Virgin Islands Law Blog

Virgin Islands Law Blog

U.S. Virgin Islands law & politics

The Hotelkeeper Law of the U.S. Virgin Islands

Posted in Corporate & Financial Services

Hotel picA key aspect of being a proactive business owner is understanding how the law impacts your industry. Fortunately, many industries have areas of the law devoted specifically to their business practices. The hospitality industry is one such industry, as hotelkeepers in the U.S. Virgin Islands are governed under Title 27, Chapter 13, Sections 401-408 of the Virgin Islands Code.

The following is a closer breakdown of the different provisions of the hotelkeeper law:

Key definitions: To help clarify terms as they are used in the relevant chapter, the words “hotel,” “hotelkeeper” and “guest” are defined. A hotel is a place where sleeping accommodations are provided, while a hotelkeeper is any person or group involved in the administration of the hotel. A guest, meanwhile, must either be registered or on the premises with the intent to register.

Safes and limited liability: This section of the law declares that a safe must be provided for storing valuables and that a hotelkeeper shall not be liable for losses exceeding $200, regardless of whether the valuables were stored in the safe.

Other personal property and limited liability: Similarly, other personal property, such as apparel, luggage, merchandise for sale and property left in vehicles, is not the responsibility of the hotelkeeper, who may be liable for certain losses of $100 or less.

Guest registration records: Hotelkeepers are to maintain records of guests’ names, addresses, arrival and departure dates and room rates for at least two years.

Unclaimed property liens: When property is brought onto the premises, the hotelkeeper has a lien on that property. In the event that property is left on the premises and unclaimed for six months, a public auction of the property may be held. The law goes into further detail about the use of funds obtained from these auctions.

Refusal of accommodations: A hotelkeeper is not obligated to permit everyone to rent a room or use the facilities at the hotel. Intoxication, disorderly behavior, dangerous illnesses, criminal record, refusal to pay and attempting to bring certain types of property onto the premises may be cause for refusal of accommodations. Denial of accommodations on the basis of race, creed or color is prohibited, however.

Eviction: A hotelkeeper may evict a guest from the hotel if that person has knowingly violated rules, damaged the property or remained on the premises past the length of the reservation. Notice of eviction must be delivered in writing.

Posted rates: Finally, room rates are to be posted in each room of the hotel, and hotelkeepers are prohibited from charging rates higher than those posted.

Although some elements of the hotelkeeper law are relatively straightforward, others can be more complex. If you find yourself on either side of a legal dispute, consult an experienced attorney who understands the USVI hotelkeeper law and how its provisions may apply to your situation.

 

BoltNagi is a widely respected and well-established business law firm serving clients throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Protecting Your Business by Properly Collecting, Preserving Incident Related Evidence

Posted in Litigation

step-98822_640In many ways, it’s a business owner’s worst nightmare—a customer trips and falls on a step in their store, is injured by falling merchandise or slips on a puddle of water in the parking lot. If the injury is serious enough, the customer may try to sue the property owner, alleging that the owner’s negligence contributed to the accident.

Determining liability in these cases can be difficult. Although genuine accidents do happen, so does negligence—on the part of property owners and guests alike. For business owners, the crucial question becomes whether or not they did enough to prevent an accident from occurring, and while it’s easy to imagine a dispute over premises liability turning into a “he said, she said” scenario, there are ways for businesses to protect themselves.

Establish sound policies and procedures

The key step you can take to avoid leaving your business vulnerable to accusations of negligence is establishing and adhering to sound policies and procedures surrounding incident reporting. Ensure managers and supervisors know what to do in the event that an incident occurs, and schedule mandatory training sessions with employees so that they understand what needs to be done, as well as what roles they should play. Having clear policies in place can prevent confusion from taking over and help avoid errors that could compromise the business’s ability to protect itself.

Have staff fill out an incident report

A standard incident report should be part of your company’s document file, and a manager who witnessed the incident or was on duty when it occurred should fill it out. Staff members who were present during an incident or who interacted with the injured customer should provide written statements as soon as possible to ensure it accurately and thoroughly documented.

Given the ubiquity of cell phone cameras these days, getting photographic documentation of the conditions at the site of the incident should also be a priority, and may be included as part of the incident report. If your company does not have an incident report template, consult an experienced attorney to draft one.

 

Secure statements from witnesses

The role other customers and individuals on the premises can play in documenting an incident should not go unrecognized. Ask anyone who may have witnessed the incident to provide written, audio or even video statements. Procure contact information for any witnesses so they can be followed up with later, and keep all of these materials together with the incident report for easy access.

