Category Archives: Bankruptcy and Mortgages

Chapter 13 Bankruptcy and Escrow Payments and Projected Escrow Shortages

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Let the insanity begin. What I will be discussing today are mortgage payments that include property taxes and insurance. The property tax and insurance have been “impounded” as part of the normal monthly mortgage payment and is traditionally called an escrow account. So this type of mortgage payment includes principal, interest, property tax and insurance. Before discussing how this has become extremely frustrating when filing a Chapter 13 bankruptcy case in the Northern District of California let us look at why this situation exists to begin with.

Why Are Property Taxes and Insurance Not Paid Directly By The Borrower

Lenders need to protect their investment. Fine, so as part of that lenders need to ensure property taxes are paid timely and the home is insured. No problem. Here in California lenders cannot force an impound escrow account unless the borrower’s loan to value ratio exceeds 80 percent. I believe this is the most common reason why impound accounts exist. A house is purchased via some favorable program that allows less than a 20% down payment at the time of purchase resulting in a ratio 80% or more. So if you put 20% or more as a down payment then the mortgage company cannot force you into an escrow or impound account. A lender or loan officer could also suggest the borrower have an impound escrow account and the borrower then would voluntarily agree to it.

Also here in California servicers and lenders are required to pay 2% interest to borrowers on funds held in escrow accounts. See Cal. Civ. Code Section 2954.80.

Pursuant to the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) the servicer or mortgage company must review the property taxes and insurance each year to make sure they are not holding a surplus. At the same time RESPA allows the servicer or lender to collect up to two additional months of escrow payments as a cushion or reserve to protect the servicer or lender in the event a borrower misses monthly mortgage payments. See 12 U.S.C §2609(a)(1).

This is where the problem is created.

How Can A Borrower Have A Projected Escrow Shortage If They Paid All Mortgage Payments When Filing a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Case?

The key words here are “projected escrow shortage” at the time the chapter 13 bankruptcy case is filed by the bankruptcy attorney of the borrow. So yeah, property taxes change and so do insurance premiums, but not that much. When a borrower files for relief under chapter 13 and is current with all mortgage payments at the time of filing the petition the bankruptcy filer normally just keeps paying the servicer or mortgage company directly just like prior to the filing of the chapter 13 since there are no missed mortgage payments. If no missed payments then no problem; life goes on regarding the loan even though the chapter 13 petition is filed. The chapter 13 should have no effect on the servicer or mortgage lender or the borrower as the bankruptcy filer. The servicer or mortgage lender is a secured creditor and normally files a proof of claim in the chapter 13 bankruptcy case providing the amount of the total secured debt owed and that there are no mortgage arrears or missed payments prior to the case being filed.

Here is when there are more and more problems because of escrow or impound accounts and alleged shortages. Proof of claims are being filed for escrow shortages or projected escrow shortages even though the bankruptcy filer has paid the servicer or mortgage lender all mortgage payments as required.

If the shortage is projected the shortage does not yet exist until some future date? If it does not exist how can this projected shortage be part of a proof of claim? Or if there is future projected escrow shortfall the only way for the servicer or mortgage company to obtain the shortfall is supposed to be by increasing the future escrow payments after the bankruptcy case is filed just like if no chapter 13 had been filed in the first place.

But wait just a second. So now this touches on what is a “claim” in bankruptcy? The Supreme Court of the United States provides “right to payment” in the definition of “claim” meant “nothing more nor less than an enforceable obligation[.]” Johnson v. Home State Bank, 501 U.S. 78, 83, 111 S.Ct. 2150, 115 L.Ed.2d 66 (1991). “Congress intended by this language to adopt the broadest available definition of `claim.'” Id; see also FCC v. NextWave Pers. Commc’ns Inc., 537 U.S. 293, 302, 123 S.Ct. 832, 154 L.Ed.2d 863 (2003). So applying these definitions to a projected escrow shortage we can all agree the shortage is a “right to payment” pursuant to RESPA and the cushion of two escrow payments and can be part of a proof of claim.

Why is this happening though? The servicer of mortgage company is not properly calculating their RESPA cushion prior to the chapter 13 being filed. After the servicer or mortgage company pays a borrower’s property tax there should be a balance in the escrow account representing two escrow payments, the RESPA cushion. This is not happening and when the chapter 13 case is filed it triggers a review of the escrow account and behold there is a projected shortage.

