Potential tax relief for commercial property owners negatively affected by COVID-19

By Andrew Zashin*

Unbeknownst to many Ohioans, on Aug. 3, Gov. Mike DeWine signed into law Senate Bill 57, which can assist real property taxpayers who believe the value of their property has declined as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The law specifically allows eligible taxpayers to file a special COVID-19 complaint with their county board of revision requesting that a property’s tax valuation for tax year 2020 be determined as of Oct. 1, 2020, instead of the Jan. 1, 2020. Prior to the passage of this recent legislation, a real property taxpayer was only permitted to file one complaint in each three-year valuation period if they disagreed with their assessed tax value. However, the new law allows a real property taxpayer to submit a COVID-19 complaint, even if they have already filed a standard challenge to their property’s value.

In order for a real property taxpayer to qualify for this special COVID-19 relief, the taxpayer must demonstrate that the real property’s value has been reduced due to circumstances related to the COVID-19 pandemic or a COVID-19-related order issued by the governor or a state agency, the special complaint must be filed on or before Sept. 2, 2021 and the special complaint must state with particularity how the COVID-19-related circumstances caused the reduced real property value.

After the complaint is submitted, the taxpayer will be scheduled for Zoom hearing at a later date. If a COVID-19 complaint is successful, and the board of revision shall adjust the tax value of the property which will then alter the taxes payable in 2021. For those taxpayers who bring a successful complaint and have already paid their 2021 taxes, the local county auditor should issue a refund to the taxpayer in the amount the taxpayer overpaid.

While both commercial and residential real property taxpayers are eligible to file a special complaint, because home values have generally remained strong through the pandemic, it may be difficult for a residential property owner to show that their property’s value should be reduced due to the pandemic. As a result, the new complaint program is more likely to benefit owners of commercial properties instead of residential owners since many commercial property owners experienced income losses as a result of the pandemic.

In addition to the tax relief described above, the same law authorized a property tax exemption for housing primarily used by individuals diagnosed with mental illness or substance use disorder and their families. To qualify, property must use the property to provide housing, lease the property to individuals with mental illness or substance use disorder and make supportive services available to such individuals, or lease the property to a charitable institution.

It is important that any taxpayer and/or property owner wishing to file a COVID-19 special com-plaint carefully review the specifications and requirements of the new law prior to filing since a complaint can be summarily dismissed if a complainant fails to provide all the requested documentation and information with their initial complaint. In addition, taxpayers with properties negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic or state COVID-19 orders should move quickly to consult with appraisers and legal counsel to determine whether a special tax year 2020 complaint is in their best interests as special 2020 complaints must be filed between July 26, 2021, and Sept. 2, 2021.

This article originally appeared as a column for the Cleveland Jewish News.

2023-11-10T13:38:07-05:00August 20th, 2021|COVID-19, Pandemic, Real Estate, Tax Breaks|

Uncertainty weighed on divorce cases during pandemic

By ALEX KRUTCHIK | Cleveland Jewish News

The past year forced many people to face situations never experienced before. Because of COVID-19 lockdowns that swept the country for months, many people stayed with the person that lived in their house with them, whether it was roommates, parents or spouses. Because spouses were together nearly constantly, many theorized that divorce rates would go up.

Jill Helfman, co-partner in charge of the Cleveland office of Taft Law, and Andrew Zashin, co-managing partner at Zashin & Rich in Cleveland, said there are fewer people getting divorced than before.

Zashin, who also writes a law column for the Cleveland Jewish News, said in times of financial stress, people stay together, rather than the opposite. Sometimes hardships bring people together, while sometimes they simply can’t afford to get divorced.

“The opposite is also true,” he said. “In times of financial plenty, where people feel richer, they are more inclined to act out. People take rash moves, financially and personally, when they feel rich. So when the stock market’s exploding, when people’s 401ks are bursting at the seams, that’s when divorce rates go up. So I do not think the pandemic created the divorce explosion.”

Because of the pandemic, many people were uncertain if they were going to have a job or if their income was going to go down.

Helfman said this had a big impact on business valuations during divorce cases. The economic uncertainty made it difficult to grasp how valuable an owner’s business would be, she said.

“There was a lot of uncertainty,” she said. “I think the biggest impact for my cases was valuation from business valuation. So, normally when an expert does a business valuation, they’re looking at maybe five years back of historical earnings and other financial data. When you are in the middle of a pandemic, five years back means nothing because that business may not be operating and may have been shut down.”

On top of the complications the pandemic brought to this process, Zashin also said that it might have been more beneficial for some couples to stay together. Because of the economic situation, staying together can provide somewhat of a safety net.

“I think that necessity keeps people together, and unless they’re just completely reckless and they throw caution to the wind, there are still economic reasons why people get together and why they bundle expenses,” Zashin said. “If two people live together, they share one living room and they share one kitchen, it’s economically better to partner. And that’s also true in terms of stress. There have been studies that prove the greatest destroyer of wealth in the United States is divorce.

“If you’re very young and maybe you have no children, or young children, it may be cheaper to get out. If only one party is carrying the financial load and the other party isn’t gainfully employed, it may make sense to get divorced. If the kids are out of college and the economic partnership has worked for many, many years, maybe it doesn’t make sense to get divorced.”

Helfman said depending on where you lived, the courts were basically closed. This caused divorce cases to move through the entire system very slowly.

“You couldn’t get a trial,” Helfman said. “Eventually, courts became open through Zoom, but a lot of people want to be in person. I mean, to this day the Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations Court is still not open to the public. You have to get permission, and there’s only one courtroom per day that they allow to be used. Divorce cases aren’t moving through the system very quickly.”

This article originally appeared in the Cleveland Jewish News.

2023-11-10T13:38:07-05:00June 16th, 2021|COVID-19, Divorce, Pandemic|

What’s new normal for courts during pandemic?

By Andrew Zashin*

On March 27, the Supreme Court of Ohio and Gov. Mike DeWine issued orders tolling all pending civil, criminal and administrative matters across the state in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In other words, while cases are traditionally subjected to court-mandated timelines to ensure efficiency, the Supreme Court and governor agreed to hit the pause button on pending litigation and allow courts to halt their activity.

But, on July 30, the tolling orders expired without extension. Unsurprisingly, the question clients are posing to their attorneys at the moment across the state is some variation of “what now?”

The first thing clients and potential litigants should know is that while courtroom procedures vary from county to county and from court to court, physical appearances in court are all but nonexistent at this time. Locally, all Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court divisions are conducting pretrials, attorney conferences and even bench trials via Zoom or teleconference.

Further, clerk of court offices in the area have almost universally begun encouraging pleadings, motions and other court filings be submitted via electronic transmission. Filing fees, court deposits and even the fines and costs that may result from your Zoom trial that traditionally would have been paid at a cashier’s window are now being invoiced via email.

While courts have implemented procedures to continue operating throughout the pandemic, the one remaining issue that has not been resolved to date is how to safely conduct a jury trial. Originally, jury trials were set to resume in the general division of Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas on Aug. 10, but judges in Cuyahoga County voted to suspend commencement of jury trials until late September. It seems that the difficulty of compiling a jury of your peers in a courtroom while adhering to social distancing guidelines still presents a problem for most courts.

But what should you expect if you are required to cross a courthouse threshold? First, a security officer or sheriff’s deputy will likely begin by verifying that you are on the approved entrance list. Many courts have implemented a procedure where you may be required to remain in your vehicles until your hearing is called to session. Assuming you are admitted, be prepared to have your temperature taken at the door and to be required to wear a mask at all times. Once you enter a courtroom, you are likely to find designated seats where patrons are permitted to sit while maintaining the appropriate distancing. Further, many courts have used the time in which they were closed to the public to retrofit courtrooms and clerk offices with Plexiglas limiting person-to-person contact where possible.

It is important to understand that procedures and protocols at this time are specific to individual courts and are being continuously updated. Please contact your court directly or visit its website for the most up-to-date regulations prior to your court date. Court may be back in session, but the new normal seems to be changing daily.

This article originally appeared as a column for the Cleveland Jewish News.

2023-11-10T13:38:08-05:00August 24th, 2020|COVID-19, Pandemic|

What you need to know about property rental, ownership in COVID-19 era

By Andrew Zashin*

At this point, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act is old news. Passed on March 27, 2020, the legislation was intended to provide some measure of relief to Americans as the COVID-19 pandemic began to take hold in the United States. Of course, there are divergent opinions on how well it met this goal, but it is important to note that even as most major media outlets are reporting surging infection numbers many of its provisions are expiring imminently.

Among those are the protections set out for homeowners in Section 4022. Owners of dwellings for one to four families have the right to seek loan forbearance for up to 180 days, with a possible extension of an additional 180 days, upon a showing that he or she is “experiencing a hardship due, directly or indirectly, to the COVID-19 emergency.” During the forbearance period, no additional fees, penalties or interest can be assessed.

If the mortgage is current at the time forbearance is granted, the loan would be reported to all credit reporting agencies as current. However, a delinquent account would be reported as such, despite forbearance. Obviously, forbearance is quite different than forgiveness, and the loan must still be repaid. However, the Federal Housing Administration,the Department of Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have repayment options to ease the burden of managing the missed payments, so that owners will not be stuck with large lump sums due at the end of the forbearance period.

Section 4023 offers protection to owners of multifamily dwelling owners with five or more dwelling units). Owners with federally-backed loans who are experiencing pandemic related financial hardship can request loan forbearance for between 30 days and 90 days. However, the right to request forbearance under this section expires at the end of the pandemic or Dec. 31, 2020, whichever occurs first, so timing under this provision is particularly important.

Section 4024 of the CARES Act addresses residential tenants. Specifically, it provides for a moratorium on eviction filings if the property is subject to a federally-backed mortgage, or if the property is part of certain federal housing programs. This provision was originally set to expire 120 days after March 27. Evictions for reasons other than nonpayment, such as violations of other lease provisions, are still permitted. Some states have extended further protections, but in Ohio it has been left to the separate localities to determine if and how to handle evictions.

No doubt we are living in strange and unusual times. Renters are concerned with making next month’s rent. Property owners are concerned about making that next month’s mortgage payment. Meanwhile, landlords are very concerned about their own rental collections and subsequent ability to pay their own bills. Some federal agencies have indicated an extension of some programs, but it’s not clear if and for how long these protections will ultimately continue, or if any protections will be extended here in Ohio for tenants and property owners who don’t qualify. If you find that you need help getting tenants out or paying your bills, be sure to contact your attorney and/or lender.

This article originally appeared as a column for the Cleveland Jewish News.

2023-11-10T13:38:09-05:00June 26th, 2020|CARES Act, COVID-19, Pandemic|

A Discourse on Dialectics: Balancing Acceptance and Change During COVID-19

By guest author, Natalie Grandy, Ph.D., clinical and forensic psychologist, of Premier Behavioral Health Services

I was recently asked to talk about how to cope emotionally with the turmoil that COVID-19 has created for so many people. Like a “good psychologist,” I explained the science behind the benefits of getting eight hours of sleep, balanced meals, and regular exercise on mood. I spoke of the need to engage the mind in meaningful distractions—hobbies, books, and visits with loved ones (albeit, remotely). I encouraged spending time outdoors, citing some research that I had recently read with excitement about the psychological benefits of being mindful of the sights and sounds of nature.

To my dismay, I found that the more I spoke about these strategies, the greater the resentment I felt oozing from my questioner. “But I’m scared,” she said. “I don’t know if I’ll have a job to go back to and my parents are life-long smokers; what if they get this?” She went on to describe her fear for the health and safety of her loved ones, her frustration with her spouse and kids from whom there was no escape, job insecurity, anger at the lack of preparedness for a pandemic of this scale, and feelings of helplessness. What she was saying to me was, in essence, “I’m telling you that I’m scared and angry and you’re telling me to brush it off and go for a walk.” She wanted her feelings accepted and validated and what I gave her were ways to change her feelings. I blundered right into the middle of a battle ground where two forces, well known to those who work in behavioral health, were coming to blows.

For a long time, psychologists struggled with this tension between the human need for acceptance and the logistical need for changes in behavior, thoughts, and feelings in order for growth to occur in our patients. The humanists said (and this is a vast simplification), “if you validate and accept patients just as they are, they will grow into the truest and best versions of themselves.” Meanwhile, the behaviorists saw problems with motivation and bad habits and sought to change the ineffective patterns of behavior—never mind the “why” or the feelings behind the behavior.

