New Fundraising Method? Check Collection Box for Rare Coins!

coinsCollecting a few pennies at a time doesn’t sound like the most effective way to raise money for charity.

But if you leave that coin donation box out long enough, the money will add up — and better yet, you might encounter some luck of the sort reportedly experienced by the Royal Berkshire Hospital recently.

A seemingly humble 2p piece in its coin donation box turned out to be a rarity (printed in silver rather than bronze, oops). A sharp-eyed volunteer noticed the oddity, and called an auction house. The coin ultimately sold for £802.03, a whopping 40,101 times its face value.

So there you have it; your fundraising lesson for the day. But actually, there are a few additional lessons to be learned from this story.

One is the value of volunteers, who bring fresh energy and knowledge into an organization. (Would a tired staffer emptying the box have noticed that a single coin in the pile was the wrong color?) See Nolo’s articles on “Volunteers and Your Nonprofit” for guidance on utilizing this resource.

Another is the value of publicity. I’ll bet the media outlets that reported on this weren’t tracking the auction house, but got word from the charity itself. And now you, I, and everyone reading the press coverage have heard of the Royal Berkshire Hospital. So if something similarly fun or interesting happens at your nonprofit, don’t be shy — call the press!

Selling While Still Living in Home? Cleanup Becomes a Family Affair

coffee cupAsk any real estate agent: Moving out of a house before trying to sell it is the optimal arrangement, both for aesthetic reasons (you can clean and even “stage” it) and for your own convenience during open houses and showings.

But that arrangement isn’t always possible. Particularly if you need to get the money out of your current house before moving on to a new one, you may need to juggle living in your home with presenting it as a commodity for sale.

That creates a challenge: How do you make your house look its best while you’re still having to cook, get ready for work every day, let the kids and pets play inside and outside, and so on?

It can be done. Dare we say, it should be done, because home buyers will be more interested, and therefore potentially pay more, for a house that looks like their dream future rather than like the aftermath of the tornado of everyday life. It’s no coincidence that one of the first things a home stager will recommend is to declutter. No matter what furniture, art, and elegant touches your home contains (or will contain, when the stager is done with it), all of that becomes irrelevant if buried under mounds of toys and dirty laundry.

So, let’s say you’ve cleaned your house, packed up the extras in prep for selling/moving, and perhaps even hired a stager to make it look fabulous. How do you maintain it day to day?

As real estate agent Leslie Sargent Eskildsen reminds us in her blog titled, “If you’re selling your home, you need to hide this ‘evidence’,” “you need to have a plan for handling normal, everyday occurrences.” And as she further explains, that often requires getting the whole family on board, and even assigning tasks.

With regard to pets, for instance, she says, “Who’s on back yard poop pick up? Who’s on kitty litter box rotation? Who’s cleaning the fish tank?”. By deciding on and handling such issues in advance, you’ll avoid last-minute panics when a real estate calls and says, “Can I bring my clients by in five minutes?”

There are, after all, many tasks that simply can’t be done with a mere few minutes’ warning. In fact, Leslie delivers some advice that might be hard for some to take: No garlic cooking in the kitchen until the house is sold. None. (But you can bake all the chocolate chip cookies you want, she says. I’ll be apple pie would pass muster, too.)

For more information on getting your home ready to attract buyers, see Selling Your House: Nolo’s Essential Guide.

NO EARLY DISTRIBUTION PENALTY WAIVER DESPITE “FINANCIAL HARDSHIP”

In the recent Kott decision (TC Summary Opinion 2015-42), the Tax Court took a hard line in the case of a 401(k) distribution to a taxpayer under age 59-1/2 even though he used the money to catch up on his delinquent mortgage payments in an effort to avoid foreclosure.

The Code does provide for certain exceptions to the application of the penalty, but Courts have held that those exemptions do not include a general “financial hardship” situation, even though such a situation can allow the plan to actually make the distribution itself.

Department of Labor Proposes New Overtime Rules

Overtime2

Earlier this month, the Department of Labor announced its plans to establish a new rule that would allow millions of additional workers to earn overtime. Following an executive order by President Obama, who has advocated for increasing the wages of middle-class workers, the Department of Labor has proposed a rule that would increase the minimum salary necessary for a worker to qualify as exempt from the overtime rules.

Under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, all employees must receive overtime when they work more than 40 hours in a week, unless they are exempt from the overtime rules. The most common exemptions are the so-called “white-collar” exemptions for certain professional, managerial, and administrative workers. To qualify as exempt under these categories, a worker must make a minimum weekly salary. Currently, the minimum is $455 per week, which is the equivalent of $23,660 per year.

