Can I Owe Money After a Foreclosure?

Challenging a Foreclosure

A common question for homeowners facing foreclosure is whether they will owe money after a foreclosure.  While it is possible to owe money after a foreclosure sale (commonly known as a deficiency judgment), there are requirements that a lender must follow to pursue such a claim, and other considerations that come into play on whether a lender will seek these damages against a borrower.

Requirements for Pursuing a Deficiency Judgment

Whether a borrower may own money after a foreclosure depends on the outcome of the foreclosure auction.   In such an auction, the home is put up for sale, with the lender attempting to recover the money that the homeowner owes on the home.  If the winning bid is greater than the amount owed by the borrower, the borrower gets the difference, after deducting the loan payoff and the lender’s costs and fees.

If the borrower owes more than the highest bid on the property, the borrower would owe the difference (known as a “deficiency judgment”).  However, to collect this judgment, the bank is required to comply with a notice and affidavit requirement.  A 2017 decision from the First Circuit Court of Appeals, Gavin v. U.S. Bank, N.A., held that a lender must strictly comply with this law.  In that case, the lender failed to send the required affidavit within thirty days after the foreclosure sale, which precluded the lender from attempting to recover this money from the homeowner.

Deadline for Pursuing a Deficiency Judgment 

Another consideration on whether a homeowner will owe money after a foreclosure sale is whether the lender has filed such a claim within the required deadline (known as the statute of limitations).  The statute of limitations for such a claim is two years from the foreclosure sale.  If such a claim is not brought within this deadline, the homeowner will not owe money after the foreclosure.

Practical Considerations on Owing Money After Foreclosure 

As discussed above, while it is possible to owe money after a foreclosure, it is not common.  The reason is that most lenders do not want to spend the time and money collecting a judgment that the homeowner will likely not be able to pay.  The old adage applies:  you can’t get blood from a stone.

Moreover, any owed money after a foreclosure sale can often be eliminated through a bankruptcy, either before or after the foreclosure.  If such a bankruptcy occurs, the lender will have few, if any, options for trying to collect this debt.

Conclusion 

Although it is rare to owe money after a foreclosure sale, it is possible.  Homeowners facing such a claim should speak with an experienced attorney to learn their options.

Guest Blog Post: Renters Insurance

The Massachusetts Landlord Tenant Blog is pleased to have Jordan Lavalle from Liberty Mutual guest blog on the important topic of renters insurance.  Jordan may be contacted at Jordan.Lavallee@LibertyMutual.com

‘I Don’t Have Renters Insurance, what is the big deal?’ is a question I hear from my clients on a daily basis.  Purchasing home insurance on your house is widely accepted, but having renters insurance on your apartment is often ignored.  In fact, a 2016 study conducted by the ORC International, found that 95% of homeowners had insurance, while only 41% of renters did.

In my profession as a Sales Representative at Liberty Mutual, I hear weekly stories of people who are left empty-handed after their apartment building experienced a traumatic loss. “It is better to be safe than sorry,” is my motto when it comes to purchasing renters insurance, especially when it is much more affordable than people think.  In the same way I aim to advise my clients, my hope for this article is to educate readers on the offerings of renter’s insurance and eliminate any misconceptions.

Renters insurance includes three main coverage’s, although there are many additional coverage’s, called endorsements, which can be added on.

Personal Property

Anything in your apartment, home, or space you rent that belongs to you is covered by renters insurance.  All too often, clients underestimate the value of their belonging.  Luckily, there are several apps on the market, including Liberty Mutual’s Home Gallery App, which will allow you to calculate the value your belongings.  Do not be surprised how quickly you reach the thousands, when you start adding up the cost of your clothing, furniture, and electronics.  Not only will your renters policy cover your personal property while it’s sitting in your apartment, but it will be covered ANYWHERE in the world.  So you are on vacation in Bora Bora and you lost your designer sunglasses?  Good news, you can get a brand new pair with your renter’s insurance policy!

Loss of Use

Not only are your personal belongings protected, but renters insurance has another significant coverage known as Loss of Use.  If your apartment is deemed unlivable, Loss of Use will cover costs associated with housing, food, laundry and more while your building is being renovated, up to the policy limits.  Not having to think twice about how you will afford being displaced from your home, takes stress away from the situation, so you can continue to focus on work, family and friends.

Liability

The third major component to renter’s insurance is liability protection, which will protect you up to your policy limits for medical expenses of others and legal fees.  As a renter, you are responsible for any injuries to your guests.  From a slip or fall, dog bites, or serving alcohol to your guest who later gets into a car accident, the law suits or medical bills could come back to you.  Liability coverage will also protect you if you are found responsible for property damage in your home.  For example, if you light a candle near a flowing curtain and start a fire, you will be accountable for the damages.  This is where liability coverage can kick-in and cover the expensive repair, so it will not come out of your pocket.

