LAW SERVICES

What We Do

We handle all types of dispute resolution, but below are some of the specific ways in which we can help clients.

As John Locke observed centuries ago: “The reason why men enter into society is the preservation of their property.” And no property is more valuable than land. To protect rights in land, society has created sophisticated systems of laws and regulations to resolve all manner of disputes. By doing so, rights in property are protected by providing predictability and certainty to ownership and transfers. But even with laws and regulations, disputes inevitably arise. Hansel Harlan has represented clients in such disputes for nearly twenty-five years and is able to harness that considerable experience and insight to achieve advantageous results for his clients.

Property is very valuable. For that reason, many laws exist to protect the property rights of owners and their heirs. In addition, multiple persons and entities other than owners may have rights in property such as Banks and other Lien Holders, Servitudes owners, Municipalities for Tax Liens, the United States for Federal Tax Liens and others for Minerals, Oil or Air Rights. Because of the laws protecting the owners and other interest holders, the purchase of property must be done carefully and only after an extensive investigation of the title.

To determine whether a person owns property, the Conveyance Records must be carefully searched and examined to determine the continuous record of all transfers by owners of the property. This is called a Chain of Title. But sometimes unscrupulous persons may record transfers property with forged signatures. It is very difficult to identify forgeries when searching chain of title. But they do exist. And it can be devastating if one appears in your chain of title, for your entire ownership in the property may be at risk. Harlan Law Firm has handled numerous cases involving forged instruments in the Public Records, and that experience allows us to exhaust all options in resolving those title issues.

As noted above, even though a person is the undisputed owner of a property, others may have interests or rights in that property. For example, if Creditor obtains a Judgment against a Debtor and records it in the Mortgage Records, that Judgment attaches to all of the Debtor’s property in that Parish. And if you buy property from that Debtor, the Judgment follows the Property, even though you had no idea about it. In other words, the Creditor can have the Sheriff seize the Property, sell it, and use the proceeds to pay off the Debtor’s Judgment. If this occurs to you, it can be devastating, as your entire investment in the Property is in jeopardy. Harlan Law Firm has handled hundreds of such title issues and can bring to bear extensive experience in resolving the issue in your favor.

PAST CASES

Encumbrance – Resolution of Error in Legal Description of Mortgage

In Avoyelles Parish, the Twelfth Judicial District Court rendered judgment in favor a national financial institution that the firm represents correcting a substantial issue with a Mortgage. In the case, the legal description attached to the Mortgage only encumbered one parcel of property when, in fact, it should have encumbered two. By submitting other documents (including HUD Statement, loan agreement and related communications), Harlan Law Firm was able to show the Twelfth Judicial District Court that the borrower did, in fact, agree to mortgage both properties and that the omission was merely an oversight.

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Hansel Harlan has been involved with foreclosure litigation for over 25 years. He has prosecuted and defended foreclosures. And he has litigated all manner of issues arising in connection with foreclosures, ranging from competing liens and encumbrances, missing ownership interests, and lender liability claims.

Servitudes allow people to create stable long-term agreements for a wide variety of purposes, including shared land uses or maintaining the character of a residential neighborhood or historic property. An owner of property burdened by a servitude cannot unilaterally cancel the servitude or transfer the property free from the servitude without the consent of all parties. Indeed, once recorded in the Public Records, a servitude binds future owners of the property, whether or not they agree to it or even know about it. Given that, combined with the fact that unforeseen contingencies often occur, servitudes often lead to disagreements. The successful resolution of those disputes depends on a fluent knowledge of the specific code articles that govern servitudes, knowledge of the numerous cases that have interpreted those articles, and negotiations skills. Through handling hundreds of cases involving servitudes, Harlan Law Firm possesses the skills necessary to resolve these disputes.

PAST CASES

Lack of Access – Owner unable to access property from road

The Firm recently resolved a significant title issue involving lack of access to a property. In this case, a family owned a large tract of land that fronted a public highway. The Parents donated a one-acre tract to the rear of their property to one of their children. The Child accessed its tract from the highway by a private road running across the Parents’ property. The Child granted a mortgage over the property to a Bank to secure a loan to build a house on the property. Several years later, the Child defaulted on the loan. The Bank then foreclosed on the mortgage and purchased the property at foreclosure. But there was no servitude recorded to allow access to the property over the private road. And the Parents refused to grant one to the Bank, as they did not want the Bank to sell the property to a third-party. Instead, the Parents proposed to buy the property back at a substantial discount.

After contentious litigation, the Firm obtained a Judgment from the Court recognizing the Bank’s right to a gratuitous servitude over the private road. The Bank was then able to sell the property to Firm was able to secure a gratuitous servitude over the private road to access

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Servitude Issue – Joan Brunson, et al. v. Crown Brake, LLC et al.

On June 19, 2019, the Third Circuit issued an opinion in favor of Harlan Law Firm’s clients. Joan Brunson, et al. v. Crown Brake, LLC, et al., No. 18-994. In this case, the Brunsons purchased a six-acre tract and began building a large home on it. Subsequently, Crown Brake purchased a 190-acre tract to the rear of the Brunson Property. Crown Brake then issued a demand letter to the Brunsons, claiming that it was entitled to a servitude of passage through the middle of the Brunson Property and demanding that the they halt construction on their home (which was over 75% complete) immediately.