I am not sure why this has become an issue when this dynamic of escrow accounts and RESPA cushion have existed for a very long time, but it is a problem now. Creditors referring to other Circuit opinions that provide that the collecting of pre-petition projected escrow shortages through post-petition mortgage payments is a violation of the automatic stay and arguably opens the creditor to possible sanctions for the violation of the automatic stay. There are a number of potential solutions to the problem, but the one that makes the most sense is that servicers and mortgage companies just properly calculate the RESPA cushion upon review of escrow accounts like they are supposed and this should never be a problem upon the filing of a bankruptcy case. After all, the borrower has made all payments as required by the servicer or mortgage loan company. What more can the borrower to make sure this is not a problem but make the payment requested each month on time?

Another solution is the include language in the chapter 13 plan that provides the service or mortgage lender may collect a pre-petition escrow shortfall from post-petition payments and not be in violation of the automatic stay. This will most likely trigger the necessity of having a confirmation hearing regarding the chapter 13 plan when a hearing would not normally be necessary. This is a waste of judicial resources, the chapter 13 trustee’s time and the attorney for the debtor’s time given the servicer or mortgage loan company did not properly calculate the escrow payment prior to the chapter 13 being filed.

Another solution is to stipulate that the creditor may collect pre-petition projected escrow shortages from post-petition mortgage payments. There is no guarantee that the trustee’s office will sign-off on this stipulation and again could end up with a hearing regarding confirmation of the chapter 13 plan that normally would not have to take place.

To be fair I could also provide any number of scenarios that a debtor or their bankruptcy attorney creates in the course of seeking confirmation of a chapter 13 plan that creditors, the Court and trustee’s office believe to waste their time over and over again so ………… I am just writing about this issue from a bankruptcy filer’s perspective and their attorney.

Why Is It Difficult to Project Escrow Account Funds?

Here in California we have Proposition 13 that limits how much property taxes can increase each year. You would think this would allow servicers and mortgage companies to easily estimate future property taxes and property insurance payments year after year so that there are no issues. Again, I get how sometimes getting numbers right is difficult even when a good faith effort is made to get the numbers right.

It just appears the escrow analysis that is required by law is not happening until the chapter 13 case is filed and the projected escrow shortage is created. If the chapter 13 case was never filed the servicer or mortgage lender would just continue to send statements with a monthly dollar amount owed and the borrower would just keep making the payment each month and there would be no issues. The part of the monthly escrow payment would increase or decrease depending upon the whim of the servicer or mortgage company ……….

Be Very Careful If You Argue Your Deed Of Trust Or Loan Are Invalid So You Do Not Owe Anything On Your Home

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Over and over again during the mortgage meltdown and now even years after the mortgage meltdown I have potential clients still wanting to argue that they owe nothing on their primary residence because of some issue with the loan, recording or assignment of the loan. Do not get me wrong. There is an exception to every statement anyone makes like this, but it is rare. What I can prove to you is state court lawsuit after state court lawsuit getting dismissed after you the homeowner were lied to about your chances of actually being successful at arguing you owe nothing even though you did not pay the loan off in full. I can also prove to you relief from stay after relief from stay granted by bankruptcy courts when someone files for bankruptcy protection and is behind on their mortgage payments then tries to argue I owe nothing. Since there still seems to be some confusion let me be clear.

If you do not pay your mortgage payment each month at some point your mortgage company will seek foreclosure and if you have filed for bankruptcy protection and do not pay your mortgage on time your mortgage or loan company will get relief from stay to start the foreclosure process in the real world. Hopefully the following provides some more detailed information about why to not argue you do not owe any money on your house. I do not think bankruptcy attorneys mislead potential bankruptcy clients about this topic but state court litigation attorneys still do.

A recent Ninth Circuit Bankruptcy Appellate Panel case from the Central District really highlights the issues with this argument and applicable law in the bankruptcy world. See BAP CC-18-1015-FLS.

Mortgage Company Can Assign or Transfer the Right of Collection of the Note Secured by the Recorded Deed of Trust

