either by a motor vehicle accident, slip and fall accident or other seemingly negligent act, consider arranging a consultation to preserve your legal rights and potentially serve an all-important notice on the affected insurance companies before it’s too late. These are matters that can be handled easily during this shutdown since virtually all insurance carriers are operating on a remote basis.
I hope this has been informative and educational as we navigate through this global crisis. It may sound like a cliché, but we really are all in this together and we need to rely on our commonality rather than our differences. While the outside world can seem difficult to manage right now, remember that you have total control over the legal and business decisions that affect your daily lives and the lives of those around you. My office and my resources are at your disposal for whatever you need to move forward in this environment. That’s a promise!
THE LAW OFFICE OF DEBORAH L. GOLD-ALEXANDER
SEAPORT LANDING, 152 LYNNWAY, SUITE 1F
LYNN, MA 01902