Monday, October 30, 2023

Foreclosure: Foreclosure Basics

Foreclosure law is a creature of state statute. Accordingly, each state’s laws are different. Because the statute controls, courts will enforce strict adherence to the exact words and requirements. Failing to fully comply with statutory mandates will likely result in defective foreclosures and costly work.

In the upcoming issues of Creditor News we will explore foreclosures from beginning to end. From the preparation of the deed of trust, to final accounting after sale.

Monday, October 23, 2023

Real Estate: Docketing Judgments to Secure an Interest in Real Estate

In previous 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 docketing judgments to aid in the collection of your debt.

Docketed judgments create a lien against the debtor’s real estate in the county or city in which the lien is docketed. Accordingly, make sure that you know where your debtor owns, or may own (e.g., through future purchase or inheritance), real estate. Once recorded, the lien will take priority in line with the date of recording (with some limited exceptions). Depending upon your debtor’s problems, you may have equity to cover your lien. Obviously you will want to “get in line” sooner rather than later to give you the best chance of collection.

Once a lien is in place, it must be addressed at any sale or refinance of the real estate. The lien must also be addressed in bankruptcy -- if the debtor does not file a motion to strip the lien, the lien will survive a bankruptcy discharge.

If all other collection measures are unsuccessful, you can consider bringing a creditor’s bill, which is an action to force the sale of real estate to satisfy a judgment under Virginia Code §8.01-462:

Jurisdiction to enforce the lien of a judgment shall be in equity. If it
appears to the court that the rents and profits of all real estate subject
to the lien will not satisfy the judgment in five years, the court may
decree such real estate, any part thereof, to be sold, and the proceeds
applied to the discharge of the judgment.
Although creditor’s bills may be costly, given the right judgment it is an effective collection tool. Determining what judgments are "right" requires experience and good judgment.

We have experienced attorneys and staff who can seek judgment and then docket and enforce the same.

Monday, October 16, 2023

Bankruptcy: Redemption – Exercising the Right of Redemption

Can debtors exercise the right of redemption after discharge has been ordered?
A decision by Judge Krumm for the Western District of Virginia appears to have answered this question. The case was In Re Hawkins. The debtors sought to reaffirm the bank loan secured by their Dodge Colt. The debtors later learned of Bankruptcy Code §722 redemption rights, and sought to redeem instead of reaffirm. Before redemption was achieved, the chapter 7 discharge was granted. The creditor opposed the motion and alleged that debtors' right of redemption expired when they were discharged in bankruptcy. The court found for the debtors and held that the debtors' discharge did not bar their motion for redemption under § 722. Debtors were clearly entitled to reaffirm debts after discharge under 11 U.S.C.S. § 524. While 11 U.S.C.S. § 722 was silent on whether they were allowed to redeem property after discharge, the court found that it was Congress' intent to consider the concepts of reaffirmation and redemption together. The court reasoned that although the Code is silent as to when debtors may exercise their right to redeem, since concepts from reaffirmation and redemption were considered by Congress together, the time frame for exercising one option should be applicable to the other option. Therefore, the time frame for exercising redemption rights was the same as that for exercising reaffirmation rights.

Right to redeem / repossess property in Chapter 13 cases:

In the case of Tidewater Finance Co. v. Moffett, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a Chapter 13 debtor was entitled to the return of her car, which had been repossessed by a finance company. This decision affirmed the original bankruptcy court decision, as well as the appellate decision of the District Court.

In Moffett, the debtor, in her reorganization plan, exercised her right to redeem under the Virginia Uniform Commercial Code (“UCC”); the plan provided for full payment of her debt to the finance company, plus interest on the delinquent payments.

The debtor worked at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, forty miles from her home. A couple of years prior to the bankruptcy filing she had bought a previously owned, three year old Honda Accord from a dealer in Woodbridge, which assigned its loan to the finance company creditor. The car was the debtor’s only means to get to work each day. The debtor made her payments in a timely fashion for a year, and then missed two payments. This prompted the finance company to repossess the car. Later that same day the debtor filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. A week after that the debtor’s lawyer demanded that the finance company return the car. The finance company filed a motion for relief from the automatic stay so that it could sell the vehicle. The bankruptcy court denied the motion, however, and ordered the finance company to return the car. In doing so, the bankruptcy judge required adequate protection for the creditor in the debtor’s Chapter 13 plan. The debtor’s Chapter 13 plan provided for full payment of the loan. The finance company returned the car, but appealed to the District Court.

The District Court Judge found that the debtor had a statutory right of redemption, and also found that the finance company was required to turn over the car once its interest was adequately protected in the Chapter 13 plan.

The finance company appealed again, this time to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. In his opinion, the Fourth Circuit Court Judge cited that pursuant to the federal bankruptcy code, once a petition is filed, an automatic stay goes in effect. Any party with property that the trustee can use, sell or lease must turn it over to the trustee, after that party’s interest is protected. The district judge said the question in this case was whether the finance company and the car at issue were subject to the referenced code provisions. The judge looked at the UCC as controlling, since the case involved default on a purchase agreement with a secured creditor. The UCC allows the creditor the right of repossession, but within limits. The debtor also has rights upon repossession, including the right to redeem the property under UCC Section 8.9A-623 (c)(2). The Judge ruled that the debtor’s right to redemption becomes one of the “legal or equitable interests” of her bankruptcy estate.