In the event that someone suffers an injury on your property, having proper policies and procedures in place—and following them—is key to ensuring your business is protected, at least as much as possible, should the victim file a lawsuit. Even if you don’t expect an injury victim to sue your business, it’s still prudent to speak with an attorney who’s experienced in defending organizations against premises liability suits.

 

BoltNagi is a well-respected and established corporate law firm serving businesses and organizations throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Managing a Business Tax Audit from the BIR

Posted in Tax & Estate Planning

Frustrated_man_at_a_desk_(cropped)There are few words that strike fear in the minds of U.S. Virgin Islands business owners more than these two: “tax audit.”

Thus, it’s a priority for most entrepreneurs and business owners to avoid, at all costs, an audit from the U.S. Virgin Islands Bureau of Internal Revenue. Although the odds of being audited by the BIR are quite low, it’s still not something any business owner wants to deal with—you have better things to do with your time and energy, to be sure.

Fortunately, there are some precautionary steps you can take to decrease the likelihood of an audit, as well as some actions you might take if you are facing a BIR audit.

Avoid red flags

There is a certain stigma attached to a BIR audit that is probably more than a little unfair. An audit doesn’t necessarily imply intentional wrongdoing. In fact, most audits are triggered by discrepancies between what two or more entities report to the agency. The BIR looks for those issues, and the easiest way to find your business being audited is by failing to submit accurate records in the first place. Double and triple check your numbers so that you can catch any mistakes before the BIR does.

Establish solid recordkeeping practices

 Although being audited doesn’t prevent you from gathering up the necessary records after the fact, why put your business in that position at all? A system of thorough, accurate and organized recordkeeping may be the best thing your business can do to both ensure accuracy in your tax returns and support your calculations in the event of an audit. Consult a skilled tax professional about how long you should keep your business’s financial records.

 Don’t panic

 No one gets excited to see a piece of mail from the BIR. But although a letter from the Bureau is likely not bearing great news, more often than not, it’s not something to dread. Often, you’ll receive a letter in the event of the BIR discovering an error in your tax return and requesting additional paperwork or a payment.

If BIR officials want to meet with you, it might be a different story—but even if that’s the case, remain calm and recognize that an audit does not automatically spell disaster for your business.

 Don’t hesitate to get help

 When the BIR has essentially pointed out a small error in your calculations or some other minor mishap with your tax return—which is much more common than a full-on audit as most people picture them—you should be able to handle the situation with ease, as it’s rarely more than a matter of supplying some corrected paperwork or sending a payment.

However, if the BIR has bigger concerns about your return, or if the situation seems more complex, you should consider seeking the input of an experienced business law attorney. In addition to providing technical expertise and guidance, a lawyer will provide the peace of mind you need as you deal with a BIR audit.

 

BoltNagi is an established and widely respected business law firm serving clients throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands.

When Is It Appropriate to Consider a Joint Venture?

Posted in Corporate & Financial Services

Handshake_duisenberg_school_of_financeIf you’re a business owner, you may come across an opportunity to work in partnership with another party for the benefit of both of your organizations. The law allows for businesses to legally work together and share assets with each other for a period of time, providing both parties agree. If two or more businesses or entities believe it is in their best interests to work together in this way, a joint venture may be an appropriate course of action.

A joint venture is a legal partnership between two or more parties allowing for cooperation and the sharing of profits, losses and other forms of capital. These types of partnerships can have numerous benefits and are particularly popular for international firms. Benefits may include exposing smaller businesses to new markets or the ability to combine resources and create new efficiencies. Through a joint venture, businesses have the opportunity to work together toward a common purpose for a finite period of time.

Establishing a contract

Although a contract is not technically needed to enter into a joint venture, many businesses decide to work with an attorney to outline the details of these unique partnerships. Having a written agreement in place allows business owners more control over their operations and how the joint venture will work.

Joint venture agreements may contain details related to the terms and duration of the partnership, and may also include percentages of ownership, shares of profits and losses, each partner’s investment, the expected responsibilities of each partner and the extent to which each company will share or transfer assets. Businesses may also wish to preemptively determine how disagreements or conflicts will be settled, and terms needed for the partnership to be terminated.

For international businesses, joint ventures may be helpful in outlining relevant laws, currency conversions, shipping regulations and standards of international business.

