Genie Tyburski is the Research Librarian for Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and the editor of The Virtual Chase:TM A Research Site for Legal Professionals.
This column kicks off a series of articles that examines strategies and resources for finding information relevant to specific legal practices. We welcome readers' suggestions for future topics.
In the midst of an Internet research presentation to Pennsylvania real estate attorneys, a lawyer asked, "If I dont know about a source for the information I seek, how do I find out about it?" Good question.
Of course, consulting a known source provides the most direct route to an answer. But when researchers do not know about potentially useful Web sites, I advise them to consider how they would research the question in the physical world, and then transfer the technique to cyberspace.
For example, let's say you represent a church that wants to offer its new pastor rent-free housing to supplement his annual salary. The church asks if it is exempt from the lead-based paint disclosure rule because it doesn't sell or lease the property. Let's say, too, that at the time of the research no statute, regulation, reported case, or treatise answers the question. Now what?
In the physical world, I would call the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and ask to speak to one of its lawyers. Translating this strategy to cyberspace, I would try to locate a Web site for HUD.
Resources for Locating Government Agencies
What resources exist for discovering government Web sites? There are several, but in the interest of time and space, I'll introduce two that assist researchers in finding official Web sites for all levels of government -- federal, state, and local.
For state and local governments, I prefer the Piper Resources guide, State and Local Government on the Net. Updated frequently, this site offers links mostly to official government pages. When the resource refers researchers to unofficial sites, it notes that status. Moreover, the Piper guide offers a useful search feature. Researchers looking for state housing agency Web sites, for example, can use the search box to find them.
For federal agencies, I like Louisiana State University Libraries' U.S. Federal Government Agencies Directory. It provides a hyperlinked outline of federal government and quasi-government sites on the Web. I find it particularly useful because the arrangement informs me about the agency's organization. For example, using my browser's find feature, I locate HUD on the LSU Libraries page. I then find a direct link to the Office of Lead Hazard Control, which I note is part of the HUD Office of the Secretary. If I had connected directly to HUD without using this directory, and followed it's site map to locate the lead hazard office, I would have clicked through six pages before connecting!
Department of Housing and Urban Development
Since we have arrived at the Office of Lead Hazard Control, let's look for information to assist us with the church's question. The home page offers a link for a Reference Library. This implies the online availability of primary documents.
Clicking through to the library, we discover statutes, regulations, rule proposals, guidance documents, and more. Beneath the sub-heading, Section 1018: Lead Disclosure Upon Transfer of Residential Property, we find a guidance document that answers the question. The document, entitled "Interpretive Guidance for the Real Estate Community on the Requirements for Disclosure of Information Concerning Lead-Based Paint in Housing, Part II," offers this question and answer, which pertains to our situation:
Is housing that is provided in lieu of monetary compensation included in the rule?
Yes. Housing that is provided in lieu of monetary compensation to employees, pastors, etc. is not exempt.
Although the availability of similar documents for each HUD office and division varies, real estate lawyers will find much of value. For example, the HUD Library offers information about housing legislation and programs, statistics, limited denials of participation, debarments, single family and multifamily housing, homelessness, public, assisted and Native American housing, and cities and communities. It provides select ALJ decisions, policy statements, news, and more.
Many links in the HUD Library refer researchers to HUDClips. HUDClips, or HUD's Client Information and Policy System, offers many valuable resources including HUD handbooks and notices, mortgagee, preservation, and Title I letters, relevant titles of the United States Code and Code of Federal Regulations, housing waivers, Office of the General Counsel preservation documents, housing-related regulations, rule proposals, and notices published in the Federal Register, Inspector General documents, forms, and more.
Knowing that our imaginary client above will have to disclose information about lead-based paint in the new pastor's home, we enter the Forms section to retrieve the appropriate one.
Property Assessments Online
Real estate lawyers seeking Web-based property assessment data should bookmark Property Assessments Online. Serving as a research guide, this University of Virginia site offers links to assessment offices that provide search access to current property data.
KnowX, a commercial database trademarked by Information America, Inc., an affiliate of West Group, also offers real property records. For most states, researchers may discover property ownership and transfers. Several states offer information about non-purchase deeded transactions like refinances, construction loans, second mortgages, and equity loans. Two states -- California and Nevada -- provide information on distressed property, including notices of default and notices of trustee sale.
KnowX also provides other public record data like bankruptcies, incorporations and limited partnerships, state and county level recording office filings (DBAs, fictitious names, trademarks), professional licenses, sales tax permits, stock ownership, judgments, liens, death records, and more.
ADA Home Page, U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ)
The ADA Home Page of the DOJ offers a wealth of information. It provides settlement agreements, consent decrees, reports, technical assistance manuals, statutes, regulations, proposed rules, FOIA letters, and more.
Americans with Disabilities Act Document Center
The Americans with Disabilities Act Document Center provides another ADA research gem. Part of the Job Accommodation Network, this site houses copies of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, ADA regulations, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and DOJ technical assistance manuals, and EEOC and DOJ technical assistance documents.
It also offers a great collection of links to other ADA or related Web sites.
Cyburbia, Internet Resources for the Built Environment
Formerly, The Planning and Architecture Internet Resource Center (PAIRC), Cyburbia serves as a directory of planning and architectural resources. Researchers will find extensive listings for most areas covered including, but not limited to, zoning, real property development and finance, demographics, planning for schools, sustainable development, geographic information systems, historic preservation, construction and building technology, landscape regulations and urban design.
The site also sports a cyber café that offers forums on issues like zoning and land use, small town and rural planning, CAD and rendering, alternative architecture, and more.
The National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts offers NAREIT Online, a site rich with information about REITs. It provides a database that includes company name, city, state, Web site, stock exchange, ticker symbol, type, market cap, and yield. Researchers may obtain performance statistics, historical indexes, 1099 data, articles, legislative information, and more.
The ten resources mentioned in this article, as well as those listed in the "Core Library," provide real estate lawyers with a library of property law related information. Kept orderly -- as in a single bookmark to this article <g> -- this collection should provide an adequate supplement to the real estate lawyer's traditional research tools.