Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Sidewalk Repair May Become the Homeowners Responsibility

Images from the internet. Used under educational free use clause
It’s been all abuzz recently that the city of Los Angeles city panel may place the burden of sidewalk repairs on property owners. Up until 1974 this was a standard way of doing things, property owners were responsible to maintain the sidewalk. But in 1974 the city exempted property owners from that time and on, from being responsible to repair sidewalks damaged and cracked from overgrown tree roots. They did this to reap the benefits of federal funds available at that time to make the repairs. But, as many of us have seen in Los Angeles there are cracked, raised and broken sidewalks everywhere. This is quite a large amount of work and expense for the city to continue to fund. To many of us that have lived in Los Angeles for so long, it doesn’t seem like cracked and damaged sidewalks are a big deal. But they do become a big deal when people get hurt because they aren’t repaired or maintained. It also becomes an accessibility issue to people who have disabilities. So if this ordinance is passed and it becomes the homeowner’s responsibility to maintain the sidewalks there may be a lot of money that has to be doled out to fix these sidewalk situations. The current City Administrative officer is proposing a phase in period where sidewalks that are adjacent to single family homes that are damaged by tree roots still remain under the city’s responsibility until it’s repaired. But once the repairs are made, it will be the homeowner’s responsibility to maintain the sidewalk from then on. He is also proposing a sidewalk inspection program, where inspectors would evaluate then issue notices or citations to homeowners if the sidewalk is in need of repair. Business would not fare so well. Commercial properties would be in a “fix and release” program where property owners would have one year to fix the sidewalks before inspections are done and another year to do repairs if the city finds that the sidewalk needs repair.
This proposal is due in part to the city’s agreement to pay $1.4 billion, over 30 years as part of a legal settlement with disability advocates. This does not include the additional cost of repairing the sidewalks, which these advocates claim should have been a higher priority for the city. The city will now have to create a plan where they not only pay the payments on the $1.4 billion, but now have to repair sidewalks around city buildings, transportation access ways, medical facilities, commercial areas, places of employment and residential area.
So now that we know why the city is doing this we now have a few questions… What happens in situations where the sidewalk is damaged by earthquakes? Whose responsibility is it going to be if sidewalk repairs become the property owner’s responsibility? Also what happens if leakage from underground pipes and such is causing problems to the sidewalk, who is the responsible for that? (When you consider that most of the public waterworks pipes are more than 8 decades old it’s likely for this to happen) What happened to all the federal money that was received to do the sidewalk repairs? Also what happens when utility work and maintenance require excavating through a sidewalk who is responsible for that? What happens when the city streets suffer from flood damage? Will repairs to the sidewalk be covered by your flood insurance, the city, or something else?
These are all questions that we don’t see being asked, but it looks like it could fall in the grey zone which means that property owners need to be ready to pony up the money for sidewalk repairs. 

The Legal Eagles Inc.
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Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Copyright Basics

Copyright laws can be different internationally verses U.S. copyright laws. This article only speaks to help people understand U.S. Copyright laws and identify possible means of assistance or guidance when filing a copyright. To begin, let’s first define what a copyright is according to the United States Copyright Office, “Copyright is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works.” In other words, a copyright is attributed to an author of a particular work. The author does not need to publish the work to have the copyright status. The next most important thing to know is what exactly a copyright protects. 

According to the U.S. Copyright Office, “Copyright, [is] a form of intellectual property law, protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, photos, drawings, choreographic works and architecture. But, the list is not limited to just these things. Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed.” Although these various works are protected by a copyright without an official filing, it is always better to file for an official copyright when possible. By doing this it registers the work with the federal government. This makes it official that the work was created by you. 

If you have questions about filing a copyright, give The Legal Eagles a call. We can work with you to help you file a copyright and protect what is rightfully yours. 

The Legal Eagles Inc.
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Monday, December 29, 2014

Business Disaster Recovery: Are You Ready?

Disasters tend to be one of two types: natural and human caused.  Do you know the types of disasters that are likely to threaten your business directly or indirectly?  Do you know what your insurance covers and does not cover?  Do you have a disaster recovery plan?