Shared responsibilities

If no agreement exists, each party must at least participate in a verbal agreement to share elements of each other’s business, and must contribute goods in the form of money, services or property to the partnership. Should business owners believe that a joint venture would be beneficial, all parties involved must understand that they are required by law to adhere to duties of loyalty and care for their partners. This means each business is responsible for cooperating, exercising reasonable care toward a partner’s business and carrying out business decisions while keeping the best interests of one’s partner in mind.

Through a joint venture, multiple parties with different strengths and assets may work together to effectively accomplish shared goals. Speak with a skilled lawyer to learn more about the opportunities provided through these arrangements.

 BoltNagi is an established and well-respected corporate law firm serving businesses and organizations throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands.

What Happens if Your Nonprofit Makes Money?

Posted in Corporate & Financial Services

via Flickr Creative CommonsThe name explains itself. If an organization claims to be a nonprofit, then it’s intention is to provide services or programming without making a profit.

However, in some circumstances, these organizations do end up producing a profit. Due to the nature of their relationship with the federal and territorial governments, nonprofits do not file taxes like a typical business. When a nonprofit does generate income, taxation is determined based on whether revenue was a result of work related to the organization’s cause.

When a nonprofit generates revenue due to activities related to its purpose, it typically does not have to pay taxes on those funds—as these organizations must generate enough financially to manage operating costs. These expenses may include employee salaries, utilities, office supplies and any other costs directly tied to daily operations.

If a nonprofit generates income through cause-related fundraising and events, funds from those activities are not taxed, even if profits go toward operating expenses. For example, if an animal shelter’s mission is to take care of stray dogs, it may host a fundraising dinner for the community. Profits stemming from the cause-related fundraiser would be exempt from taxation.

Unrelated work

If profits are generated through activities that are not related to organization’s core mission, then those funds may be taxed. A nonprofit can maintain its tax-exempt status if this type of funding remains a small portion of its revenue, although it is possible for organizations to lose this privilege. To maintain its tax exempt status, a nonprofit must keep income from work unrelated to its mission at a minimum, ensure a majority of staff hours are spent on cause-related activities and require that all employees are hired exclusively to conduct mission-related work.

An example of an activity unrelated to the cause of a nonprofit would be if an animal shelter decided to open a grooming service for neighborhood pets. Income generated from the grooming service would be taxed as business revenue, as it is separate and unrelated to the main activities of the shelter.

However, there are a few exceptions to this rule. If an organization is selling items it has received as a donation, items worth less than $5 or a donor mailing list, it will not be taxed on profits from those transactions. Similarly, if a nonprofit produces income from activities carried out entirely by volunteers, or where the beneficiaries included employees, patients or students, the resulting profits would not be taxed.

To learn more about these issues, be sure to work with an experienced corporate law attorney focused on nonprofit organizations based in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

BoltNagi is a widely respected and well-established business law firm serving clients throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands.

US Naturalization Process Involves Several Key Residency Requirements

Posted in Immigration

US PassportFor foreign nationals who wish to become naturalized citizens of the United States, the process is often long and somewhat challenging, and applicants must meet a variety of requirements to qualify. One of the most complex sets of requirements, and one that makes a great deal of difference in the outcome of your application, relates to your residency.

 These residency requirements take into account the duration of time you’ve lived in the U.S., as well as your immigration status — as you must be a lawful permanent resident. In other words, you need to have a green card, which clears you to live and work in the U.S. on a permanent basis, as long as you do not commit a serious crime. You must be a lawful permanent resident to apply for naturalized citizenship.

Meanwhile, the requirements related to the amount of time you have spent in the U.S. are slightly more complicated. For starters, you have to be able to establish that you’ve held continuous residency in the country for at least five years, and that you’ve been physically present in the country for 30 months during this same time period. A big reason these and other requirements are in place is to ensure that only those individuals who are committed to living in the country are granted citizenship.

 Some exceptions possible

 There are some exceptions that can help hasten the process of becoming a naturalized citizen. The chief factor when it comes to these exceptions is marriage. For instance, instead of having to live in the U.S. for five years prior to filing your application, married applicants are only required to have lived in the country for three years. Similarly, the requirement for being physically present in the U.S., if you are married, drops to 18 months within the three-year period prior to applying.

 Additionally, there are exceptions related to employment that will not affect your meeting the residency requirement, provided you apply ahead of time for the exemption. Working for the U.S. government, some international organizations and companies active in research, trade or commerce overseas may result in your residency requirement being waived, although the physical presence requirement remains in effect.

 This is by no means a thorough accounting of every aspect of becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen. If you are interested in going through this process, it’s important to remember that it takes time and can be discouraging at times. To help ensure you’re taking the proper steps and to get answers to any questions or concerns you may have about the process, it’s a good idea to consult an experienced immigration attorney, who can provide the information and support you need.