Not only does renters insurance offer these instrumental coverage’s, but you also have the option to add on endorsements to personalize your policy.  One endorsement that I often add to renter’s insurance policies is called our Home Computer Endorsement.  It covers my client’s computers, laptops, smartphones and tablets if they are damaged or lost, with a $50 deductible.  For only an extra $2.00/month to add the Home Computer Endorsement on, it is much less expensive than the cost to buy insurance for you smartphone through your mobile carrier.

Many clients think that adding renters insurance would be a huge cost to them.  However, in Boston, most renters’ insurance policies that I sell cost less than $20.00 a month.  That is less than the cost of 4 lattes from Starbucks or a night out to dinner!  Do not take a gamble on your financial well-being. Protect yourself and your family by putting a renter’s insurance policy in place today!

About Jordon Lavallee

Thank you all for reading about the significance of Renters Insurance.  My name is Jordan Lavallee, and I am a Sales Agent for Liberty Mutual, servicing the state of Massachusetts.  My passion for what I do, comes from my innate desire to help people.  Through coaching clients and offering my advice, I am able to give them invaluable peace of mind.  If you or anyone in your network would like to discuss their best insurance options, please email me at Jordan.Lavallee@LibertyMutual.com and connect with me on LinkedIn to see more educational insurance posts.

 

How to Prevent Adverse Possession in Massachusetts

Adverse possession is an area of law that every Massachusetts property owner needs to be aware of.  These types of claim allows a party using another person’s property to acquire it through continuous use.  If you suspect your property may be used by someone else, it is important to know how to prevent adverse possession.

Overview of Adverse Possession

Adverse possession allows a party occupying another’s property to acquire it as their own.  Under such a claim, the continuous use of such property for twenty years allows a user to make it their own.  This doctrine of law has serious consequences for owners who neglect their property: under the right circumstances, a so-called “trespasser” can become a property owner.  

Know Your Property

Adverse possession commonly occurs in a scenario where property owners do not know “who owns what.”  Often, an adverse possession claim can arise when a property owner sincerely believes that the driveway, parking lot, or water access is their own, and uses it that way for the required twenty-year period.

For this reason, it is important to know your property, and learn your property boundaries through a formal land survey.  Doing so will allow a property owner to know if someone else is on their land.

Consider Giving the Non-Owner Permission to Use the Subject Property

A non-occupant’s use of property is not always contentious.  For example, a homeowner may learn that their neighbor’s shed encroaches several feet onto their property, on a portion of their backyard that is rarely used.  The homeowner may not care that the neighbor is using this land but, understandably, does not want to lose it from a potential adverse possession claim.  What can be done to prevent adverse possession?

In such a case, the homeowner may consider simply giving the non-occupant permission to use the property.  A central requirement of adverse possession is that the use must be non-permissive.  If the homeowner expressly gives permission to use the property, adverse possession cannot occur.

While this solution to adverse possession is fairly straightforward, it is still worth speaking to an attorney for advice on how to do this properly, so as to not lose the right to retain this property if it is ever needed again.

Court Action for Trespass or Injunctive Relief

If you are not able to resolve the matter amicably, court action may become necessary.  A party who feels someone else is using their property without permission can bring an action for trespass and seek injunctive relief, where a court formally orders a party to stay off a property.

Conclusion

If you find yourself in such a scenario, it is worth speaking to an attorney on how to prevent adverse possession.  I have helped other homeowners with similar claims and can provide the guidance necessary to resolve these tricky matters.

Guest Blog Post: 2017 Eviction Appeal Recap

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The Massachusetts Landlord Tenant Blog is pleased to have Attorney Joseph N. Schneiderman guest blog on 2017’s major eviction appeal decisions .  Attorney  Schneiderman is an appellate attorney licensed in Massachusetts and Connecticut and may be contacted at connlawjoe@gmail.com.

The year 2017 was a busy time in the realm of the law of summary process. Beyond the expansion of the Housing Court, the Supreme Judicial Court and the Appeals Court have heard and issued significant eviction appeal decisions that landlord-tenant and Housing Court practitioners should be familiar with.

Summary Process and Harassment Prevention Orders

First, in C.E.R. v. P.C., 91 Mass. App. Ct. 124 (2017), the Appeals Court emphatically held that harassment prevention orders under G.L. c.258E could not become functional shortcuts or substitutes for summary process. The facts do not flatter the defendants; they were two roommates renting a room from the plaintiff, who was about to sell the home.  Suffice it to say that the roommates engaged in boorish conduct involving sex, drugs, and rock and roll. The situation eventually boiled over to the point of the plaintiff obtaining an ex parte harassment prevention order in the Ipswich District Court. The judge later extended it for one year, effectively forcing the defendants to leave the home.