The Brunsons filed suit in the Ninth Judicial District to enjoin Crown Brake from entering their property and to request a declaratory judgment that the servitude did not exist. In support of their position, the Brunsons argued that the act that Crown Brake claimed created the servitude was ambiguous and, thus, insufficient to create a servitude.

The Trial Court ruled in favor of Crown Brake, holding that the Brunson Property was indeed burdened by a servitude. In a unanimous opinion, the Third Circuit reversed and rendered Judgment in favor the Brunsons holding that the subject act was, in fact, ambiguous and therefore could not create a servitude.

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Surveyors are human. And humans make mistakes. For this reason (and others), disputes often arise as to exactly where property boundaries are located. The successful resolution of such disputes calls upon a thorough understanding of the specialized rules and laws that govern them, as well as experience in applying that knowledge. Harlan Law Firm has handled innumerable boundary disputes and can bring those years of experience to bear in bringing about successful resolutions.

PAST CASES

Encroachment – House Encroaching on Neighbor’s Property

The Firm recently resolved a lender’s policy claim involving the encroachment of a structure onto a neighboring tract. In this case, the property owner’s home encroached over the property line of her neighbor (her son). When the owner died, the loan fell into default, and the Bank commenced foreclosure proceedings. The son objected, claiming that he owned the part of the home that was on his property.  The Court rejected the ownership claims, finding that they were unfounded under Louisiana law. After finding that the property owner was in good faith and the neighbor failed to object for a number of years, the Court then granted a servitude over the neighboring tract to accommodate the encroaching structure in exchange for payment of the fair market value of the encroachment. The Bank was then able to foreclose.

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Missing Ownership – Child Borrowed Parent’s Money to Purchase a Home

In a recent case, a Child borrowed money from a Parent to buy a home. To secure repayment, the Parent took a one percent ownership interest in the home to ensure that he would have notice if the Child ever tried to mortgage or sell the Home. But the Act of Sale was not clearly drafted, and the Parent’s interest was obscured in an inscrutable footnote. Decades later, the Child mortgaged the Home to secure a loan.

When the Child defaulted on the loan, the Bank discovered that the mortgage only encumbered 99% of the Home. The Parent had died decades prior, and no succession had been opened, as he had no assets and significant debt. Although the Child was cooperative, he had no interest in opening a succession to resolve the issue.

Accordingly, the Firm had the Bank foreclose on the 99% ownership interest. We then instituted a licitation action and purchased the Property at Sheriff’s Sale. As the Bank owned 99% of the Home, it only had to pay 1% of the purchase price, which amount was then deposited in the registry of the Court. The Bank was able credit bid its ownership interest, thus resulting in an actual payment of only 1% of the total price to secure ownership of the entire Home.

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You think you own a piece of property. But another person claims that they own the same property. Such disputes can jeopardize hundreds of thousands of dollars in equity in property. Harlan Law Firm has extensive experience in resolving such disputes both quickly and creatively.

PAST CASES

Dual Assessment – property given 2 tax assessment numbers and sold

When property owners own multiple properties, they sometimes request the Assessor to issue a bulk assessment for them. To do so, the Assessor cancels the individual property assessment numbers and assigns a single ‘bulk’ assessment number to the multiple properties and bills accordingly. This, however, sometimes causes problems, as it did in a recent case where the purchaser of multiple properties obtained a bulk assessment number for his tracts. Unfortunately, however, the Assessor failed to cancel one of the single assessment numbers and continued issuing bills to the seller. As the seller no longer owned the property, he ignored them, and the individual tract was sold to a third-party at tax sale, even though the buyer was paying taxes for that tract under his bulk assessment number. The Firm was able to have the tax sale annulled, given that (i) the purchaser was not provided notice of the tax sale, and (ii) the purchaser was current on his property taxes.

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Encroachment – House Encroaching on Neighbor’s Property

The Firm recently resolved a lender’s policy claim involving the encroachment of a structure onto a neighboring tract. In this case, the property owner’s home encroached over the property line of her neighbor (her son). When the owner died, the loan fell into default, and the Bank commenced foreclosure proceedings. The son objected, claiming that he owned the part of the home that was on his property.  The Court rejected the ownership claims, finding that they were unfounded under Louisiana law. After finding that the property owner was in good faith and the neighbor failed to object for a number of years, the Court then granted a servitude over the neighboring tract to accommodate the encroaching structure in exchange for payment of the fair market value of the encroachment. The Bank was then able to foreclose.

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News & Insights

What You Want To Know

We have a new website!

  • DATE: Wed Aug 2019
  • CATEGORY : News

As you have probably gathered, Harlan Law Firm has a new website available for our clients and those interested in real estate transaction news and information.… Read More

HEAR FROM CLIENTS

See What Our Clients Have To Say
demonstrated proficiency in title curative work

“I have known and worked with Hansel Harlan for about fifteen years in my capacity as Louisiana Underwriter for Stewart Title Guaranty Company.  During this period, Hansel has represented Stewart enthusiastically and expertly during litigation, and demonstrated proficiency in title curative work, negotiating curative acts such as quitclaims and ratifications and navigating through the court system to serve our clients. He has shown insight and innovation in his solution-oriented attitude.”

I HAVE NO HESITATION HIGHLY RECOMMENDING HIM

“Hansel has been handling litigation for my company for several years now. Some of the cases are complex, involving numerous parties and claims. He has had great success which I think is partly attributable to his ability to grasp the issues and persuade parties to work amicably to resolve them. I have no hesitation highly recommending him, particularly with regard to cases involving immovable property and Title insurance.”