 BoltNagi is an established and widely respected immigration law firm serving clients throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands.

 

Are You Properly Documenting Your Corporate Decisions?

Posted in Corporate & Financial Services

Corporate BuildingIf you run a corporation, there are rules by which owners must abide in order to remain in compliance with territorial and federal laws. A failure to do so could result in serious issues for the corporation and its owners, who could suddenly find themselves liable for the business’s debts. Thus, it’s important to keep thorough records of all official corporate decisions.

The process of making decisions within a corporation can actually be somewhat complicated, as it depends on the different roles played by different people within the organization. The key actors in a corporation are the shareholders, the board of directors, the officers and the employees. The board makes many of the important decisions, and it tends to have control over large swaths of the organization and its business transactions.

 It’s also important to note that the size of the corporation can make a difference in how the different roles are enacted. In larger corporations, different individuals generally occupy the various roles, but in small closely-held corporations, it’s fairly common for multiple roles to be occupied by the same people, which means there are not as many individuals involved in decision-making processes.

 Although a good rule of thumb is to keep written records of all decisions made by actors at any level of the corporation, documenting formal decisions that the shareholders or board of directors make is crucial. Typically, these records are kept in the form of meeting minutes or consent resolutions, both of which help protect the status of your corporation and provide evidence that the corporation is making decisions in a thoughtful and deliberate manner. Some of the situations in which written documentation should be kept include annual meetings, stock issuances, property purchases, loan or credit approval and tax-related decisions.

In most corporations, a secretary or other officer will be charged with keeping written minutes during meetings, but other members of the corporation may also be responsible for keeping records and holding onto documentation. It is in the best interest of the corporation itself, its owners and others within it, and it’s also just good business policy.  The principals at the corporation shall also ensure that board and shareholders meetings are regularly held, with proper notice given, in accordance with the corporations bylaws.

Keeping records of your corporation’s decisions is only one aspect of your company’s recordkeeping. Others, of course, include keeping accurate and thorough financial records and personnel records. In general, your corporation will benefit from responsible and consistent recordkeeping, and having systems in place that foster a culture of documentation can play a major role in keeping your corporation in compliance.

 BoltNagi is a widely respected and established business and corporate law firm serving clients throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands.

St. Thomas Business Camp Helps Entrepreneurs Learn Valuable Strategies

Posted in Community Affairs

Community LogoA recent weekend training program drew more than 100 current and aspiring small business owners to the Cardiac Center at the Governor Juan F. Luis Hospital on St. Croix, where participants received instruction and advice from a charismatic and renowned lecturer. Small Business Camp Weekend is held regularly on the island and directed by Andrew Morrison, President of Small Business Camp and formerly the head of a direct marketing firm that worked with Fortune 500 companies.

 As a free program, Small Business Camp Weekend is able to attract attendees from various industries and socioeconomic spheres, ranging from executives and entrepreneurs to nonprofit leaders and individuals who simply have ideas for businesses they are interested in pursuing. There are also members of the general public who have an interest in small business formation.

 The focus of the event is on developing the resources and materials integral to starting a new business, with Morrison zeroing in on five steps in particular that he suggests will allow a business to grow in just 16 weeks. These steps include taking inventory, listening to opportunities, developing a business model, building a team and identifying and reaching a specific milestone within that timeframe. Participants are then encouraged to put these steps and ideas into practice as part of a 16-week challenge.

Morrison also focuses on ways in which a new business owner can promote a business, both during the initial stages and in the long term. Through strategic use of social media, the development of promotional videos, a quality website and the distribution of press releases, articles and other written materials, Morrison says a nascent business can create buzz and begin building a strong reputation.

 As president of Small Business Camp, Morrison says he finds “the U.S. Virgin Islands a particularly rich environment for growing small businesses, with its talented, educated and hard-working population.” Through its regular weekend training programs, the organization offers an opportunity for business owners and would-be entrepreneurs alike to engage with one another in a high-energy, but supportive environment.

 Morrison has an extensive background in marketing and entrepreneurial training, and has appeared on TV and been the subject of feature articles in a number of major publications. Although the next Small Business Camp Weekend has not yet been scheduled, based on this most recent event, it promises to attract a sizable crowd from the U.S. Virgin Islands business community.