Although the Appeals Court vacated the orders for insufficient evidence of harassment, the Appeals Court also emphasized that such orders could not be “used as a short-cut for evicted tenants without following summary process procedures.” 91 Mass. App. Ct. at 132. More particularly, the plaintiff repeatedly asserted that she wanted the orders to “induce the defendants to leave without interfering with the rental or sale of the property.”  The police who responded in turn suggested she obtain a lawyer and during the proceedings,  “the defendants had already begun to move out.” The trial judge also hinted that the plaintiff was attempting to avoid summary process-echoing a similar past case.

Practitioners and judges alike should also be aware of how landlords may attempt to employ harassment prevention orders as functional summary process substitutes. Tenant bad behavior should not be condoned. But summary process is the means to redress it-not Chapter 258E. If you have questions, check the dockets in the District Court as defendants have a right to obtain the orders, even though portions of the orders are confidential. G.L. c.258E, §10. If there’s pushback from a Clerk, move for relief from impoundment.

Moreover, evidence that there was no reasonable basis for a harassment prevention order may defeat an Anti-SLAPP (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation, think a Donald Trump suing a little guy just for the sake of suing him) motion. Compare Van Liew v. Stansfeld, 474 Mass. 31 (2016), citing G.L. c.231, §59H. Even with changes in Anti-SLAPP this year, an unjustified harassment prevention order or Anti-SLAPP order may constitute retaliatory conduct to trigger treble damages under c.186, §14. But those questions are for another day. For now, be mindful of this possibility.

Termination of a Section 8 Lease, Right to a Jury Trial in an Eviction Case

In CMJ Management v. Wilkerson, 91 Mass. App. Ct. 276 (2017), the Appeals Court held that a tenant’s child’s criminal conduct justified termination of a Section 8 lease-but that the same tenant had been unlawfully deprived of her right to a jury trial. The tenant had custody of her fourteen year old grandson, who shot and fired a BB gun that injured two fellow juveniles.  Although no delinquency charges followed, the eviction occurred.

The Appeals Court rejected the tenant’s argument that the juvenile’s conduct did not constitute criminal activity. Admittedly, the juvenile’s conduct violated a statute that only provided for a fine.  However, the lease unambiguously forbade criminal activity by any tenant, member of a tenant’s household and threatened the well being of fellow tenants.  There was no distinction between juveniles and adults in the lease. Thus, termination was proper.

Although the Appeals Court’s analysis is literally correct, Massachusetts law has always treated juveniles charged with crime  as different in kind from adult offenders. Indeed, “as far as practicable [juveniles charged with crimes ] shall be treated, not as criminals, but as children in need of aid, encouragement and guidance.” G.L. c.119, §53.

Practically speaking, Juvenile Court judges have broad flexibility to deal with juveniles facing delinquency charges to further their best interests. The question for more than 100 years has always been: “What shall be done with this child?” not, how do we punish and deter this child?   Indeed, not only was there was no guarantee that a complaint would issue against a juvenile, but if a complaint had issued, the judge could have dismissed the complaint before arraignment-which would mean that no CARI record would exist Compare Commonwealth v. Humberto H.,  a juvenile, 466 Mass. 562 (2013).

To be certain, summary process and delinquency are different proceedings in kind. However, to deprive a juvenile of his housing, housing he very likely has no control over and must rely on an adult to obtain, is a sufficiently adverse collateral consequence that the consequence effectively defies the command not to treat him as a criminal. This is curiously absent from the Appeals Court’s analysis. This issue also underpinned an ultimately unsuccessful application for further appellate review by the Supreme Judicial Court. See Docket No. FAR-25267.

Practitioners who have clients with family members facing delinquency complaints should keep abreast of this issue. This collateral consequence is substantial and potentially irrationally  treats the juvenile as a criminal. Whether or not Section 8 pre-empts G.L. c.119, §53 (or conversely, that applying Section 8 to a child within the ambit of G.L. c.119, §53 violates the 10th Amendment as unconstitutional strongarming) is a thorny and novel issue-for another day. Compare Boston Housing Authority v. Garcia, 449 Mass. 727 (2007).

On the jury trial issue, the Appeals Court held that the judge’s action striking the tenant’s jury claim amounted to disproportionate sanction. The tenant answered by asserting a jury claim but did not file a pre-trial memorandum to press her claim although the Landlord had-and indeed, the Landlord proposed instructions. The tenant  admitted that she did not understand the pre-trial memorandum. The judge replied, “I can’t let you go forward …without a pre-trial memorandum.” 91 Mass. App. Ct. at 281-282.

