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Everything you want to know about evictions and the rights and responsibilities of landlord and tenants, including pitfalls to avoid as a property owner, will be the theme for the May 31 meeting of the Buffalo Investors Group.

Open to the public, the meeting will feature a panel of area legal experts, including Darell A. Huckabone, a senior partner with Pack, Willig, Hartman, Ball, and Huckabone. The panel will also include Linda De Tine, a staff attorney; and Barbara Kavanaugh, acting supervisor of the housing unit of Neighbor Legal Services, a federally-funded agency that provides legal help to low-income people, including tenants.

The meeting will be at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at B.I.G.'s new meeting site, the Buffalo Hilton Hotel at 120 Church Street in downtown Buffalo. The meeting will include a question and answer period and a free snack buffet. No pre-registration is required to attend.

Huckabone, an active investor in area rental property for about the past ten years, will cover the rights of landlords including their options for protective clauses in leases and for grounds for starting evictions.

"There is a great deal of law specifying what property owners can and cannot do," he said.

As a contract between the tenant and the landlord, a lease can contain almost any type of clause, including a wide variety of regulations as well as a number of stipulations spelling out who is responsible for maintenance, upkeep, and other aspects of a property.

At the same time, a landlord cannot include clauses in a lease that are considered blatantly unreasonable or unfair, said Huckabone.

He will cover what clauses are acceptable and how landlords should document complaints if proceeding with an eviction. He will cover the eviction process, including proper notification for tenants what happens in court and how tenants are removed after a judgment.

He will discuss how landlords and property owners can do their own evictions. If done properly they can often lead to the quick removal of a troublesome tenant, he said. However, if carried out improperly they could result in costly and time consuming counter suit.

"If he proceeds properly, a landlord can get into court within five to twelve days," said Huckabone, who will zero in on holdover occupancies and non-payment, the two major causes for evictions.

"Most landlords end up with legal problems because they do not understand the law or because they are trying to get around it," said Huckabone. "To be a good landlord you have to know the law or at least have a good attorney. Otherwise you are staring out from a negative point. If you know the law and comply with it you should be able to avoid a number of pitfalls. You should also know your tenants rights. One of the best things a landlord can do is to get a copy of a hand book on tenants' rights and read it carefully."

Huckabone will also discuss security deposits, legal fees, rules governing and number of types of occupants in an apartment, and criteria to use when selecting residents for a rental unit.

Many property owners, he said, fail to select tenants properly. "Many do very little verifying," he said, which would help them prevent many time consuming and costly problems in the long run.

Ms. Kavanaugh and Ms. De Tine will cover tenants rights and responsibilities including laws regarding health and safety codes and the habitability of apartments. They will also discuss new amendments to federal housing laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of age, children, color, disability, gender, marital status, national origin, race, and religion. They will also cover expections to the law for certain types of buildings and landlords.

They will review leases, rules regarding subsidized tenants, such as Section 8 residents, protection for tenants from retaliation by landlords and after complaints against them by residents.

"When a landlord tries to evict a tenant within six months after he has complained about him, the burden of proof shifts from the tenant to the property owner," said Ms. De Tine. Retaliatory measures by a landlord could not only result in an overtuned eviction, but costly damages, she said.

She will also cover the laws for locking out tenants and for removing their belongings from apartments, as well as the actual and punitive damages and legal fees that can be assessed against a landlord who loses a court action.

"There are a number of misconceptions about tenants and evictions," said Ms. Kavanaugh, "for example, that it takes up to four months to complete an eviction or that landlords can lockout tenants without going through a judge first. There are also many misconceptions about what can be included in leases."

Many landlords could avoid difficulties with tenants and subsequent legal problems by taking an honest look at their property, said Ms. De Tine. "When they look at a property they should ask themselves if they would want their own family to live there," she said.

"If you are familiar with the law, as a property owner you will have fewer incidents with tenants," said Ms. Kavanaugh. "If a property owner loses an action he not only has to pay his own legal fees but mine as well. It can get every very expensive."

"Our May meeting has a dual purpose," said Bill Lisnerski, president of B.I.G. "It will present both sides of the story, both the tenant's and the landlords. Most landlords don't want to go through an eviction, and by understanding both sides, they can avoid many of the pitfalls that lead to problems later. At the same time they will also learn how to use the system to protect themselves and their property."

The meeting will be open to the public. B.I.G. members will be admitted free. The guest fee for non-members is $10 at the door and includes the buffet. For more information, area residents can call 668-0094.

Founded 10 years ago, Buffalo Investors Group is a non-profit educational organization for people interested in becoming more effective investing in rental property and in keeping up with changing trends in real estate, especially in Western New York, B.I.G. offers members free monthly meetings with area experts on how to acquire and manage investment property effectively.

Other benefits include a free monthly property management club, educational seminars at reduced rates, and other programs and benefits. Annual dues are $75 a year, plus a one-time $25 initiation fee. The spouse of a members can join for an additional $25. Guest fees for monthly meetings can be applied toward annual dues for up to thirty days after a monthly meeting. B.I.G. meets the last Wednesday of each month.

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