The 4th Circuit agreed with the lower courts that if the creditor’s interest is protected in the plan, then it must turn over the car. UCC Section 8.9-623(b) allows a debtor to redeem collateral by tendering in full its obligations to the creditor. In this case, the Judge noted that the debtor’s plan did just that. The plan even provided interest to the finance company for the delinquent payments. The Judge wrote: “[T]he bankruptcy plan here provided for the payment of all future installments, the curing of all delinquent payments, and the payment of all applicable interest over the course of the plan”. “Such a flexible approach to repaying claims is precisely what the Bankruptcy Code allows in order to facilitate a debtor’s successful rehabilitation.” The Judge affirmed the lower court’s decision.

Monday, October 9, 2023

Collections: Timeliness of Mechanic's Lien

The Supreme Court of Virginia reviewed several interesting issues regarding mechanic's liens in the case of American Standard Homes Corp. v. Reinecke, 425 S.E.2d 515, 245 Va. 113 (1993).
In American Standard some of the replacement materials for the prefabricated homes were delivered to each of the six projects more than 90 days after the materials and "extras" designated in the respective material order contracts had been delivered, the time limitation for filing memoranda of mechanic's liens, specified in Virginia Code §43-4. The Court ruled that time began to run upon delivery of the material designated in the material order contracts and not from delivery of the replacement materials. The Court, in making its ruling, determined that the materials delivered under the purchase orders were not materials last furnished within the intendment of the perfection statute, thus, the six liens were not timely filed.

The seller of the prefab homes had argued that the material order contracts were "open-ended devices" and that, because "each contract contemplated both extras and multiple purchase orders," the materials acquired under purchase orders were, for purposes of the filing limitation prescribed by the perfection statute, materials last furnished under those contracts. The Court disagreed though, finding that each material order contract contained blank spaces beneath the word "Extras" in which the buyer listed the materials to be added to those designated in the "dry-in" and "trim" packages. Unlike the "Extras" listed in the material order contracts and included in the invoices issued when the two material packages were delivered, the "Extras" to be shipped C.O.D. under particularized purchase orders were articles which were "replacement materials" for those materials that after delivery, had been lost, damaged or stolen and were reordered. Neither the basic contract nor the material order contract required the buyer to purchase such "extras" from the seller; the buyer was free to contract with other materialmen for materials needed to replace those delivered earlier by the seller. In its purchase orders, the buyer offered to buy replacement parts from the seller. The seller accepted that offer by delivering the materials.

The Court found that this was a contract, one separate and apart from the material order contract. The latter expressly provided that it was "THE COMPLETE AGREEMENT BETWEEN THE PARTIES." When the seller delivered the materials designated as extras listed in the contract, it delivered all it had contracted to deliver. What it delivered under the contract were the materials last furnished within the intendment of the 90-day statutory limit for filing memorandum of mechanic's lien. The Court found that the record showed with respect to each of the six liens at issue that the limitation period had expired before the seller filed its memoranda. Accordingly, the liens were unenforceable.

The lesson of American Standard - enforcement of creditor’s rights in construction law matters is a very complex and requires experienced counsel.

Monday, October 2, 2023

Foreclosure: Obtaining Possession after Foreclosure

Upon purchasing property at a foreclosure sale, it is not uncommon to have a “holdover tenant”. If this occurs, you can obtain possession of the property by filing a Summons for Unlawful Detainer in the appropriate General District Court. The applicable statute requires that the plaintiff prove “a right to the possession of the premises at the time of the commencement of the suit.” The only evidence that is usually required is (a) a copy of the recorded trustee’s deed, since the facts recited therein are prima facie evidence of their truth, and (b) a copy of the notice to vacate sent to the occupant(s).
On the date of the initial return, if the defendant fails to appear, possession will be granted. If the matter is contested, most courts set a new date for trial. In contested cases, issues are usually related to notice and service, so the trustee should be prepared to present evidence that the foreclosure sale was properly advertised, noticed and conducted.

The judgment for possession is not final until 10 days after it is entered, and most courts will not issue a writ of possession during that 10-day pendency. If an appeal is noted within the 10-day period, the defendant must perfect the appeal by posting an appeal bond and paying within 30 days of the date of the judgment the applicable writ and service fees for the circuit court. Most judges are sympathetic to require significant appeal bonds equating with the former mortgage payments.

Eviction is accomplished using a “Request for Writ of Possession.” A writ of possession may be issued on an unlawful detainer for up to one year from the date of judgment. When requesting the writ of possession, provide contact information for both the Sheriff and the person who will supervise the eviction of the new owner; the Sheriff will coordinate a date and time to serve the writ of possession and maintain the peace while the owner physically evicts the personal property of the occupant(s) and secures the property.