In this particular case here is the list of secured creditors for the bankruptcy filer regarding his deed of trust for his house in chronological order.
1. November 2014: GMAC Mortgage Corporation DBA ditech.com is the original loan company with recorded deed of trust for $315,000 and provides Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. (“MERS”), as “nominee” for GMAC and its successors and assigns, was the beneficiary under the Deed of Trust;
2. June 2010: Through nominee MERS GMAC assigns deed of trust to GMAC Mortgage, LLC;
3. January 2011: The borrower and bankruptcy filer entered into a loan modification with MERS, nominee for the then-current holder of the Note, GMAC Mortgage, LLC;
4. May 2013: GMAC Mortgage, LLC assigned the Deed of Trust to Green Tree Servicing, LLC;
5. February 2016: Green Tree Servicing, LLC (which was then known as Ditech Financial LL) recorded the notice of default when mortgage payments were not made;
6. December 2017: Ditech Financial assigned the deed of trust to U.S. Bank Trust, N.A., as Trustee for LSF9 Master Participation Trust 13801; Servicer Caliber Home Loans, Inc. as its attorney in fact.
The assignments continued even after the borrower defaulted on payments and filed for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code. Ditech Financial filed the proof of claim in the bankruptcy case but U.S. Bank and Caliber as the servicer filed the motion for relief from the bankruptcy automatic stay for permission to continue to enforce their state court rights outside of bankruptcy. The bankruptcy filer and/or borrower unfortunately argued U.S. Bank/Caliber had no standing or no right to request relief from stay and that he was current with all post-bankruptcy filing mortgage payments.

The Motion For Relief From Stay

U.S. Bank/Caliber sought relief from the automatic stay under Section 362(d)(1) for cause alleging the borrower and bankruptcy filer failed to make over $19,000 in mortgage payments after the chapter 13 bankruptcy case was filed. First the borrower/bankruptcy filer argued that U.S. Bank/Caliber was not the “real party in interest.” Second that the Deed of Trust was defective at its inception given the original lender was listed as “GMAC Mortgage Corporation dba ditech.com,” but only “GMAC Mortgage Corporation” is registered in the state of Pennsylvania, while the fictional name “ditech.com” is not. Third, the borrower/bankruptcy filer claimed that the January 2011 modification agreement was invalid.

1. Real Party In Interest

In the bankruptcy world the key term regarding this issue “colorable claim” to enforce an alleged debt/claim. A claim is extremely broadly defined and I have written about this issue in a prior article. But a mere colorable claim is all that is required in the bankruptcy world.
See Arkinson v. Griffin (In re Griffin), 719 F.3d 1126, 1128 (9th Cir. 2013) (citing In re Veal, 450 B.R. at 915); see Edwards v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. (In re Edwards), 454 B.R. 100, 105 (9th Cir. BAP 2011)
“A party seeking stay relief need only establish that it has a colorable claim to the property at issue.” A party filing a motion for relief from stay or movant must have a colorable claim sufficient to bestow upon it standing to prosecute a motion under § 362 if the party/movant either: (a) owns or has another form of property interest in a note secured by the debtor’s (or the estate’s) property; or (b) is a ‘person entitled to enforce’ . . . such a note under applicable state law”). The borrower and bankruptcy filer argues that the stamp signature on one of the loan documents invalidates the documents. There does not need to be a lengthy discussion about this issue given an endorsement of a negotiable instrument does not require a “live” or “wet” signature. See U.C.C. § 3-204(a) and U.C.C. § 1-201 providing “signed” includes any symbol executed or adopted with present intention to adopt or accept a writing. Or more commonly known as “make your mark” for a valid signature or endorsement of a document. The alleged “stamp” signature argument fails.

2. Failure to Registered a Fictitious Business Name

This is an interesting argument. The borrower and bankruptcy filer also argues that GMAC Mortgage Corporation dba ditech.com did not register or fill out and file a fictitious business for ditech.com. The problem is that cannot invalidate a lender’s ability to make and enforce thousands upon thousands of dollars of loans…..
The borrower and bankruptcy filer then attempts to argue the various assignments between the parties listed above are invalid. This issue has been analyzed before, see: Veal v. Am. Home Mortg. Servicing, Inc. (In re Veal), 450 B.R. 897, 906 (9th Cir. BAP 2011). The Ninth Circuit provides a service has standing to seek relief from the automatic stay when the borrower files for bankruptcy protection.

3. I Did Pay All The Alleged Missed Mortgage Payments

Finally the borrower and bankruptcy filer argues he made all of the post-petition mortgage payments in a declaration but failed to provide any proof the mortgage payments were paid. As a bankruptcy attorney trying to help someone prevent relief from stay being granted this has to be the most frustrating thing to deal with. If mortgage payments are paid there has to be proof of the payment readily available. If you are behind on your mortgage payments most likely the only thing that can prevent relief from stay being granted is a plan the mortgage company will accept to pay back the missed mortgage payments and that means ALL of the missed mortgage payments up to when the motion for relief from stay is filed within a reasonable time. As a side note; most motions for relief from stay are filed for cause or missed mortgage payments regardless of the amount of equity a property has. Cause exists for relief from stay is you missed mortgage payments and cannot pay them back within a reasonable amount of time there is not much anyone can do for you.