Enter Marsha Linehan, a psychologist who developed what is now one of the most widely researched and efficacious therapy modalities for treating a host of mental illnesses, including mood, anxiety, and personality disorders: Dialectical Behavior Therapy (or DBT). DBT is a skilled-based approach of helping patients identify and manage their emotions effectively. Although the term “DBT” has broken into popular discourse, nearly at the ranks of its popular predecessor, CBT (or cognitive-behavioral therapy), I am often struck by the number of people—even those who have benefited from the therapy—who are unfamiliar with what “dialectics” really means.

Dialectics, in a nutshell, is the idea that we can hold seemingly opposed truths together at the exact same time. Linehan has explained dialectics by posing this seemingly straight-forward question:

What do you get if you combine black and white?

You would be right if you felt that the answer, “gray,” was too simple. As Linehan explained, from a dialectical approach, when you combine black and white, you get plaid. Rather than black and white coming together to form some third, discrete category of hue (i.e., gray), the black and the white remain unchanged while they come together into the same space.

The idea of holding opposing truths together is uncomfortable for human beings. We have evolved to view ambiguity as inherently threatening. In particular, those of us who might tend to be more highly anxious in general like for things to be one way or another. Therefore, we like to make statements such as:

“I’m not a morning person”

“I hate my job”

“I can’t get along with my mother”

“I can’t stand my husband right now.”

While these kinds of categorical statements aren’t “pleasant” per se, they create a sense of certainty about the world—a road map of what we can expect from ourselves and others. To be fair, most of the time viewing the world in these overly simplistic terms is expedient and not a major hindrance to our overall well-being. But it is vital to recognize that they do not reflect the full, dynamic nature of reality. Consider the following dialectical modifications to the statements above:

“I tend to be more alert in the evenings and I am able to get up and get moving in the mornings when I need to.”

“I hate my job and I am grateful to have a job.”

“I don’t agree with my mother on most things and I understand why she feels the way she does.”

“I love my husband and I can’t stand him right now.”

Using dialectics is less of a skill, per se, and more of a learned way of thinking, which admittedly takes some effort at first. But learning to be dialectical can provide a sense of freedom as it can help us dislodge ourselves from false dichotomies. I can both be furious with you and want you to comfort me. I can accept that I have a lot of shortcomings and work to improve those aspects of myself. I can be irritated that my spouse is never on time while also accepting that this is a long-standing part of his personality that probably won’t change. I can be angry at my mother and recognize that she did not intend to harm me. We all hold within us enough room for multiple truths and emotions to co-exist.

I have been thinking about dialectics quite a bit in recent weeks. In working (remotely) with my patients and listening to their reactions to the very real struggles of daily life in the wake of COVID-19, I find that at least once a day I am having discussions about how adopting a more dialectical attitude can be useful in managing relationships and building compassion for themselves and those around them. The following are some general examples of what I mean here.

You can both be thankful to have a job, recognizing that many people have lost theirs, and hate having to work from home.

You can be grateful that your family is safe and be frustrated by them.

You can hate that this pandemic is happening and recognize that some positive changes may arise from it.

You can be angry because you see someone not wearing a mask and accept that they may have a valid reason for it.

You can be frustrated that your favorite bars and restaurants are closed and be in support of social distancing measures.

You can grieve that you had to reschedule your wedding and also find meaningful ways to commemorate the would-be date.

You can hate that this pandemic is happening—you can be angry and scared and have all of the other unpleasant and completely valid emotions that go along with this kind of uncertainty—and you can take control of those things over which you have some power. I urge all of you taking the time to read this: Allow yourself to be scared and get daily exercise. Recognize your anger and start reading a new book. Grieve the experiences you are losing out on right now and have a game night with whoever you have in your household. You have enough room within you for acceptance and for change.

*If you would like help in managing your emotional well-being, please contact Premier Behavioral Health Services at 440-266-0770 for a same-week remote appointment.