No place on Earth perfectly safe.  Every place can be systematically characterized using the Geographic Systems Model (GSM).  This can help you to identify the natural and human kinds of disasters unique to your business.  The GSM divides the world into 4 basic realms: Air, Land, Water, and Living Organisms.  Each one can be the origin of some kind of disaster.  The forces of nature are such that combinations are possible.  For example.  The realm of Air is the source of storms.  Storms can produce rain, snow, ice, hail, winds, and lightning.  These can all vary in duration and intensity.  Each poses a different kind of threat to your business.  Combined with Land, some sites are prone to flooding, flash flooding, landslides, mudslides or slope failure.  You should be aware of the seasons as well as the frequency and duration of these hazards.  The same hazards can affect your suppliers and vendors whose goods and services you depend on for your business.

After you have identified the type of disaster and its possible frequency, consider the range of impact to your business and its operations.  Here are some of the possible considerations:   

1. Physical Damage / Physical Security: The direct and indirect impacts to your business can result in varying degrees of damage to the building.  A major concern is your business records, especially accounts receivable and payable.  How often do you back up your data and where is the backup kept?  It may seem obvious that the backup should not be stored in the same facility.  If a fire burns out your office, having the data and the backup data in the office won’t help at all.  If the damage in less severe (e.g. broken windows or doors), how quickly can these be repaired or temporarily fixed to secure the premises?  And at what cost?  Who will do the work and how will you pay them?  These considerations should be in your disaster plan.  

2. Direct & Indirect Impacts: Direct impacts of a disaster pertain to your specific business facility.  This means the storm or fire affected your business.  An indirect impact would be a storm that disrupted one of your suppliers.  Without the goods or services you get from them, you cannot produce your goods / services to deliver to your customers.  Without supplies, your production declines.  So storms in other parts of the world can adversely affect your supply chains.  

3. Access Issues: Do you know the main and secondary routes to your business?  Can you and your workers get to your business to assess damage, clean up, and effect repairs to resume business?  What about access to your vendors / suppliers?  Can supplies be delivered and / or can orders be shipped out?  Do you have alternative work sites to resume operations?  What about alternative vendors and suppliers if your primaries are incapacitated by the disaster?  

4. Emergency Notifications: Do you have a way to notify you insurance company, customers, vendors, suppliers, etc. to inform them of you status?  When things are good, others may take your goods and services for granted.  When disaster strikes, they still have their business to run.  Their customers still expect to receive goods and services.  Their vendors, suppliers, and employees still expect to get paid.  If you are no longer operating, it is a good opportunity for your competitors to erode your customer base and erode your market share.  This can seriously reduce or eliminate your ability to recover.  

5. Financial Resilience: Anticipating the hazards, impacts, and costs are just ideas and words.  The reality of being able to pay for the clean-up and recovery can be painful.  If you don’t have financial reserves in place, you should at least have fast access to credit lines for this purpose.  In addition to repairs, you have your bills and employees to pay.  What will it cost to keep operations going under these circumstances?  Do you have a backup plan for telecommunications, data processing, and other critical business functions to get through the crisis?  If you use proprietary data processing software, do you have backup copies and computer equipment capable of running it?  And where is the data (and how up-to-date is it)?
 
The loss of your business data can expose you to financial risks that can ruin you.  1) Do you have updated Accounts Receivable data?  If not, you stand to lose valuable income needed to keep your business afloat.  2) What about your Accounts Payable?  Falling behind on your payments could result in collection action against you that multiply your liabilities. The Legal Eagles can help with all of these things. We know disaster relief is difficult. Our experienced business consultants are here to help guide you through the process of being prepared for situations that can impact your business. We can also help you after the fact when you need to take action against vendors or clients that didn’t keep their word. 


