Help! I Need Somebody. Help, Not Just Anybody.

The Legal Action Program is here to help


 Cori Lamont  |    November 11, 2019
Help! I Need Somebody

I‚Äôm pretty sure The Beatles were not singing about needing help with their real estate lawsuits. But I think the sentiment still applies because not ‚Äújust anybody‚ÄĚ can help when there is litigation surrounding property rights, transactional issues or commission disputes.

As cliché as it might sound, if you or someone you know is being sued regarding real estate issues, then the WRA’s Legal Action Program should be on your short list of first places to contact after you reach out to private legal counsel. Additionally, if there is a local ordinance you believe violates state law or the Constitution, the Legal Action Program may be able to help there as well. 

The Legal Action Program is one of the WRA’s many advocacy efforts for which the WRA is uniquely positioned. The WRA is knowledgeable in real estate matters from land use to brokerage service, which does make the WRA distinctly qualified to help in real estate matters impacting property rights, transactional issues and real estate practice.

Not familiar with the Legal Action Program? This article is intended to help. While we have often highlighted the cases or issues the Legal Action Program has been involved in, we don’t often blatantly encourage you to use the Legal Action Program. Unless you, your legal counsel or a member of the public reaches out to us, we are challenged with learning about litigation occurring within Wisconsin. 

So let us help. 

What is the Legal Action Program? 

In 1978, the Legal Action Program was established by the WRA to support REALTORS¬ģ and landowners involved in legal matters that have significance for the WRA membership and the real estate industry.

What kind of cases might the Legal Action Program become involved in?

Cases may include, but are not limited to, actions involving real estate law and practice, land use or environmental issues, private property rights, or development rights. The cases must involve issues of significance to Wisconsin REALTORS¬ģ or the real estate industry?

What does involvement by the Legal Action Program include?

The WRA, acting through the Legal Action Program, typically participates in a case by filing and arguing as amicus curiae (friend of the court). Additionally, the WRA may participate as a member of a coalition of similarly interested parties; as a party to the lawsuit; by identifying expert witnesses; or by providing legal, environmental, land use or other research.

The Legal Action Program has traditionally participated primarily in cases that have already been tried in the circuit court and are on appeal. Therefore, the case is before a district in the Wisconsin Court of Appeals. However, participation in a coalition bringing a suit at the trial court or administrative hearing level has frequently been a vehicle for input on important legal issues at earlier stages of the litigation process.

Does the Legal Action Fund pay for legal fees? 

Generally, the Legal Action Fund will not pay legal fees. Although it would be great if the Legal Action Fund could pay the attorneys fees and legal costs for every REALTOR¬ģ who was caught up in litigation over real estate practice or land use issues, as a practical matter this is not possible. In only the most extraordinary cases involving issues of major importance to the WRA and the real estate industry, and where the WRA position cannot be asserted in any other way, will the WRA Legal Action Committee consider contributing to the litigation expenses of another party. This has happened only once in the 24-year history of the program.¬†

How does someone apply for assistance from the Legal Action Program?

  1. Complete the Legal Action Program application at www.wra.org/LegalAction/Application. Make sure the application clearly states what type of assistance is desired and any applicable dates and deadlines.
  2. Include a copy of all relevant court decisions, briefs, exhibits and correspondence with the application.
  3. Include a statement explaining how the case meets the case evaluation criteria.

Do I have to contact you or can my attorney? What about the property owner?

The best practice would be to work with your attorney who is helping you in the case also assist you in completing the Legal Action Program application form. If property owners have a case, then they too should work with their attorney helping them on the case to complete the application.

What cases has the WRA’s Legal Action Program been involved in?

There are many. See www.wra.org/LegalAction/Cases for more information about some cases that are less recent.

In more recent years, the WRA’s Legal Action Program has been involved in cases dealing with commission, property tax assessments/use value, restrictive covenants/short-term rentals, tax increment financing, regulatory takings/substandard lots, vested rights, conditional use permits, challenging property tax assessments and license renewal. 

For details about these cases, see Debbi Conrad‚Äôs Wisconsin Real Estate Magazine article, ‚ÄúYour Legal Action Program at Work!‚ÄĚ at www.wra.org/WREM/Jan18/LegalAction.¬†

Cori Lamont is Senior Director of Legal and Public Affairs for the WRA. 

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