2023-11-10T13:38:09-05:00May 8th, 2020|Coping Emotionally, COVID-19, Dialectics, Pandemic|

Managing Your Financial Wellness During a Pandemic

By guest authors, Michelle L. Taylor and David J. Rubis from Fairport Wealth*

Many of our clients have inquired about their finances during these uncertain times. To help, we asked Michelle L. Taylor, CRPC® and David J. Rubis, AIF® of Fairport Wealth to discuss some tips and strategies on managing your financial wellness during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We have entered a new era where a National Pandemic has our portfolios decreasing, we’re confined to our homes, and we are all experiencing increased stresses due to lost wages or work. The American Psychological Association (APA) reports that, in normal circumstances, over 3/5 of Americans cited “money” as their biggest cause of stress – accounting for 70-95% of doctors’ visits. That only starts to increase as you add in the unchartered territory of a worldwide pandemic. So, how can you manage your health and your finances in a time where both bring a lot of uncertainty? Control what you can control. It all starts with your P.L.A.N to protect your family.

P – Prepare for the unexpected.

Review your current financial situation and make sure you have a plan, that you’re actively executing on that plan, and that you are setting realistic expectations. Make sure you are up to date on your portfolio, income, expenses, life insurance, beneficiaries, estate plan, health care, business, education expenses, etc. If you feel you do not have a clear picture of what that looks like, or you feel you have not taken the necessary steps to put protections in place, ask your advisor. They can work with you to make sure you can still achieve all of your financial goals for your family.

L – Leverage this opportunity to talk to your family about finances.

According to the APA, 31% of Americans report that money is a major source of conflict in their relationships. Make sure you have an open dialog with your parents, spouse, ex-spouse, and children. Start setting clear financial expectations. If you have not traditionally been involved in the financial part of the relationship, now is the time to learn. You don’t want to be caught off guard if something happens to the person who traditionally takes care of the financials. Educating your family about your financial plan is one of the best gifts you can give them. It will help them feel empowered, enabling them to make well informed decisions about the finances should the situation arise.

A – Asset Allocation

As it specifically relates to your portfolio, you want to revisit and make sure you are appropriately invested in a diverse portfolio, one consisting of cash or short-term instruments, bonds, & stocks. How quickly we forget when the market is strong, we get a false sense of security. Everyone is unique in what they will need to accomplish their goals. So, make sure you find an advisor that can help review, and if needed, make the necessary changes before it is too late. Preparing for the unexpected is directly tied in with your asset allocation. You want to make sure you have enough savings to get you through 3-6 months should you lose your income. This money should not be tied to the market.

N – Needs Analysis

In times like this we need to get back to the basics and really discuss what do you need right now to keep you and your family safe. It is a good time to cut back expenses and really decide what is necessary for your day to day living. Easy places to start looking are those direct payments for services that automatically hit your credit card or your bank account. For example, now may be a good time to stop any of your club memberships (especially if they are closed), or unnecessary movie rentals. Be thoughtful of your grocery bills and family menus. What services could you eliminate for a period of time and do yourself to save on monthly expenses. Once you go through this exercise, you will realize quickly, most of your expenses fall in the “Want” category not the “Need” category.

*If you’d like to discuss the wealth and wellness of your family in these uncertain times, contact Michelle at 216-431-3898 / michelle.taylor@fairportwealth.com or David at 216-431-2587 / david.rubis@fairportwealth.com. www.fairportwealth.com

Securities offered through HighTower Securities, LLC member FINRA/SIPC. HighTower Advisors, LLC is a SEC registered investment advisor. HighTower Advisors do not provide tax or legal advice. This material was not intended or written to be used or presented to any entity as tax advice or tax information. Tax laws vary based on the client’s individual circumstances and can change at any time without notice. Clients are urged to consult their tax or legal advisor before establishing a retirement plan.

2023-11-10T13:38:09-05:00March 30th, 2020|Financial Wellness, Pandemic|

How does the Ohio Director’s Stay at Home Order on March 22, 2020 impact custody agreements and parenting time?

Section 14(e) of the Order states that “[t]ravel required by law enforcement or court order, including to transport children pursuant to a custody agreement” is Essential Travel and permitted during this time. The custody agreement need not specifically address times of National Emergency or Global Pandemic to fall within this provision. 

The Domestic Relations attorneys at Zashin & Rich believe that parents should continue to follow their parenting time schedules during this Stay at Home Order and should further exercise additional patience and common-sense with one another.  Remember, your children are experiencing an unprecedented moment in time—it is on you as parents to help ensure they are as insulated from the situation as possible.

2023-11-10T13:38:09-05:00March 23rd, 2020|Child Custody, Pandemic, Parenting Time|
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