The new rules would increase the minimum weekly salary to $970 per week, which is roughly $50,440 per year. This would make a large number of lower-paid managers, professionals, and administrative employees eligible for overtime pay. For example, a retail store manager who makes $30,000 and works 50 hours a week will now receive overtime pay for those ten extra hours.

Until now, increases to the minimum salary have been infrequent, the last time being in 2004. The new rules would automatically adjust the minimum salary for inflation in the future. This would prevent the exemption requirements from becoming outdated and ensure that receiving overtime is the rule, rather than the exception, for most workers.

The Department of Labor will be accepting comments on the proposed regulations until September 4, 2015. Absent any challenges from Congress, the new rules could go into effect as early as next year.

For more information on the professional, administrative, and executive exemptions, including additional requirements that must be met, see Understanding the “White-Collar” Exemptions.

Police Officers Can’t Search Hotel Records on Demand, but What Does That Mean?

On June 22, 2015, in Los Angeles v. Patel, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that cops can’t rummage through hotel records whenever they want. (576 U.S. ___ (2015).) The opinion, framed in terms of the hotel’s privacy interest rather than that of its guests, nixed part of a Los Angeles Municipal Code section.

The code section in question mandated that hotel and motel operators (1) maintain certain records about their guests and (2) allow police officers to inspect those records on demand. The second part is unconstitutional, Justice Sotomayor wrote, because it forces hotels to disclose records at law enforcement’s whim without any opportunity to object.

The Law

Los Angeles Municipal Code section 41.49 requires hotel operators to document a variety of information about their guests, like:

  • names and addresses
  • the number of people in each guest’s party
  • detailed vehicle descriptions for cars parked on premises
  • arrival and scheduled departure dates, and
  • room numbers.

Hotels have to store this kind of data for 90 days.

The Supreme Court was okay with these requirements. The problem, according to Sotomayor and the four Justices who signed onto her opinion, was a provision that forced hotels to open records to police officers without justification. Failure to comply was a misdemeanor carrying up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Independent Review

Courts have created fundamental exceptions to the Fourth Amendment requirement that police officers get warrants before conducting searches. Nevertheless, in general, a search conducted without a judge’s prior approval qualifies as unreasonable. The Patel Court stressed that this principle applies both to homes and most businesses.

One of the exceptions to what courts call “the warrant requirement” has to do with administrative searches. In broad terms, these are searches that serve some purpose other than typical crime control. Think of, on the one hand, a restaurant inspection to ensure health code compliance and, on the other, a drug house raid to gather evidence for criminal prosecution.

The Patel Court allowed for the fact that searches of hotel records serve a purpose other than criminal investigation—that they ensure that lodging providers keep records the way they’re supposed to. (People who are up to no good, the theory goes, are more likely to frequent hotels that don’t keep guest records.)

But even if hotel record inspections qualify as administrative searches, Sotomayor said, a hotel operator is owed an opportunity to have a “neutral decisionmaker” evaluate a search demand before the search takes place—or the operator is arrested for refusing.

Not Such a Big Deal

Sotomayor explained that inquisitive police officers could simply issue what’s called an administrative subpoena: a simple form demanding record inspection. In most instances, she surmised, the hotel operator would cooperate. But a hotel that objected to the search would be able to challenge the subpoena (move to “quash” it). Then that “neutral decisionmaker”—for instance, an administrative law judge—would decide whether the search should go through.

And fear not tampering, Sotomayor assured: An officer who reasonably suspects that a hotel will alter the sought-after records while a judge evaluates the propriety of the proposed search can guard them until the ruling comes down.

Not only that, but officers remain free to seek warrants authorizing records searches before approaching hotel owners. And they can of course search records without prior approval when there’s some kind of emergency—for example, where they have reason to believe a hotel guest has taken a hostage.

Sotomayor and company’s point was essentially this: Providing hotels with an opportunity for independent review before they have to hand over their records won’t thwart criminal investigation and will prevent overly broad, harassing intrusions. Sotomayor remarked that the now defunct code provision would have allowed a hotel to be “searched 10 times a day, every day, for three months, without any violation being found . . . .”

But Kind of a Big Deal

At first blush, the Patel decision might appear to affect only the hospitality industry. And all it does is provide hotels the option of challenging record-inspection demands; one has to wonder how often they’ll actually exercise it.

But as Professor Rory Little observes, the ruling is broad enough to require “an  ‘opportunity for precompliance review’ for virtually all governmental inspection programs.”

“This means that business owners who are confronted with an administrative subpoena to inspect their premises must have some opportunity to ‘question the reasonableness of the subpoena before suffering any penalties for refusing to comply.’”

So Patel doesn’t necessarily expand the privacy interests of hotel patrons. But it does bolster protections for businesses subject to government inspection.