The Appeals Court held that the tenant’s answer sufficed to timely demand and assert her jury claim. Two factors mitigated against implying that the tenant waived the jury trial. First, Housing Court Standing Order No. 1-04 specifically imbued judges with power to allow tardy motions and other pleadings since many parties were self-represented. Second, Art. 15 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights specifically guaranteed a right to a jury trial in eviction trials. 91 Mass. App. Ct. at 284-285, citing New Bedford Housing Authority v. Olan, 435 Mass. 364, 370 (2001).

A judge should therefore approach striking a jury demand cautiously. Although the tenant had notice of the possibility of striking the demand as a  sanction, the judge abused her discretion by striking the demand. Indeed, the tenant attempted to understand the memorandum and striking the demand would not serve as a deterrent sanction.

What’s the take-away? If you represent someone who was self-represented, avail yourself not only of Standing Order 1-04-and Mass. R. Civ. Pro. 15 (to amend or conform pleadings.) Indeed, Rule 15 favors granting amendments-there needs to be prejudice to overcome that presumption. Dockets and court files can be messy-indeed, self-represented litigants may try to litigate by paper deluge. These rules are a powerful solvent for counsel to clean them up. If there’s a question about a jury trial, make sure it’s in the answer-and emphasize that striking a jury demand should be a last resort because of the constitutional and statutory implications. And, cite this case!

Waiver of a Jury Trial in an Eviction Case

Cort v. Majors, 92 Mass. App. Ct. 151 (2017) followed Wilkerson.  The case was a typical summary process case; tenant and landlord were self-represented, tenant stopped paying rent, landlord sought eviction, tenant counterclaimed.  After the landlord’s testimony and during his own testimony, the tenant said, “I’d like a jury.” The judge responded that the tenant waived that right, to the tenant’s surprise. “You didn’t tell me that.” 92 Mass. App. Ct. at 152. The trial concluded in the landlord’s favor.  The question on appeal was whether the tenant had indeed waived his jury trial.

The Appeals Court held that he had not. The Appeals Court recalled that generally, Housing Court trials were bench trials unless constitutionally required. Article 15 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights guaranteed a jury trial, Mass. R. Civ. Pro. 38(a) incorporated and implemented that right, and Uniform Summary Process Rule 8 implemented that right in summary process trials. Mass. R. Civ. Pro. 39 in turn only provided for a waiver of a jury trial if there was a written or oral stipulation. Because the tenant demanded a jury trial in his answer, the issue was whether the tenant executed a valid oral stipulation.

The Appeals Court held he had not. Although the tenant answered ready for trial, this response to the judge was not a waiver of his right to a jury trial.  Nor was there any suggestion that the tenant authorized the judge “to decide or knowingly relinquished his right to a jury trial.” Rather, under Rules 38 and 39, if there is a valid jury demand, a judge had a duty to “affirmatively inquire of the parties, before any witness is sworn, whether the case will proceed with or without a jury [this was not…] satisfied by commencing a bench trial and awaiting an objection by a party.”  The Appeals Court recognized that many self-represented litigants appeared in the Housing Court. However, Rules 38 and 39 meant what they said-and a judge could still explain the differences to a party.

The two cases above represent robust reinforcement of the rights to a jury trial. The Appeals Court recognize the competing demands on Housing Court judges to, on the one hand, maintain efficient proceedings but also respect the rights of tenants-who are often self-represented and ill-suited to understand assert them. Only the clearest and most unequivocal conduct will amount to a waiver of the jury trial right. Like in the criminal context, judges must engage with tenants to ensure that they are knowingly and clearly and unambiguously waiving their jury trial rights. The Appeals Court also recognizes that Housing Court judges can carry out this duty easily by discussing and informing tenants of this right.

Damages in an Eviction Case

South Boston Elderly Residences v. Moynahan, 91 Mass. App. Ct. 455 (2017) further elucidates damages in the landlord-tenant context. Moynahan lived in a small (450 square feet) unit that suffered from perpetual moisture and mold problems. Conditions eventually deteriorated to the point of mushrooms growing in the carpeting-the landlord refused to address in light of clutter.

Boston Inspectional Services eventually cited the landlord-who in turn served a notice to quit in October 2011 and refused to cash rent checks. Moynahan returned to the apartment but discovered inadequate ventilation-and a second and third summary process action followed. A three day trial ensued-and the trial judge refused to award any rent abatement damages for moisture or mold before August 2011 or for fall of that year because Moynahan prevented repairs. The judge also found that Moynahan rebutted the presumption of in retaliation due to clutter and sustained non-payment of rent.

