Monday, April 29, 2013

Foreclosing on Homeowner Association Liens to Secure an Interest in Real Estate

     In recent editions of Creditor News we have been discussing the benefits of using real estate to improve creditors’ positions. As I have emphasized, properly securing debts through real estate could make the difference between collecting the funds and incurring a loss. In this edition, we will review the benefits of using homeowner association liens to aid in the collection of your debt. Last month we reviewed the special procedures for the collection of homeowners association dues under Virginia Code §55-516. We will now review the procedures for suits to foreclose on the lien.
     Suits must be brought within thirty six months of filing, but after the perfection of the lien. The Homeowner’s Association may sell the lot at a public sale, subject to prior liens. There are detailed requirements in the code, a brief summary of which include the following:
     1. The association shall give notice to the lot owner prior to advertisement as required in the code.
     2. After expiration of the 60-day notice period, the association may appoint a trustee to conduct the sale.
     3. If the lot owner meets the conditions specified in this subdivision prior to the date of the foreclosure sale, the lot owner shall have the right to have enforcement of the perfected lien discontinued prior to the sale of the lot. Those conditions are that the lot owner: (i) satisfy the debt secured by lien that is the subject of the nonjudicial foreclosure sale and (ii) pays all expenses and costs incurred in perfecting and enforcing the lien, including but not limited to advertising costs and reasonable attorneys' fees.
     4. In addition to the advertisement requirements, the association shall give written notice of the time, date and place of any proposed sale in execution of the lien, and include certain information required in the code.
     5. The advertisement of sale by the association shall be in a newspaper having a general circulation in the city or county wherein the property to be sold, with certain information requirements as set forth in the code.
     6. Failure to comply with the requirements for advertisement contained in this section shall, upon petition, render a sale of the property voidable by the court.   
     7. In the event of a sale, the code sets forth bidding and proceeds application procedures.
     8.  After sale, the trustee shall deliver to the purchaser a trustee's deed conveying the lot with special warranty of title.
     9. After completion, the trustee shall file an accounting of the sale with the commissioner of accounts.
     We have experienced attorneys and staff who can examine title, file homeowner association liens, and litigate to enforce the same.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Foreclosure: Trustees in Foreclosure

     Trustees under a deed of trust are agents for both the lender and the borrowers. Accordingly, a trustee must act fairly and impartially. The lender must not let either the lender or the borrower influence the manner in which a trustee carries out the terms of the deed of trust, especially if this would be detrimental to either party. If any question arises as to the existence of the default or the amount in default, a trustee should seek the aid and direction of the court. The powers and duties of a trustee are governed by the deed of trust and Virginia Code Section 55-59.1 et seq. The code provides when the deed of trust does not. A trustee has no right to exercise the power of sale or to obtain possession until such time as the borrower defaults under the note or deed of trust, and, then, only for the purpose of selling the property at foreclosure or preserving the property until sale. When a default occurs, there is no change in title – the property merely becomes eligible to be sold under the powers originally conferred to the trustee by the owner. Thus, the noteholder has the right to have the property sold and the proceeds of the sale applied to the debt.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Bankruptcy: Debtor's Chapter 13 Plan Cannot Favor Student Loans

