Monday, July 31, 2017

Real Estate: Statute of Limitations Enforced on Challenge to Bylaws Amendment

     The Virginia Condominium Act, specifically Virginia Code Section 55-79.71(C), provides for a statute of limitations in regard to challenging amendments to governing documents. The section provides, in part:
     “An action to challenge the validity of an amendment adopted by the unit owners’ association pursuant to this section may not be brought more than one year after the amendment is recorded.”
     In the case of Godwin v. Bay Point Association Board of Directors, a Norfolk Circuit Court was faced with a homeowner challenge to bylaw amendments. The homeowner, Godwin, had sued the association alleging that it breached its governing documents by taking actions four years earlier and three years earlier that increased her assessment for insurance premiums. The association filed a motion to dismiss Godwin’s complaint on the ground that it was time-barred pursuant to Virginia Code Section 55-79.71(C).
     Four years earlier the association’s board of directors signed a resolution regarding physical damage and flood insurance. Three years earlier it drafted and signed a bylaw amendment relating to insurance premiums. The association argued that challenging either of these actions was time-barred under the statute of limitations.
     The court ruled that the resolution was not an amendment to the condominium governing documents within the meaning of the act. The court found that, at most, the resolution represented a statement of the board’s opinion that the bylaws should be amended to revise the way insurance premiums were assessed against the unit owners. In the resolution, the board acknowledged the need to amend the bylaws and stated that the amendment process was lengthy and inconsistent with the budget preparation schedule for the upcoming fiscal year. Because the resolution was not an amendment adopted by the unit owners pursuant to the act, the court found that the act’s statute of limitations did not apply. However, the court ruled that the bylaws amendment was an amendment to the governing documents within the definition contemplated by the act. Accordingly, the one-year statute of limitations applied.
     Godwin argued that because the association violated mandatory procedures for amending the bylaws, the amendment was null and void, and thus, the statute of limitations did not apply. The court, however, in examining the statute, noted that nothing in the statute suggested that only valid bylaw amendments are subject to the one-year statute of limitations. The court noted that any amendment, not just valid ones, may be challenged within one year. Accordingly, Godwin’s claim was barred by the statute of limitations.
     Godwin then tried to argue that there was a breach of fiduciary duty (the legal duty of the board to act in the best interests of the residents). Godwin and the association agreed that an action for such breach must be filed within two years from the date of breach. Godwin argued that, although the association initially breached its fiduciary duty four and three years earlier “when in bad faith it knowingly and willfully” adopted the resolution and the bylaws amendment, there were renewed breaches when the annual budgets were adopted in the last two years, which reflected the change made to assessments for insurance premiums. The court disagreed, finding that any breach of fiduciary duty relating to the change in the insurance premium assessment took place when the association acted four and three years ago to adopt the resolution and bylaw amendment. The latest of these actions occurred over two years prior to Godwin’s filing suit. Therefore, the claim was time-barred.


Monday, July 24, 2017

Bankruptcy: Voluntary Conveyance - Debtor's Inheritance

     In the case of Shaia v. Meyer, the United States Bankruptcy Court, Eastern District of Virginia, Richmond Division, Judge Tice ruled that a bankruptcy trustee may recover funds a debtor inherited from his father and used to pay off two mortgages on property the debtor owned with his wife in a tenancy by the entirety. Essentially, the Court ruled that the debtor's payments constituted a voluntary or fraudulent conveyance that could be recovered by the bankruptcy estate.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Collections: Equal Opportunity Credit Act - Continued

       In a previous blog we began a review of The Equal Opportunity Credit Act.
     There are also many potential defenses that have been raised by lenders; listed below are those which have been cited most frequently.
     1. Voluntary signatures are okay. Although a spouse cannot be required to co-sign a note, voluntary signatures are okay. Thus, the lender can win if it can show that the spouse's signature was voluntary.
     2. One spouse was not enough. A lender can argue that the applicant's spouse did not satisfy it's credit criteria all alone, and the other spouse's assets figured into his loan decision, which is why the other spouse's signature was required.
     3. Both spouses are principals. If both spouses are principals in a business, the lender can argue that it required both of their signatures because of their business relationship rather than their marital status.
     4. Pre-1986 guarantors. ECOA regulations were expanded to include guarantors as of October 1, 1986. Courts have been split as to whether they apply to guarantors if a bank violated the Act before that date but renewed the note after it.
     5. Good Faith. A lender is not liable if it acted in good faith compliance with the Federal Reserve Board's "official staff interpretation" of the ECOA, which can be found at 12 C.F.R. §202.
     The City of Richmond Circuit Court denied an ECOA defense pled by a wife who had signed a broad release when the loan was refinanced. The case was Richmond Lotco L.P. v. Perrowville Dev. Corp.
     In Perrowville the lender obtained a guaranty and general release of claims from four directors of a real estate development company and their wives. The release was included in the modification of an existing loan that the lender had purchased from the Resolution Trust Corp. after the original lender, a bank, went into receivership. The release stated that the borrowers and guarantors would release the note holders "from any and all claims, losses, liabilities, causes of action of any king whatsoever, if any, whether existing or contingent, known or unknown, matured or unmatured, that the borrowers or guarantors may now have or have had in whatever capacity against the noteholder...".
     When the successor lender brought a collection suit under the modification, the wives claimed that they were not involved in the business and that their guaranties had been required solely as a result of their marital status, in violation of the ECOA. The wives argued that the ECOA gave them both a defense to the collection action and a counterclaim against the lender. The lender argued that the release was part of the consideration that the lender received for continuing to finance the development project under the modification. The Court ruled in favor of the lender, stating that the modification agreement did not constitute a violation of the ECOA and that therefore the wives could not pursue either a defense or a counterclaim.
     The litigation that has arisen gives good cause to review lending policies for ECOA compliance. Please call me at 545-6250 if you have any questions. Eddie.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Foreclosure: Right to Cure a Default

     Question: Once a borrower is in default, can he “reinstate the loan”, or, “cure the default” and stop the foreclosure sale? 
     Answer: Yes. In general, most deeds of trust contain language that allows a borrower the opportunity to reinstate, or cure, the loan after the due date set out in the note. If the deed of trust contains this language, the note cannot be placed into default and accelerated until the cure period has expired. Government loans such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have very specific requirements. In fact, a borrower can always cure a monetary default and stop a foreclosure up to the time of sale by paying in full, in good funds, the deficient amount, including all costs of the sale.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Real Estate: Using Real Estate to Secure Your Debt

     Many fail to recognize the benefit of using real estate to improve their position as creditors. Properly securing debts through real estate could make the difference between collecting the funds and incurring a loss.
     Securing debt with real estate can occur in several ways: deeds of trust, judgment liens, homeowner association liens, mechanic’s liens and lis pendens in litigation cases, just to name a few. In the upcoming blogs we will explore these, as well as the ways that I can assist you.
     We have experienced attorneys and staff who can examine title, do real estate closings, seek judgment and docket and enforce the same, and prepare and enforce statutory liens, such as those for litigation, homeowner’s associations and mechanic lien situations.