Although the Appeals Court sympathized with Moynahan’s plight, ultimately, the code violation relative to moisture and mold were minor and did not cause problems until May 2012. Thus, the findings of fact were not clearly erroneous to warrant damages. 91 Mass. App. Ct. at 462-464.  Moreover, since Moynahan prevented access for repairs and had access to another nearby apartment, he only established lack of access to an adequate unit for three months of five –and the judge did not err in only awarding him one month.

Regarding ventilation damages, the judge erred in so far as he based an abatement award to Moynahan as a proverbial eggshell plaintiff, or easily subject to injury due to the lack of ventilation and lack of access to windows. Rather, since a breach of warranty of habitability supported contract and tort damages, the landlord had to take Moynahan as he found him. Since the judge applied an incorrect legal standard while partially crediting Moynahan’s testimony about breathing conditions, the Appeals Court remanded. 91 Mass. App. Ct. at 465-467.

The Appeals Court however found that the judge’s finding that the landlord overcame the presumption of retaliation by clear and convincing was clearly erroneous. Although the landlord complained about the issue in March 2010, there was no evidence that Moynahan was hoarding or making it worse before the notice to quite in October 2011. Nor did the landlord act to correct it until after Moynahan called in inspectional services. Thus, Moynahan deserved statutory damages of up to three months rent or actual damages.

However, Moynahan had not established damages for c.93A. To be certain, the code violation, in and of itself, violated c.93A. But the landlord had acted to cure the violation and since Moynahan had not presented any evidence of a violation before August 2011, Moynahan had no right to 93A damages. Finally, with regards to quiet enjoyment, although unauthorized entry could amount to a breach of quiet enjoyment, the record simply did not bear it out as unreasonable-there was only incident where Moynahan did not desire the landlord’s entry but sought it for another day-which was to address repairs.

There are many possible takeaways from this case. First, a breach of the warranty of habitability should not simply be based on market or contractual damages-it should stem from actual damages a tenant suffers. Moreover, controverting retaliation cannot occur in a vacuum. The landlord must put forth real and specific evidence that the eviction was completely independent of the complaints about conditions. This dovetails with the heightened burden of proof.

This case though stands in marked contrast to the Leisure Woods case holding that c.93A damages are available for per se violations of the regulations governing manufactured housing. Although regulatory violations do constitute c.93A violations, the tenant still has to prove that the violation is continuing-which the landlord can mitigate. Like Leisure Woods however, this case creates the potential for mischief: viz. a lack of incentive for landlords to cure damages by undervaluing damages. Hopefully, the Supreme Judicial Court or the Legislature will cure or clarify this confusion.

Lurking in the background of this case are questions of hoarding.  This case does not squarely present or involve the question of how a landlord’s response to hoarding may or may not mitigate tenant damages. The factual record of this case is also unclear at best as to whether or not the tenant was indeed a hoarder due to the cramped conditions in the apartment. But, that discreet legal question will have to wait for another day.

Trespass in an Eviction Case

Finally, in Federal National Mortgage v. Gordon, 91 Mass. App. Ct. 527 (2017), the Appeals Court recognized on the one hand that the Housing Court could hear a common law trespass claim. However, the Appeals Court reaffirmed that a post-foreclosure could not bring a trespass action, especially if the holdover tenants claimed leasehold rights after foreclosure.  The defendant tenants had a mortgage that they fell behind on. Following a foreclosure and during a summary process action, the tenants apparently executed a lease and one tenant moved out. The trespass action followed.

The Appeals Court recalled that the scope of the subject matter jurisdiction of the Housing Court was a classically thorny issue. On the one hand, the Housing Court was a court of limited jurisdiction but could also hear matters, including tort or contract actions, related directly or indirectly to the health, safety and welfare of any occupant or place used for human habitation. 91 Mass. App. Ct. at 531-532, citing G.L. c.185C, §3.  The presence of trespassers “will, in many cases, affect the health, safety and welfare of an owner or occupant” and thus was a tort action relating to health, safety and welfare. The Housing Court thus had subject matter jurisdiction.

However,  the action for was trespass was impermissible. The Appeals Court recalled that G.L. c.184, §18 proscribed any attempt to recover land except pursuant to summary process or any other proceeding authorized by law. For twenty-five years, the Supreme Judicial Court held that a foreclosure sale was not a “proceeding authorized by law” as the purchasers entered lawfully and were holdover tenants. Indeed, the tenants had no duty to inquire about the landlord’s status-and had not forcibly entered. Finally, there was no evidence in the record that the bank had constructive possession-any lapse between one tenant and the other tenant was too brief to indicate a possessory surrender-the record indicated otherwise.

This case reaffirms that summary process essentially occupies the field in post-foreclosure matters. To proceed on a trespass action, the bank has to overcome the command of Section 18 and show a forcible entry. A person’s mere presence is not enough-nor can they be imputed with knowledge that a bank does or does not own property. Only a true squatter or someone else who otherwise has no interest qualifies.

