Monday, August 28, 2023

Real Estate: Using Real Estate as a Collection Tool

Collecting money owed can be a job. Having more tools to do the work is good! Securing your debt with real estate is a great tool. Each month in Creditor News we will explore ways that use this tool. Articles will include such topics as: Deeds of Trust, Foreclosure, Docketing Judgments, Lis Pendens, Recording Mechanic’s Liens, Suits to Enforce Mechanic’s Liens, Foreclosing on Mechanic’s Liens, Recording Homeowners Association Liens, Foreclosing on Homeowners Association Liens and more.

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. Please call me so that we can discuss how we can help you.

Monday, August 21, 2023

Bankruptcy: Chapter 7 Petition - Substantial Abuse

The United States Bankruptcy Court at Harrisonburg, Virginia, in the case of In Re: Rodriguez, dismissed a debtor’s Chapter 7 petition for “substantial abuse” pursuant to Bankruptcy Code §707(b) where the debtor’s voluntary monthly contribution of $286 to his 401(k), as well as his post-petition purchase of a Ford pickup truck, clearly indicated that the had the ability to fully fund a Chapter 13 plan without incurring undue hardship.

The Bankruptcy Court found that the debtors’ post-petition purchase of the new truck resulted in a net increase in monthly transportation-related expenses of $220. This voluntary increase indicated that the debtor felt that he had the ability to pay at least that amount to his creditors. The increase in transportation-related expenses and the contribution to the 401(k) alone total over $500 per month that the debtor could have used to pay his creditors. In doing so, the debtor could have paid his creditors 100 percent in less than 10 months. Conversely, if the debtor remained in Chapter 7, the majority of his creditors would receive nothing.

The debtor’s Schedule I indicated that he enjoyed steady employment with the same employer for eight years, and expected to earn $38,000 in that current year. Nothing in the other schedules filed with the debtor’s petition indicated a sudden illness or calamity which might have necessitated filing for Chapter 7 protection.

The Bankruptcy Court found that the debtor’s post-petition truck purchase, made with the knowledge that a short-term 100 percent Chapter 13 plan was feasible, constituted the kind of egregious abuse that Bankruptcy Code §707(b) was intended to prevent.

The lesson of Rodriguez - review Chapter 7 schedules for the ability to pay.

Monday, August 14, 2023

Collections: Arbitration - A Collection Alternative

Arbitration has become an increasingly popular way of resolving disputes. For those readers unfamiliar with the concept, arbitration is a process in which parties agree to submit the issues in controversy for determination by a party that they choose. The purpose behind the decision to arbitrate is usually to reach a resolution to the dispute in a quicker and cheaper manner than court action. Although most parties to the arbitration retain counsel to represent them, costs are normally less than court action because the rules of evidence are more relaxed, and the proceedings are less formal.

Virginia law recognizes the arbitration process and provides for the legal enforcement of arbitration awards.

The American Arbitration Association has developed standard rules, procedures, and panels of trained professionals to serve as arbitrators - the finders of fact.

The structure of the arbitration hearing is similar to a regular court hearing. A party has the right to representation by an attorney. Both parties also have an opportunity to make an opening statement, discuss the remedy they are seeking, introduce and cross-examine witnesses, and make a closing statement. Unlike a regular court proceeding, neither party in arbitration has the burden of proof because each party must persuade the arbitrator that its position is correct.

Virginia Code §8.01-577 to §8.01-581.016 establish Virginia's rule for arbitration. First, both parties must agree in a written agreement to submit a case for arbitration. The parties then select an arbitrator from a list of names. The court also may appoint an arbitrator.

An arbitrator has several duties. The first and foremost is to preside over the arbitration hearing. An arbitrator in Virginia may issue subpoenas for witnesses to appear. Lastly, the arbitrator issues and signs the award.

The court then confirms, modifies or vacates the award. The reasons for modification or vacation vary from a mistake in calculation to the arbitrators exceeding their powers (see Virginia Code §8.01-581.010 and §8.01-581.011). The court proceeds to enter a judgment or decree on the award. A party may appeal an award as one would in a civil action.

The California Court of Appeals has ruled on the enforceability of arbitration clauses. In Bell v. Congress Mortgage Co., Inc., the California Court held that an arbitration clause in a contract must be highlighted in bold type or the consumer needs to initial beside the specific clause. These methods should make the consumer aware of the arbitration clause in the contract, as previously a consumer might waive his right to a jury trial without realizing it because, the California Court stated, an arbitration clause is not within the reasonable expectations of the consumer. There is no such requirement in Virginia law for the arbitration clause to be highlighted, however, but until the issue is litigated in Virginia, initials next to the clause would be a good measure of caution.

I have litigated several arbitration cases, each to positive results, once to an amount higher than initially requested by the client.

Monday, August 7, 2023

Foreclosure: Foreclosure Sale Deficiency Actions

Frequently there will be a deficiency balance after the sale is completed and the accounting is done. The account of sale will set forth the distribution of the sale proceeds and also establish any amounts remaining due on the indebtedness following application of the net proceeds from the foreclosure sale. This deficiency amount is usually recovered by a personal judgment against the maker of the promissory note or other obligors on the indebtedness that was secured by the deed of trust. An action to recover the deficiency balance remaining after a foreclosure sale need not be brought on the chancery side of the court and may properly be brought as an action at law. A plaintiff’s action to recover on an assumed promissory note may be maintained as an action at law even though the plaintiff is not named in the deed of trust.