     The U.S. District Court in Alexandria, in the case of Gorman v. Birts, while approving the bankruptcy court’s test to consider the debtor’s chapter 13 plan, reversed its decision to confirm the plan because it unfairly discriminated against unsecured creditors by proposing to pay the debtor’s student loans outside of the plan.
     Bankruptcy Code Section 1322(b)(5) permits a plan to provide for the curing of any default within a reasonable time and maintenance of payments while the case is pending on any unsecured claim or secured claim on which the last payment is due after the date on which the final plan is due. In Gorman the debtor’s student loans would qualify as this type of long term debt.
     The parties in Gorman agreed that Bankruptcy Code Section 1322(b)(5) is subject to the unfair discrimination limitation described in subsection (b)(1). By proposing to pay her student loan outside of the plan the debtor in Gorman designated a separate class of unsecured claims. As a result of the proposal, the student loan lender would be paid more than three times as much in dollar amounts as the other unsecured creditors, even though the student loan debt constituted only one-third of the total unsecured debt. Accordingly, the question presented was whether the differential treatment constituted “unfair” discrimination under Bankruptcy Code Section 1322(b)(5).
     As the bankruptcy court in Gorman recognized, courts across the country have not settled on a uniform test to assess whether a classification unfairly discriminates within the meaning of the statute. Courts have developed two primary tests to evaluate what constitutes unfair discrimination, neither of which has been adopted by the 4th Circuit (our local circuit). The 8th Circuit’s test in the case of In re Lester (a 1991 case) has been widely applied. Bankruptcy courts in this District have also applied a slightly different test from the case of In re Linton (from an E.D. of Virginia bankruptcy court in 2011). The bankruptcy court in Gorman applied a hybrid version of the Lester and Linton cases. The Circuit Court in Gorman found that the proposed test of the bankruptcy court included all of the factors relevant to a reasonable determination and was the proper test to apply in this case. However, the Circuit Court found that the decision of the bankruptcy court in Gorman that the plan did not unfairly discriminate against the non-student loan creditors was clearly erroneous.
     Using the non-dischargeable nature of student loans, as cited by the bankruptcy court in Gorman, as a basis for discrimination would eviscerate the detailed priority system of Bankruptcy Code Section 507 and make preferential treatment of student loans the rule rather than the exception. The Circuit Court agreed with the view that there are strong policy considerations underlying the student loan program that would favor preferential treatment of student loan debt; however, that is not the law. By not designating student loans as priority claims under Bankruptcy Code Section 507, Congress chose not to categorically treat them differently. Otherwise, the bankruptcy court in Gorman relied on the debtor’s status as a single mother with three children in concluding that the discrimination was reasonable. The debtor did not point to any case law supporting her view that student loans are properly favored under these circumstances. The Circuit Court found that the bankruptcy court erred in finding a reasonable basis for the discrimination. The court sided with the bankruptcy trustee, who challenged the bankruptcy court’s good faith finding by arguing that the debtor had acted in bad faith by failing to pledge her entire disposable income to the plan, instead proposing to retain the disposable income of half of the amount she dedicated to the plan for these creditors. The Circuit Court in Gorman ruled that the bankruptcy court abused its discretion in failing to consider the effect of the disposable income issue on its finding of good faith.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Collections: Acceleration of Demand Notes

     The Twentieth Judicial Circuit examined a debtor's assertion that the note's "detailed enumeration of events consisting default was inconsistent with a demand note", and that since the note was not a demand note, the creditor must demonstrate "good faith" in accelerating repayment of the note. The case was NationsBank of Virginia, N.A. v Barnes. The Court examined Virginia Code §8.3A - 108(a), which states that a note is payable "on demand" if it says it is payable on demand or states no time for payment. The Court found that the note in this case was a form with a box "on demand" checked, with no time set for repayment, only a provision requiring monthly payments of interest. The Court ruled that the note was unambiguous and clearly a demand note, and that no showing of "good faith" was required before requesting payment on the note.
     Despite the favorable result for the creditor, great care should always be taken to clearly identify payment demand terms.


Monday, April 1, 2013

Deeds of Trust

     It all starts with the deed of trust. The deed of trust is the primary method of acquiring a lien against real estate in Virginia. With a deed of trust, the owner of the real estate conveys legal title to a trustee, in trust, to secure the noteholder’s indebtedness. A deed of trust establishes a lien on the subject real estate upon execution by the grantor and recordation in the land records of the Circuit Court for the jurisdiction (County or City) in which the property is located. While recording the deed of trust is not essential to the validity of the deed of trust between the parties, an unrecorded deed of trust does not establish a lien on the subject real estate as to other creditors and purchasers of the grantor. An unrecorded deed of trust will not provide the beneficiary of the deed of trust with a priority position against other creditors with recorded liens, even if they are subsequent in time.