The Legal Eagles Inc.
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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Defamation: Libel vs. Slander

If you had to guess the number of times your reputation has come into question due to defamation what number would you say? Defamation is the all-encompassing term that describe how a person’s reputation can be impacted by other people in a negative way. Most people will encounter situations where defamation comes into play at one point or another in their career or jobs. But, the big questions, in terms of the severity of the situation are as follows:

1. Was the defamation due to a false statement verbally, that was relayed as a fact by another person to a third party?

2. Was the defamation due to a false statement published in writing?

3. Did the individual(s) who made the statement verbally or in writing do it intentionally or negligently to cause harm?

4. Was harm caused to the person or entity who is the subject of the statement?

5. Another big question to ask yourself before jumping to a defamation conclusion is: Is any of this statement true in any way?

One of the biggest things that come up in defamation cases is how factual the defaming statements are. In some cases even if there is some factuality to the statement but not totally factual it can still work against you.

Defamation consists of two aspects, Slander and Libel. Slander is when someone negatively affects your reputation when they speak falsely about you to a third party. Libel occurs when a statement is published about you in writing that is false. In situations where there is blatant libel or slander it is much simpler to pursue a case of defamation against the defaming individual. What makes more defamation cases difficult is that the statements made are often not completely false. They are often based somewhat on at least a little bit of truth that has been skewed into the statement made by the other party. At that point the person or entity that has been defamed must demonstrate that despite the small percentage of truth the factuality of the statement itself is false. Another major factor when establishing your case of defamation is proving that there was an intention to, or there was negligence involved in purposefully releasing false information about you. Finally you would also have to prove that you have suffered negatively from the defamation.

An example of libel is if someone posts a statement on social media that is blatantly false about an individual or an entity of some sort. Due to this the persons or entities reputation greatly suffers. This type of blatant situation would make it possible to pursue a case of defamation. An example of slander would be if a co-worker says something blatantly false about you to another co-worker which therefore gets to your boss or other employees and as a result greatly affects your reputation in the company. This would be a situation where defamation based on slander would come into play.

The Legal Eagles Inc.
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Monday, December 1, 2014

The FDA Expands Their Regulations on Displaying Nutrition Information

Things are always changing in the food industry, especially when it comes to “fast food.” Many people consider this term to be directed toward major chains like McDonalds, Burger King, Carls Jr. and many others that aren’t named. In this specific niche of the food industry there have recently been a lot of changes in regards to nutrition information and public health. For this reason under the Affordable Care Act there is a little known provision that states all fast food places (bakeries, coffee shops, convenience stores, fast food restaurants, etc.) that have 20 or more locations (as a company not as a franchise owner) will be required to post and list “clearly and conspicuously” the calorie counts of each item by November of 2015. This is the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s way of making sure that people know what they are putting in their mouths.

It may come as a surprise but local grocery stores that have in store and take out dining will also be required to post the calorie counts of the fast foods they are selling. This includes the fruits and salads you have access to at the fruit and salad bar areas of the store. But, under this provision the stores are require to list the calorie content for the “raw” cut fruit in the salad but not for the whole fruit sold in the produce section. To make it simple, anything sold in stores, restaurants, cafes, etc., that are prepared for immediate individual consumption are required to have the calorie content listed clearly and conspicuously. Exempt from this Act are meals served on trains, airplanes, or food trucks.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Identity Theft: The 10 Steps to Take When Your Identity Has Been Stolen

Identity theft can happen to anyone. It can happen to you as an adult. It can happen to your child. It can happen to you even if you’re dead. It can be through a credit card, through your taxes, through your bank account and so on. All a person needs to steal your identity is a few key pieces of information which most people leave out in the open, like: your birthdate, address and phone number. Once identity thieves get access to this information they can do further research and pull up your social security number, employment history and credit history. They can use this information to “verify” your identity when falsely applying for credit under your name. They can use your social security number to file for income tax refunds, credit cards and bank accounts. They can even get a job using your information and you must pay the taxes.

Steps to take if you think your identity has been stolen:

1. Check your wallet or purse to see if you are missing an ID or any kind

of card that has your personal information.

2. Review your credit card and bank balances for accuracy.

3. Check your credit report to see if there have been any unusual credit inquires.

4. Submit a request to EQUIFAX for your credit report (www.equifax.com).

5. Submit a request to TransUnion for your credit report (www.transunion.com).

6. Submit a request to Experian for your credit report (www.experian.com).

7. Make sure to thoroughly check ALL three of your credit reports. Some companies only report to one or two credit reporting agencies. It is essential to make sure the information in ALL the reports are accurate.