The case also represents another case in the long line delineating the subject matter jurisdiction of the Housing Court. Trespass certainly does, as the Appeals Court held, implicate the health, safety, and welfare of human occupants. The trickier issue will be how that plays out in a particular case in the Housing Court-and whether or not Housing Court dockets will see more actions.

Conclusion 

These eviction appeal decisions show that this area of law continues to be changing, and practitioners need to be aware of these recent decisions.  The benefits of having an experienced appellate attorney for an eviction appeal cannot be overstated.

Sherwin Law Firm Wins Foreclosure Appeal

foreclosure appeal

I’m pleased to announce that I, along with appellate attorney Joseph Schneiderman, won a foreclosure appeal this week in the Massachusetts Appeals Court.  The case, Nationstar v. Culhane (included below) concerns an important topic for appealing an eviction (“summary process”) case in Massachusetts: the importance of timely filing a notice of appeal.

Overview of Case

It would take much, much more than a single blog post to give the background on this case, or even the procedural history of this matter.  Here’s a quick synopsis.  The homeowner went through a foreclosure sale and faced a post-foreclosure eviction case by the foreclosing lender.  In such a case, the homeowner has a right to defend against the eviction by alleging that the foreclosure was not lawful.  Here, my client had a strong defense based on the lender’s failure to comply with paragraph 22 of her mortgage.

Case History

My client won her case at the District Court, where the foreclosing lender filed this eviction case.  Following my client’s win, the foreclosing lender appealed this case to the District Court Appellate Division.  The Appellate Division is a part of the District Court and hears appeals of most civil cases from the District Court.

The Appellate Division reversed the District Court’s decision, and ruled that the foreclosing lender should have won the eviction case.  I then appealed the case to the Massachusetts Appeals Court, which hears appeals decided by the Appellate Division.

Outcome of Foreclosure Appeal

The Appeals Court ruled in my client’s favor based on a critical argument we raised for my client: the foreclosing lender’s failure to timely file this foreclosure appeal.

Massachusetts eviction law has a short deadline for pursuing an eviction appeal: ten days.  As we argued to the court, previous decisions on this law hold that a failure to meet this deadline, for seemingly any reason, are grounds for dismissing the appeal.  Here, the foreclosing lender filed its notice of appeal after the ten-day deadline, which the Appeals Court agreed was grounds for dismissing the appeal.

Conclusion

This case has some really important lessons not just for a foreclosure appeal, but any appeal of an eviction case.  The deadline for such an appeal must be timely filed.  Often, the failure to timely appeal a civil case is not always fatal to one’s case; appeal courts have discretion to allow a untimely appeal for good cause.  Not so with eviction cases.  This case, along with many prior cases on this matter (discussed in the court’s decision below) suggest that there are few grounds for filing an eviction appeal late.

For this reason, I always recommend that lawyers and parties representing themselves in an eviction appeal err on the side of caution when preserving a right to appeal.   File the notice of appeal as soon as possible and make sure you have proof that the court and opposing party receive this notice.  Take no chances on this.  I have been known to jump in my car on the last day of the deadline to appeal and make a special trip to court if I have any reason to believe the notice of appeal was not timely received by the court.

This case also demonstrates the importance of working with an experienced appellate attorney on one of these matters.  The arguments in this case were highly technical and required a deep understanding of Massachusetts eviction law and appellate procedure.  If you find yourself involved in a similar foreclosure appeal, contact me to see if I can help.

 

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Landlord Not Giving a Security Deposit Back

A landlord not giving a security deposit back is one of the most common type of landlord/tenant problems.  What should a tenant do if this happens to them?

Overview of Massachusetts’s Security Deposit Law

Massachusetts’s security deposit law regulates how a landlord is allowed to collect and hold a tenant’s security deposit.  Skim through this law and you’ll see that almost everything concerning a security deposit is subject to one of this law’s provisions.  The amount of the security deposit, bank account where it can be held, and–most relevant to this post–the return of the deposit are covered by this law.

Failure to comply with Massachusetts’s security deposit has dire consequences for landlords.  Penalties can include treble damages, court costs, and attorney fees.  This means that even a small security deposit violation can lead to a large judgement for non-compliance with this law.

Requirements for Returning a Tenant’s Security Deposit

The return of a security deposit must be done carefully.  A landlord is only allowed to deduct from the deposit unpaid rent or water charges, an unpaid increase in real estate taxes (if the tenant was obligated to pay this under the terms of the tenancy), and a reasonable amount to repair any damage to the unit.  For the latter deduction, the landlord must provide a list of these damages, sworn under “the pains and penalties of perjury” and written evidence of these expenses.

