'Because I Said So' Isn’t Good Enough – Letters from Lawyers
Over the years clients have come to me with letters from lawyers demanding that he or she take specific action.
Two letters are most prominent in my memory because they demonstrate excessive behavior on the part of the lawyers who sent them.
The first letter was addressed to a former client who was not an active client of my practice at the time he received the letter. However, because I had represented him in the past, he wanted me to advise him as to whether he had to follow the instructions in the letter which demanded that he go through with the purchase of a residence.
When I reviewed the letter, the real estate contract, and the law, it was clear to me that my client was not obligated to purchase the property. What had happened was that the real estate agent had my client sign a document stating that he had been informed that the property was part of a community association. In fact, however, it was part of a condominium association. A community association usually provides services over common areas such as roads, parking lots, and sometimes lawn maintenance. A condominium association is significantly different in that the owner owns his or her specific interior unit but does not own the hallways, roof, or exterior as well as other common areas outside of his or her unit.
Since the wrong documentation was given to my client, he was not obligated to go through with the purchase of the real property–the residence. However, the letter from the opposing lawyer informed him that the contract was legal and binding and that my client was obligated to go through with the purchase of the residence and that, in the event my client did not go through with the contract, the opposing lawyer would go to court and obtain an order of specific performance to enforce the contract, thereby requiring my client to purchase the residence. Also the opposing lawyer stated that my client would be obligated for attorneys’ fees.
I notified the opposing lawyer that my client was not proceeding with the purchase of the residence under the contract. The opposing attorney either knew or should have known that the contract was defective.
The second letter was from an attorney who wrote my client that if he did not pay for the home improvements made by his client, my client would, in addition having to pay for the home improvements, also be obligated to pay attorneys fees.
By statute generally under consumer laws, attorneys’ fees are not an obligation under the contract unless specifically agreed to when the individual signs the contract. In the home improvement contract, there was no provision or obligation for my client to pay attorneys’ fees. As soon as I notified the opposing attorney that I was representing my client, the opposing attorney sent a letter back to me stating that he thought the home improvement contract had contained that clause.
The behavior of the opposing counsel was a violation of the credit law which enabled my client to bring a legal action subjecting the opposing attorney to a fine of $1000 and reasonable attorneys’ fees payable to my client.
When you receive a letter from an attorney demanding that you do something, my advice is that you do not communicate with that attorney but that you instead call my office so that we can inform you as to what will be your options.
These are only two of many situations in which lawyers have been known to write letters threatening action when there is not a reasonable and legal basis to support that you must act as they instructed.
Fred Antenberg practices law in Howard County, Maryland, and in surrounding Maryland counties. When you receive a letter from an opposing attorney, call Fred at 410 730-4404.