8. When or if you detect there is an issue with an item reported on your credit report contact the credit reporting agencies immediately and place a fraud alert or fraud hold on your credit reports. A fraud alert would tell the three credit reporting agencies that you have detected fraudulent information on your credit report and would like them to keep an eye out for more. A fraud hold would put a complete hold on your credit report. This means that people would not be able to pull up your credit history. You must contact the credit reporting agency and verify your identity and the credit inquiry.

9. If it’s around tax time make sure to submit your tax return early. If a person files taxes under your name and social security number before you do, you will NOT be able to file your tax documents electronically. That means your processing time will increase significantly. For this reason if you suspect identity fraud the best thing to do is file your taxes early.

10. Dispose of your paperwork properly. We have a lot of information that we often throw away. This information is like gold if identity thieves get their hands on it. Make sure to shred or burn all documents that contain identifying information like your: full legal name, birthdate, address, social security number, and so on.

[Note: In some cases you may be told or required to file a police report. Each jurisdiction is different. Check with your local law enforcement.]

The Legal Eagles Inc.
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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

When is a non-profit NOT a non-profit?

I once saw this sign taped to a cash register: 
"This is a non-profit organization.  It wasn’t meant to be, but that’s how it turned out."

Holidays are fast approaching and so is the end of the year. This is the time that people tend to donate to charities and nonprofits. Considering how much money and goods are spent and donated toward “good causes”, it is essential that people understand what is a non-profits or charity. 

So have you ever wondered what happens to your donation if it goes to an organization that is not a charity recognized by the IRS?  You might be asking, how can you tell if a charity is officially recognized by the IRS?  This is what the 501(c)(3) is all about. These documents must be submitted to and approved by the IRS to authorize it as a nonprofit organization. This means a company can claim (all be it not legally) that they are a nonprofit and not have a 501(c)(3) on file with the IRS.  This claim could be made while their application is pending approval.  Or it could be a fraudulent claim to cheat generous donors during the holiday season or during disaster relief efforts.  Unless you ask the right questions you may not know.  

Most people see a non-profit and think, “Well that's a good cause, and it’s a tax deduction, why not? I can donate,” In reality, if that company is not a valid IRS approved nonprofit, your donation is NOT tax deductible. So, now knowing this, you might ask how a nonprofit can tell you your donation is eligible for tax credit when in fact it’s not.  Well, it is called fraud.  Most of these organizations won't tell you because they want to cheat you.  They want your money.  In reality, these groups are seeking donations without a valid 501(c)(3) aren't really the type of organization you would support with your donations. These fraudsters take in significant sums of money and supposedly don't make any profit.  Yet their CEO gets paid big bucks and they've actually only donated maybe five to ten percent of their gross donation amounts.  In financial accounting terms, they are non-profits due to their exceedingly high overhead and operating expenses.

You might be thinking well how does this affect me?  Well, other than the obvious fact that your donation isn't being used in the way you expect it to be used, your donations does not qualify as a tax deduction.  This means come tax time, you will file for a deduction that will be denied by the IRS.  Then you will have to file an amended return after recalculating your actual IRS approved tax deductible donations. That means, if you donated $2000 to reduce your tax liabilities and lower your tax bracket, you could find yourself cheated out of $2000 and you haven't reduced your tax liability at all. So now think about how that will affect you down the line. 

It would be easy to say well I'm just going to donate to big established charities, which admittedly makes sense. But don't get too jaded.  Before deciding to donate to a charity you don’t know much about, here are some proactive measures you can take:
1. Ask the charity for proof of their currently valid 501(c) (3) documentation;
2. Check with the IRS at www.irs.gov/Charities-&-Non-Profits/Exempt-Organizations-Select-Check to confirm the organization’s 501(c)(3) is valid
3. Look up the charity’s rating on Charitynavigator.org

Special Note: A good charity incurs an overhead of 10-12% with the balance of their budget going to the target recipients. 

The Legal Eagles Inc.