This return of the deposit must be made within thirty days of the tenant ending their tenancy.

What To Do About a Landlord Not Giving a Security Deposit Back 

If your landlord is not giving your security deposit back, consult an experienced landlord/tenant lawyer.  An attorney can review your case and quickly determine whether you have a claim against your landlord.  Massachusetts’s security deposit law, importantly, often provides for attorney fees: if you prevail in your case against a landlord, the costs of hiring an attorney may be recovered in the case.

Obtaining a Loan to Avoid Foreclosure

Happy New Year!  I hope 2018 has been off to a great start for you . . . besides the cold weather.  A recent foreclosure case that I successfully resolved is the basis for this blog post: obtaining a loan to avoid foreclosure.  This option, while not for everyone, can be an effective means of foreclosure defense.

Foreclosure 101

Foreclosure is the process by which a lender can force the sale of a property to recover the borrower’s owed debt for the property.  Massachusetts is a non-judicial foreclosure state:  a lender does not need to go to court to foreclose, and performs this process through a series of letters and notices.  The most common cause for foreclosure is a borrower’s failure to pay their mortgage loan.

Obtaining a Loan to Avoid Foreclosure 

Avoiding foreclosure requires a borrower to resolve the underlining money owed on a home.  Foreclosure defense is not about getting a free home and the only permanent solution to foreclosure is addressing the owed debt.  This can occur through a loan modification, where a lender agrees to restructure a loan to make the payments more affordable for the borrower.

Another option for some borrowers is obtaining a loan to avoid foreclosure.  If a borrower can obtain financing from another lender to pay the owed money on the home, this can be an option for saving one’s home.  This new financing, of course, would need to be more affordable for the borrower to make this option worthwhile.

This option is not for every borrower facing foreclosure: many borrowers in these predicaments lack the credit to obtain new financing.  This is a more realistic option for  those facing foreclosure who are not on the underlining loan.  This can occur if a homeowner has inherited a home with a delinquent mortgage loan, or have a partner or spouse whose name alone was on the mortgage debt.  In such a scenario, the non-borrower may qualify for a loan to avoid foreclosure, whose terms are more favorable than the delinquent debt.

Obtaining the Assistance of a Foreclosure Defense Attorney

If obtaining a loan to avoid foreclosure is an option for you, a foreclosure defense attorney can be helpful for your case.  If the underlining mortgage loan is really behind in payments, the owed debt may be much higher than the property value, making it difficult to find new financing.  A lawyer may be helpful in negotiating a more reasonable payoff for the homeowner.

I have had success in such cases, where the homeowner has excellent credit and is facing foreclosure through no fault of their own.  In the right circumstances, the lender might agree to accept less than what is owed on the property, with the borrower getting an affordable mortgage loan.

A word of caution on this blog post.  I have heard from some potential clients who have considered purposely defaulting on their loan, in hopes of getting a better payoff in the end.  This is bad, bad advice.  Defaulting on a mortgage loan has serious consequences, and there is never a guarantee that a permanent foreclosure defense can be reached for such a case.

Conclusion 

If you find yourself facing foreclosure, contact me for a consultation.  The advantages of having an experienced attorney on your side can make all of the difference in attempting to save your home.

Damages for a Security Deposit Violation in Massachusetts

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued an important decision on Massachusetts’s security deposit law earlier this year which clarifies the damages than a tenant can obtain from a security deposit violation.

In Phillips v. Equity Residential Management, LLC, the Supreme Judicial Court held that treble damages are not required for every security deposit violation.  Like Massachusetts’s security deposit law itself, Phillips is a complex case.

Overview of Massachusetts’s Security Deposit Law 

Massachusetts’s security deposit law heavily regulates a landlord’s acceptance, holding, and return of a tenant’s security deposit.  This law is so detailed that I, along with many other landlord/tenant attorneys, warn landlords to never accept a security deposit.  This law, among other things, has requirements on where a security deposit must be held, what information must be provided to a tenant about the acceptance of the deposit, and what deductions may be taken from the deposit at the end of the tenancy.

Damages for a Security Deposit Violation

Failure to comply with the security deposit law can come with harsh consequences.  The law imposes treble damages, attorney fees, and costs for failure to comply with many of its detailed requirements.  In Phillips, the Supreme Judicial Court clarified which security deposit violations permit treble damages against a landlord.

The security deposit law contains a number of “forfeiture” provisions, where a landlord is required to automatically return a deposit.  The law also imposes treble damages for a failure to “return to the tenant the security deposit or balance thereof to which the tenant is entitled after deducting therefrom any sums in accordance with the provisions of this section, together with any interest thereon, within thirty days after termination of the tenancy.”  Phillips determined whether a tenant gets treble damages for failing to return a portion of the deposit that was otherwise forfeited under the law.

Prior to Phillips, many courts took the position that treble damages applied anytime a landlord violated the security deposit law.  Now, the law is clear that for some violations of the law, a tenant is simply entitled to the full return of his deposit, without treble damages.

Conclusion 

While Phillips places limits on the damages one can receive for a security deposit violation, it would be a mistake to under estimate the importance of complying with this law if you are a landlord, and understanding its protections for tenants if your security deposit has been wrongfully withheld.

In my opinion, one of the dire consequences of Phillips is that tenants may not be able to obtain attorney fees for certain security deposit violations.  They may be able to get their full deposit back, but nothing for the expenses of hiring an attorney to assist with the case, making it cost prohibitive to hire a lawyer for such a matter: the reason why the harsh penalties of this law exist in the first place.

However, there is an often unknown law that may provide help in such a scenario.  G.L. c. 186, § 20 provides that, if there is a written lease agreement allowing the landlord to get attorney fees against a tenant, the tenant is also allowed attorney fees against a landlord for any violation of the lease agreement.  This law suggests that a tenant may be able to obtain attorney fees for security deposit violations that are not within the scope of treble damages, attorney fees, and costs, per Phillips.

If you find yourself involved with a security deposit violation, contact me for a consultation.  An experienced attorney is essential in one of these tricky matters.

Preserving a “Pinti” Defense – Paragraph 22 of the Standard Mortgage

The Massachusetts Appeals Court issued an important decision this week on preserving a “Pinti” defense under paragraph 22 of the standard mortgage.  In US Bank v. Milan, the Appeals Court ruled that a homeowner failed to preserve this foreclosure defense and was precluded from raising it in his foreclosure case (a full copy of this decision is below).

Overview of Paragraph 22 of the Standard Mortgage

Paragraph 22 of the standard mortgage (used for most residential home purchases) requires that a default notice be sent to a homeowner containing a number of required disclosures before a foreclosure sale can proceed.  In Pinti v. Emigrant Mortgage, the Supreme Judicial Court held that a lender must strictly comply with this mortgage requirement.  Failure to do so makes any subsequent foreclosure sale void.

Pinti, importantly, limited the homeowners who were entitled to this defense.  Initially, the decision only applied to those paragraph 22 notices sent after July 17, 2015 (the date of Pinti).  The Appeals Court subsequently extended the benefit of Pinti to those homeowners who had a pending appeal on the paragraph 22 issue, and later, to any homeowner who raised it as a defense in a pending trial court case.  In this present appeal, the Appeals Court needed to determine what counts to preserve this defense in a pending foreclosure case.

How Does a Homeowner Preserve a Paragraph 22 Defense? 

In this case, the homeowner was in a post-foreclosure eviction case, where the bank alleged to have foreclosed the home.  The homeowner was entitled to defend against the eviction by arguing that the foreclosure was void, precluding the bank from obtaining possession of the home.

Here, the homeowner appears to have answered the bank’s eviction lawsuit by using a printed answer form, which allows claimants to raise defenses and counterclaims by checking a box.  This homeowner made a general allegation that the foreclosure was void.  In response to the bank’s inquiry on the basis of this defense, the homeowner alleged that there was forgery in his case, and did not mention a failure to comply with paragraph 22 of his mortgage.  While this case was ongoing, the Supreme Judicial Court issued Pinti.  The trial judge ruled that Pinti applied because the homeowner preserved a Pinti defense in this case, and found the overall foreclosure to be void.

The Appeals Court disagreed, ruling that the homeowner listed forgery, and not a paragraph 22 defect, as the asserted grounds for the homeowner’s foreclosure defense.  In other words, the Court was not willing to let the homeowner “change horses midstream” and get the benefit of Pinti after stating a prior, separate basis for his foreclosure defense.

Conclusion 

Recent court cases have been favorable to foreclosed homeowners with a paragraph 22 defect.  Milan suggests that there are limits to who can get the benefit of Pinti  in their case, and that a failure to expressly raise this matter can be fatal to one’s defense.  This decision, however, really only applies to homeowners with a pending foreclosure case who received a defective paragraph 22 notice before July 17, 2015.  Homeowners who received a defective notice after this date will likely have much more leeway in raising a Pinti defense.

While the Court did not address this issue, Milan touches upon the problems of using forms in answering or bringing a lawsuit.  Such forms allowed a claimant to raise a defense or claim merely by “checking a box” and without providing any supporting facts or detail.  I have long believed that these forms are problematic and not proper under the requirements for raising a legal claimMilan suggests that Massachusetts appeal courts may be inclined to take a closer look at this issue in the future.  Regardless, this is a reason why the benefits of finding an experienced foreclosure defense attorney cannot be overstated.

US Bank v. Milan