What Happens When A Cotenant In A Tenant In Common Ownership Agreement Does Not Pay

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In many large cities like San Francisco the only way to afford purchasing a home is to purchase a property in which you are tenants in common with other owners of the property. Sadly some of the same issues described here can occur with condominium associations also. In San Francisco there many multi-floor homes that have been separated into individual beautiful homes for purchase. The circumstances I will be discussing in this article arise when there is a single mortgage for the entire property and the tenants in common are all responsible for paying the entire mortgage.

Unfortunately this is a long one given how much took place and the litigation is still ongoing. This will last for over a decade most likely.

Hopefully your tenant in common property has separate mortgages for each separate livable part of the property and there are a few small shared expenses. Yes, all tenants in common are usually responsible for the entire mortgage payment each month regardless of who is paying or not by agreement upon purchase if there is only one mortgage for the entire building. That means your agreement to purchase your portion or percentage of the property will include language that the other owners and you are responsible for paying the entire mortgage each month even if one of the other tenant in common does not pay their portion. The following is how thousands of dollars in mortgage payments and attorneys’ fees and costs will result from one tenant in common not paying their percentage of the monthly mortgage payment then arguably following the law to protect their rights. This case is still actually ongoing and the attorneys’ fees and costs are still piling up. At this point the attorneys’ fees and costs are around three times the real world actual damages …… Something you should think about before retaining an attorney.

Tenants In Common Agreements

A tenant in common agreement is like owning a unit in a condominium building and is a great way to get into a real estate market for less than purchasing a free standing single-family home. You must consider that you will never have complete control over your property though and the other owners or tenants in common can always affect your property and mess with your life. Under California law, co-owners of real property holding undivided interests, such as tenants in common, are considered “cotenants.” In re Fazzio, 180 B.R. 263, 268 (Bankr. E.D. Cal. 1995); Harry D. Miller & Marvin B. Starr, California Real Estate § 11.1 (4th ed. 2017) (“Miller & Starr”). While tenants in common generally each have an equal right to occupy the property, tenants in common in multi-unit residential buildings may agree to give each owner an exclusive right of occupancy in particular dwelling units pursuant to which each may respectively exclude the others from their private residential unit. Tom v. City & Cty. of S.F., 120 Cal. App. 4th 674, 676 (2004). The issue is when there is a single mortgage for the entire property and not each undivided interest.

The tenants in common agreement I will be discussing provided that the three tenants in common agreed to pay a certain percentage of the mortgage for the entire property depending upon their portion of the building occupied. The three original cotenants entered into this agreement in 2003. The property was split up into not equal square footage so the mortgage payments were apportioned by percentage occupied. Fair enough. The original tenant in common agreement of 2003 also provided that if one cotenant did not pay their share of the mortgage the other cotenants were required to pay the non-paying cotenant’s share in addition to their own share. In the case I am discussing one of the original three co-tenants sold their share in 2004 and an amended tenant in common agreement was entered into by the two remaining original cotenants and the new 2004 purchasing cotenant with the same terms as the original three cotenants had. Begs the question why one of the original 2003 cotenants decided to sell in a year or less after original purchase and entering into the 2003 tenants in common agreement? Did the original cotenants all know each other? Was there problems brewing already? Did the value increase that much that selling resulted in walking away with a lot of money? Now an unknown third party purchased one of the original cotenants’ interest a year later. That is life though and how it works. To muddy the waters a little more another of the remaining two original cotenants sold their interest in 2007 for cash. Luckily the purchaser paid with cash, so this resulted in the other two cotenants receiving cash distributions from the sale proceeds and that eliminated the new purchaser’s obligation to pay any part of the remaining mortgage. No doubt the value of this San Francisco property increased significantly allowing the selling cotenant to make this happen and walk away with a great profit. What about the remaining two cotenants still responsible for the mortgage? This left one cotenant, the 2004 purchaser responsible for 25.765% of the monthly mortgage payment and the other cotenant, the last remaining original cotenant responsible for 74.23% of the monthly mortgage payment.

A Cotenant Does Not Pay Their Share As Agreed

So finally we get to the problems. The cotenant discussed with the obligation to pay 25.765% of the mortgage stopped making their share payment of the mortgage in 2011, or four years after the other cotenant sold their interest for cash and 7 years after their original purchase.