 BoltNagi is a well-established and widely respected business and corporate law firm serving clients throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Apple Case Highlights Dangers of Poaching Employees

Posted in Corporate & Financial Services

Brussels AirportA recent lawsuit filed against Apple by a company that makes lithium-ion batteries for electric cars may land the tech giant in hot water if, as is alleged, the company poached employees specifically to provide similar work on a project that would directly compete with the smaller firm.

 A123 Systems, which has its headquarters in Livonia, Michigan, specializes in the manufacturing of batteries and energy storage systems for use in a variety of contexts and products, among them electric cars. The company contends that Apple specifically targeted five of its employees beginning in June 2014, in what A123 calls an “aggressive campaign.” Apple eventually hired one of A123’s engineers, who then recruited the four former coworkers. All of them reportedly began working at Apple in January 2015.

 At issue is whether a key part of A123’s allegation turns out to be true. The company claims that Apple targeted the five workers in question because they were involved in the development of lithium-ion battery technology — and that Apple is attempting to develop electric cars of its own. In other words, in their new roles, the employees would be in violation of non-compete and nondisclosure agreements they signed when first agreeing to work for A123.

 The reason so much hinges on this part of A123’s argument is because, otherwise, the firm doesn’t appear to have much of a case against Apple. The fact of the matter is that, although the ethics involved in poaching employees may be suspect in some situations, the practice is not actually illegal unless it involves the intentional breaching of an employee’s contract under prompting by another employer.

 Legal parameters of employee poaching

 This intentional damaging of an employee’s contractual relationship is called tortious interference. To prove a claim of tortious interference, a party (such as A123) must show that a contract existed between the company and its employees, that a third party knowingly encouraged the breaching of that contract and that the employee did, in fact, breach the contract, causing damage to the original party. In its lawsuit against Apple, A123 is seeking damages, as well as a one-year injunction that would prevent its former employees from working in any way that directly competes with A123.

 Needless to say, poaching employees can be risky business, and companies found to have done so through tortious interference may be liable for damages. For organizations that believe their employees are likely to be courted by competitors, non-compete and nondisclosure agreements are absolutely critical, but it’s also helpful provide the types of intangible benefits — like a nurturing and supportive work environment — that employees won’t want to give up.

 BoltNagi is a well-established and widely respected employment law firm serving individuals, businesses and organizations throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Preventing Trademark Infringement Issues

Posted in Corporate & Financial Services

Trademark logoFor those starting new businesses, one of the most exciting processes is choosing a trademark — a slogan, logo or business name by which potential customers will be able to identify the company. It’s exciting because, in many cases, it’s the first piece of information with which most people will come into contact with the business.

 For that reason, it’s also extremely important, not just because making a strong first impression is crucial, but also because a strong trademark can help your business establish its place in the market, and hopefully lead to growth.

 Coming up with a good trademark isn’t just about being catchy or clever — at least not for its own sake. It’s also about making the trademark difficult to steal or otherwise infringe upon. Trademark infringement can create a real headache for a business, and the best defense against it comes through establishing a strong trademark during the creation stage. Several approaches to doing so include coming up with what is considered a “suggestive,” “fanciful” or “arbitrary” brand name, and then having your idea researched by a reputable firm specializing in trademarks. These legal professionals will help you avoid infringing on another business’ trademarks, as well.

 Protecting your company’s trademark

 Once you’ve come up with a unique and identifiable trademark, it’s important that you use it properly. A major part of this is paying the necessary registration fees to protect the mark officially, but you’ll also need to take care to identify your trademark in everyday use. When you’re preparing marketing materials or packaging your products, you’ll need to be sure you’ve included proof of trademark: an encircled “R” if it’s federally registered, a “TM” if it’s a common law trademark or an “SM” for a common law service mark. This signals that you’ve taken the steps to protect your company’s trademark and serves as a warning against potential infringement.

 Even if you believe you’ve created a strong trademark, you still need to keep an eye out for other companies that may be infringing upon it. Particularly for smaller businesses, you may be able to get a sense of possible infringement by watching your local competitors. It’s also possible to hire an outside firm to monitor the use of your trademark by searching for not just outright theft, but also modified, misspelled or significantly similar versions of your creation.

 In the event that you believe an infringement has occurred, you’ll need to determine the best course of action. An experienced attorney with experience handling trademark infringement cases is a strong source of support and guidance. In addition to having the ability to draft appropriate legal documents, a lawyer will also evaluate the relative strength of your case and help you take the proper steps to put a stop to trademark infringement, thus allowing you to proceed with the ongoing work of managing your business.

 BoltNagi is a widely respected and established intellectual property law firm serving businesses and organizations throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands.