Monday, December 28, 2015

Foreclosure: Substitute Trustees

     Question: What happens if the trustee under your deed of trust is either unavailable, or, is no longer the person you desire to serve as trustee? Answer: You can appoint a substitute trustee. Under Virginia Code Section 55-59(9), the noteholder, or, the holders of greater than fifty percent of the monetary obligation secured by the deed of trust, have the right and the power to appoint a substitute trustee or trustees for any reason, regardless of whether such right is expressly granted in the deed of trust. The timing of your action is important. The trustee must be empowered before taking action – this occurs when the instrument of appointment has been executed. You do not have to wait for recording. However, as Virginia Code Section 55-59(9) states that the appointment of a substitute trustee shall be recorded before, or at the time of, the recording of the deed conveying the property (such as after a foreclosure).
     Question: Can a lender appoint their counsel as trustee? Answer: Yes. Virginia Code Section 26-58 holds that a trustee is not disqualified merely because he is a stockholder, member, employee, officer or director or counsel to the lender.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Real Estate: Homeowner Associations - Easements

     Cases involving HOA powers are frequently fact specific and governing document specific. Recently, the Frederick County Circuit Court decided a case in which a homeowners association was held in violation of the homeowners association’s restrictive covenants and liable for compensatory damages and attorneys’ fees because it removed a wall on a homeowner’s property. The homeowner spent a considerable amount of time and effort improving a portion of a shared roadway that was on his property. He cleared the land, widened the pathway, and built an eight foot retention wall along the pathway. The HOA notified the homeowner that the wall was encroaching on the right of way and told the homeowner that it must be removed at the homeowner’s expense. There was no board of directors hearing or meeting before the decision was made. Without further notice, the wall was removed but the homeowner refused to pay. In addition to tearing down the wall, the HOA installed drainage culverts in the right of way which resulted in silt flowing into the property’s septic system. The HOA filed suit and obtained a General District Court judgment for the expense of removing the wall. The homeowner then appealed the judgment to the Frederick County Circuit Court and filed a complaint against the HOA. The homeowner claimed that the HOA acted outside its authority under the restrictive covenants, which constituted trespass. The HOA filed a counterclaim, alleging breach of contract and violation of the Property Owners’ Association Act (Va. Code Section 55-508). The court held in favor of the homeowner and found that the HOA exceeded its authority under the restrictive covenants. The HOA did not have authority to remove the wall or to install the drainage culverts. In addition, the HOA did not have the ability to charge the homeowner for either the removal of the wall or the installment of the drainage culverts. The court awarded the homeowner compensatory damages of $28,500 (the value of the wall and cost of returning the property to its prior condition) and attorneys’ fees of $48,844.
     It is important to ensure that HOA covenants provide for the powers necessary to take self-help to effect repairs and remove violations. It is also important for HOAs to work through the proper channels and act within its authority granted by restrictive covenants. Failing to do so can be costly for an HOA. The law firm of Lafayette, Ayers & Whitlock, PLC has experience in drafting, reviewing, and amending HOA documents, as well as, representing HOAs in court.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Bankruptcy: Reaffirmation Required for Certain Abandoned Collateral

     In the case of American National Bank & Trust Co. v. DeJournette, the United States District Court in Danville ruled that where the debtors defaulted on their debt secured by a car and a tractor prior to filing for bankruptcy, the Bankruptcy Court erred in not requiring the debtors to reaffirm their obligation or redeem the underlying debt in order to retain the secured property.
     The District Court ruled that whether by means of abandonment or claimed exemption, the property at issue was no longer part of the estate. Therefore, the termination of the automatic stay is governed by Bankruptcy Code §362(c)(2), as opposed to Bankruptcy Code §362(c)(1). Pursuant to §362(c)(2), the automatic stay was lifted upon the earlier of the closing of the case and the discharge. Since the automatic stay had already been terminated by operation of §362(c), the District Court ruled that it was incapable of granting the bank's motion to modify the stay. Nevertheless, the District Court determined that it was capable of providing the bank other "effectual" relief. Underlying the bank's request for modification pursuant to §362(d)(1) was a claim that the Bankruptcy Court misapplied Bankruptcy Code §521(2) by not requiring the defaulting debtor to either reaffirm of redeem their obligation in order to retain the secured property. The District Court ruled that the Bankruptcy Court erred in ruling that the debtors did not either have to redeem or reaffirm. In making its decision, the District Court noted that the various circuit courts are split on the issue on whether a non-defaulting debtor must reaffirm or redeem his obligation when he seeks to retain secured collateral, or whether following a Chapter 7 filing, a non-defaulting debtor may simply hold on to the collateral securing the loan and continue making payments under the original loan agreement.
     The District Court concluded that where debtors have defaulted on a secured debt prior to filing a bankruptcy petition, they must reaffirm their obligation or redeem the underlying debt in order to retain the secured property. The District Court noted that one bankruptcy court in this District, in In Re Doss, disagreed with its conclusion and has extended the holding in In Re Belanger, to a situation involving a defaulting debtor. The District Court found that in a situation where the debtor had defaulted on a secured debt prior to filing for bankruptcy, the most efficient and fair remedy is to require the debtor to either surrender the collateral, or, if he desires to retain the collateral, redeem or reaffirm the obligation. Therefore, despite the ruling in Doss, the District Court found that other relevant case law supported its position.
     In conclusion, the District Court found that the appropriate relief in this case was to compel the debtors to either surrender the collateral, or, if they chose to retain the collateral, compel them to either redeem the debt or reaffirm their obligation. Accordingly, the debtors were ordered to file a new statement of intention either to surrender or retain the secured property. If they chose to retain the secured property, the debtors would likewise be ordered to state an intention to either redeem the debt pursuant to Bankruptcy Code §722 or reaffirm their obligation pursuant to Bankruptcy Code §524(c).

Monday, December 7, 2015

Collection: Secured Transaction Proceeds

     In the case of Orix Credit Alliance Inc. v. Sovran Bank, N.A., the United States District Court at Baltimore, Maryland, reviewed a case where Sovran Bank, which had provided the debtor with a line of credit and several bank accounts.  One of which account was a depository "cash collateral" account routinely applied against draws on the line of credit, signed an agreement with Orix, a finance company, to subordinate the bank's security interest in a crane (purchased by the debtor with funds from the finance company) to the finance company's interest in the crane. The Court ruled, however, that the bank was entitled to use the proceeds from the sale of the crane to reduce the debtor's obligation under the line of credit. The Court's decision was based upon a finding that the bank's transfer of the proceeds occurred in the debtor's ordinary course of business under Virginia Code §8.9-306, comment 2(c), which extinguished the finance company's interest in the proceeds from the sale of the crane.
     This case serves as another example as to why competent legal advice should be sought before relying upon a recorded security interest.