In 2011 the 2004 purchaser that ended up with the percentage of 25.765% ($1,215.15 a month) after the cash buyout stopped making their monthly payment. The 74.23% ($3,489.50 a month) cotenant was forced to pay the nonpaying cotenants share pursuant to the amended tenants in common agreement and more importantly to avoid potential foreclosure proceedings. It is unclear whether the total monthly mortgage payment of approximately $4,704.65 includes property tax and insurance. It most likely does include property tax and insurance given there is no additional litigation over direct payment of property tax and insurance in the various court filings.

What Do If A Cotenant Stops Paying?

In the case I am discussing the 74.23% cotenant decided to seek arbitration first. By the way, the 25.765% cotenant’s portion of the mortgage payment is $1,215.15 each month if that was not clear above and the 74.23% cotenant has to pay $3,489.50 each month. It is not clear what happened in this case before the paying cotenant took the not paying cotenant to arbitration. It is possible, since they live in the same building; the cotenants spoke directly to resolve this. Maybe a letter was sent first? It is unclear the steps taken in this case leading up to the “lawyering up,” but ultimately arbitration was chosen as the means to enforce the breached amended tenant in common agreement. It is possible the amended tenant in common agreement required arbitration to resolve disputes.

The arbitrator found in favor of the paying 74.23% interest cotenant. What defense did the 25.765% not paying cotenant have? Did you sign the amended tenant in common agreement upon purchase? Yes. Did you stop making your percentage payment as required by the amended tenants in common agreement? Yes. The arbitrator awarded and ordered the nonpaying cotenant to pay the paying 74.23% cotenant $9,136.26 for the payments they made on the mortgage on behalf of the not paying 25.765% cotenant, that the 25.765% cotenant start paying their portion of the mortgage again and awarded the paying 74.23% cotenant attorneys’ fees and costs of $58,369.29. So we have an amended tenant in common agreement and proof of payments made by the 74.23% cotenant to prove there is a problem here and this resulted in $58,369.29 attorneys’ fees and costs to get to, “you are right and have been wronged in the principal sum of $9,136.26.” The point here is that when things go wrong it gets expensive quickly to arbitrate or litigate the problem. As this issue continues it only gets more expensive also.

What Happened After The Arbitration Award?

After an arbitration award the arbitration award can be entered as a judgment by order. The 74.23% now with their arbitration award did in fact request the Superior Court for the State of California to enter judgment. The judgment entered against the not paying 25.765% cotenant was $68,656.07 ($9,136.26 + $58,369.29 + interest) plus the attorneys’ fees and costs totaling $4,214.50 for having the Superior Court for the State of California enter the judgment on the arbitration award. The proper procedure under the law to enforce a judgment when the defendant owns real property is to record the abstract of judgment with the county the defendant owns real property so the judgment attaches as a judgment lien to the property. The 74.23% owner did just that and recorded an “Abstract of Judgment” totaling $72,870.57 with San Francisco County. After the cost of arbitration, entering of the arbitration award as a judgment and then recording the abstract of judgment nothing become simple as you will read below….

The 25.765% Cotenant Fought the Judgment and Sale of the Property in State Court

The not paying 25.765% cotenant spent the next two years fighting the 74.23% cotenants attempts to enforce the judgment and avoid paying the share of the monthly mortgage payment. The 74.23% continued to follow the law and procedure to enforce their rights and eventually obtained a California Superior Court order to sell the nonpaying 25.765% cotenant’s share of the property to satisfy the judgment lien. Of course the continued litigation costs money and the 74.23% cotenant’s attorneys added more missed payments by the not paying 25.765% cotenant and requested the Superior Court of California add an additional $35,074.40 in attorneys’ fees and costs to the judgment. The Superior Court of California said no, the arbitration award and the judgment you drafted and provided the Court to enter does not include a provision for post-judgment attorneys’ fees and costs. The paying 74.23% cotenant’s attorneys now have to amend the judgment to include post-judgment attorneys’ fees and costs…… In the meantime the 74.23% cotenant is still enforcing their rights and a sheriff’s sale of the 25.765% cotenant’s interest was scheduled. The 25.765% owner filed a motion to quash the sale and then appealed the Superior Court for the State of California’s denial of the motion to quash or stop the sale. The California Court of Appeals denied the not paying cotenant’s 25.765% appeal.

In the meantime on June 9, 2014, a day before the June 10, 2014, sheriff’s sale the not paying 25.765% cotenant filed for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code.

The 25.765% Cotenant’s Bankruptcy Case Under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code

So at some point the not paying 25.765% cotenant consulted a bankruptcy attorney. To keep the story as short as possible I will summarize the events of the Chapter 7 bankruptcy case as best I can without leaving out important information. The not paying 25.765% cotenant filed their own bankruptcy case, then hired one bankruptcy attorney, then substituted in another bankruptcy attorney and then ended up representing themselves in the Chapter 7 bankruptcy case. The Chapter 7 case progressed and eventually the Chapter 7 Trustee filed the notice of no distribution which provides the trustee does not believe there are any assets to be disbursed to creditors. The not paying 25.765% chapter 7 bankruptcy is therefore progressing as a no asset chapter 7 bankruptcy case. At some point the 74.23% cotenant decided to file a motion for relief from stay to continue to enforce their state court law rights to sell the 25.765% interest in the building to satisfy their judgment/arbitration award. An order was entered by the Bankruptcy Court confirming the automatic stay was terminated was entered on June 5, 2015. More attorneys’ fees and costs are added to the 74.23% cotenant’s enforcement of their rights.

After the Chapter 7 bankruptcy case was discharged and closed on October 3, 2016, the 25.765% cotenant/debtor requested the Chapter 7 case be reopened to seek sanctions against the 74.23% cotenant under Section 524 of the Bankruptcy Code for violating the order of discharge they received. The 25.765% cotenant/debtor also filed an adversary proceeding lawsuit, a bankruptcy court lawsuit, against the 74.23% cotenant alleging the abstract of judgment for their arbitration award/judgment from the California Superior State Court is deficient and therefore the 74.23% cotenant has no secured debt or valid lien that passes through the Chapter 7 bankruptcy case. Now this is extremely interesting given valid liens recorded against real property will survive the order of discharge in a Chapter 7 case. The 25.765% cotenant/debtor is trying to discharge all that took place previously by the 74.23% cotenant to enforce their rights. In the bankruptcy adversary proceeding lawsuit the Bankruptcy Court held that the abstract of judgment did not comply with the requirements of California Civil Procedure Section 674(a) and therefore there is no valid judgment lien securing the arbitration award regarding the unpaid mortgage payments or attorneys’ fees and costs. This is a huge development and could have enormous implications to the 74.23% cotenant’s ability to collect for all that took place previously leading up to the filing of the Chapter 7 bankruptcy case. The 74.23% paying cotenant appealed this decision by the Bankruptcy Court and the appeal is still pending.

So after 7 plus years, over $80,000 is attorneys’ fees and costs incurred by the paying 74.23% cotenant the not paying 25.675% cotenant may erase all that took place previously by obtaining the Chapter 7 bankruptcy discharge. It will be interesting to see what takes place moving forward in this case. What is fascinating if the vigorous enforcement of rights by both sides in this case. Arguably both are merely following the law as it exists under the circumstances. What is unfortunate is how much time and money has been spent as a result of a tenant in common agreement going bad for whatever reason.

This is what can happen when you put your lot it with others and you can never completely control their choices. It is something to consider long and hard before purchasing a condominium or entering into a tenant in common agreement.

If You Are Having A Problem With Your Home Loan Payment Call a Bankruptcy Attorney

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One of the most frustrating parts of my job is over and over again talking to people that file Chapter 13 bankruptcy cases to stop a foreclosure or eviction without proper legal advice from an actual bankruptcy attorney. By the time they speak to me there is usually too much water under the bridge for me to get involved and actually obtain them relief under the Bankruptcy Code they are entitled to. I say entitled to because the Bankruptcy Code is the law. You just have to follow it and get relief. Most skeleton Chapter 13 bankruptcy petitions should never have been filed to begin with.

Five Steps To Help Prevent Getting Scammed

These five steps cannot guarantee you will not get scammed, but they will limit your risk to getting scammed, losing your house and paying too much for the services provided to you.

1. Never ever wait until the last minute to start getting information; the problem did not come up overnight, so the solution will not come overnight either….
2. Make sure the person helping you signs the documents filed with the court; not you;
3. Only do business with someone that is local in your area and not hundreds of miles away;
4. Only do business with someone you have actually met in person and they have an office you can walk into if you want;
5. Google the phone number, fax number, email address, name of person or business name you are dealing with … basically Google each and every bit of identifying information you are given . . . most likely someone has already complained about them and Google will find it for you.

The Automatic Stay is a Jewel to be Coveted, Not Abused

The automatic stay is the backbone of the bankruptcy process and is the single most important and precious jewel to be coveted, not abused. Section 362 of the Bankruptcy Code provides the very lengthy law of how the automatic stay is implemented. A general description is the automatic stay stops almost all collection activity by creditors to give the bankruptcy filer breathing room to figure things out and reorganize or discharge their debts according to the Bankruptcy Code. That includes lawsuits, repossession, foreclosure, wage garnishment, levies, phone calls, letter and on and on. The automatic stay is the most powerful tool for a Bankruptcy Attorney to help people or businesses in financial distress. There are many limits in the automatic stay and for purposes of this article I will focus on the people filing their own cases with advice from the wrong people. What I find is multiple bankruptcy petitions filed by people trying to save a house more often than not. The first petition filed for relief they receive an unlimited automatic stay. There are no timing restrictions as long as the case remains open and not dismissed. This is what everyone should want, the bankruptcy case, whether Chapter 13, Chapter 7 or some other chapter of the Bankruptcy Code, to progress properly and the bankruptcy filer is not in jeopardy of the automatic stay not being in place. The single best way to ensure this is retaining an experienced bankruptcy attorney to file your case. If your home is in jeopardy do not trust a realtor or some other non-bankruptcy professional to help you.

Danger of Multiple Bankruptcy Filings

What I see over and over again with bankruptcy filers getting bad information is there case is just dismissed for not filing the proper documents in the beginning or not timely filing the proper documents after the case is filed. What the unscrupulous realtor, attorney or company will do is tell you or give you the basic forms to file a skeleton bankruptcy petition to obtain the automatic stay. That includes the voluntary petition, statement of social security number, creditor matrix and most likely an application to pay the $310 court filing fee in payments. The really horrible people will not even tell you about the application to pay the court filing fee in payments and make you waste the entire $310 even though they know the case will just be dismissed. They know the case will be dismissed because the forms described above are all they are going to help you with. That is it. You will have 14 days from when the court enters an order for you to file the rest of the documents to actually complete the petition. So the bankruptcy filer is now representing themselves and has only filed the basic forms to get the case started and does not know what to do next…… The bankruptcy filer will have paid whatever the unscrupulous person charge, usually well over a thousand dollars or more, plus the court filing fee of $310 and the Chapter 13 bankruptcy case is dismissed usually within three weeks.

If your first case is dismissed for some reason and you file a second case within a year you only get a 30 days automatic stay unless the stay is extended within that 30 days. There is no guarantee the court will extend the automatic stay and if a creditor objects to the extension it is even less likely the automatic stay will be extended. The third case filed within a year gets absolutely no automatic stay unless the automatic stay is imposed. Again, there is no guarantee the court will impose the automatic stay.

Required Credit Counseling Course Completion Prior to Filing a Bankruptcy Case

Another trap that realtors and unscrupulous people do not tell the bankruptcy filer is that they must complete the credit counseling course prior to filing for bankruptcy. The credit counseling only takes a few hours to complete and should cost less than $10.00 to complete. Skeleton Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition after skeleton bankruptcy petition is filed without the bankruptcy filer completing the credit counseling course prior to the filing of the case. I am a Bankruptcy Attorney that has either filed or been involved in literally thousands of bankruptcy cases and I only know of one or two circumstances in which the court allowed someone to take the credit counseling course after the bankruptcy case was filed or waived the requirement entirely. Since 2005 BACPA changes to the Bankruptcy Code, Section 109(h)(1) requires the completion of credit counseling within the 180-day period prior to the filing of the petition. Section 109(h)(3) provides a temporary exemption from that requirement if the bankruptcy filer submits a certification that: (i) describes exigent circumstances that merit a waiver of the requirements of [section 109(h)(1)]; (ii) states that the bankruptcy filer requested credit counseling services from an approved nonprofit budget and credit counseling agency, but was unable to obtain the services referred to in [section 109(h)(1)] during the 7-day period beginning on the date on which the debtor made that request; and (iii) is satisfactory to the court. Section 109(h)(4) provides a total waiver if the Court determined, upon notice and hearing, that the debtor is unable to complete the credit counseling requirement due to incapacity, disability, or active military duty in a military combat zone. If you have in jeopardy of losing your home just complete the credit counseling course before filing the bankruptcy case and do not play around with attempting have the court give you more time or waive the requirement. It is just not worth it.

Do Not Fall For the Mortgage Litigation Scam

The mortgage litigation scam is only a ploy for criminals to get around the laws making it a criminal act to take money upfront to do a loan modification and a ploy to get around only charging you $150 as a bankruptcy petition preparer. I keep writing about this and it keeps happening. I do not know what the solution is. I try and educate people to enforce their rights and apparently they do not take my advice. Or there are just more and more of these unscrupulous people replacing the ones that go away. If you missed mortgage payments and owe thousands and thousands of dollars because you did not make the mortgage payments rarely are there issues for you to litigate. Especially if you are a consumer and this is regarding your home. We keep finding people in the Bay Area doing business with businesses in Southern California to litigate mortgage issues that appear to be purely scams. If you are litigating a mortgage problem that is legitimate you should not be directed to file a skeleton bankruptcy petition that you sign and file yourself. That makes no sense. When an attorney takes your money to do something they are supposed to sign and file the documents on your behalf because they are representing you and take on the liability for their work. That is how it is supposed to work. Also, why do business with someone that is hundreds of miles away that will most likely never give you your money back when you figure out it was a scam? Are you going to sue them for the $1,000 – $4,000 you gave them already? I seriously doubt it and I have yet to see it.

Improper Estate Planning Leads to Sale of Properties in Bankruptcy

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If you have properties you are trying protect either for estate planning purposes or for purposes of filing bankruptcy the most important lesson is to plan properly. It is always best to obtain the advice of an experienced professional like an estate planning attorney or a bankruptcy attorney to ensure you do not lose the very property you are trying to protect.

One family learned this lesson the hard way. In Oklahoma, Mr. and Mrs. Gragg transferred title to their three properties to themselves and their two daughters (Angela Harrison and Melody Lavender) via quitclaim deeds so that each of them had a 25% interest in the properties as joint tenants with the right to survivorship. They did this for estate planning purposes. Only two of the properties were at issue in this case. Both of the properties were paid in full. Neither of their daughters had made any payments towards to the house and the Graggs received all the rent and paid the corresponding taxes and used the deductions on their tax returns. Ms. Harrison filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection. (In re Angela Michelle Edmound Harrison, Case No. 11-13580). Ms. Harrison listed her 25% interest in the properties in the petition schedules with footnotes indicating that her and her sister were added to the title of the properties for their parent’s estate planning purposes only. Harrison claimed she did not have any ownership or control over the properties. The total market value for both of the properties in question is approximately $170,000 to $180,000. The total creditor claims filed in the case was approximately $35,000. The Chapter 7 trustee in the case moved the court to sell the two properties for the benefit of Ms. Harrison’s creditors even though there were three other people on title to the properties that did not file bankruptcy. The trustee proposed to sell the both properties because the properties could not be properly partitioned and sold. The trustee is proposing to sell both properties, give the Graggs and Ms. Lavendar their 75% of the proceeds and pay Ms. Harrison’s creditors in the bankruptcy case with Ms. Harrison’s 25% of the proceeds. The Graggs objected to this sale and argued that Ms. Harrison did not have any recognizable interest in the property and the trustee did not have the right to sell the properties.

The judge in this case concluded that Oklahoma law controls and under Oklahoma law, a quitclaim deed is sufficient to provide notice of the claim to title in the property. If the deed itself does not convey what the original parties intended to convey, the law allows the parties to show what the original intent was. Whether that intent should be binding on an innocent third party buyer is the big question in this case. Once a bankruptcy petition is filed the trustee steps into the shoes of a bona fide purchaser of the property. Based upon the deeds themselves, nothing provides notice to the bona fide purchaser that the deed was only for estate planning purposes. The deeds only show that each party receives 25% interest in the properties as joint tenants with the right of survivorship. Nothing puts the bona fide purchaser on notice that the actual circumstances are different than what is listed on the deed. The Graggs also argued that since they paid for all expenses and taxes related to the property their daughters only hold bare legal title and that Ms. Hamilton’s interest is subject to a resulting trust in favor of the Graggs. The trustee does not dispute this. The court indicated that even if there was a resulting trust Oklahoma law mandated that express or implied trusts do not defeat the title of a bona fide purchaser of real property.

The Graggs lost their properties in bankruptcy even though they did not file bankruptcy themselves. One issue not discussed in the case is that the Graggs could have purchased the bankruptcy estate’s interest in the two properties instead of both properties being sold. As long as the bankruptcy estate receives the same value as if the properties were sold. It is unclear whether Harrison’s bankruptcy attorneys attempted this or if it was even financially possible for the Graggs to do. Even though the Graggs received the full value of their interest in the properties minus Ms. Harrison’s 25% share the Graggs no longer have the rental properties and lost a chunk of their income stream. This is all because they used the wrong estate planning tool. If they had an attorney draw up a revocable living trust naming their daughters as beneficiaries and including a spendthrift provision in their trust the scenario could have played out differently.