Appealing an Eviction Case

Appealing an eviction case is a complicated subject.  I could write for hours on the topic, and even then, would only cover the basics.  Here, I want to offer two critical points for anyone appealing an eviction case: act quickly, and hire an attorney for your appeal.

What is an Appeal?  What Court Does it Go to?

An appeal is a request for a higher court to review A trial court’s decision (the court where the eviction case was first brought).  An appeal looks at whether the trial court judge made the right decisions in the case, and whether the matter should be sent back to the trial court (“remanded”) for another hearing or trial.

An appeal, importantly, is not a “do over.”  A party generally does not get to do their case all over again, in hopes that the appeals court will come out a different way.  Rather, the appeals court looks at whether the trial court made any errors of law.  This is an important things to keep in mind: even if you believe, strongly, that the trial court got its decision wrong, this may not be enough to win on appeal.

Appeals for eviction cases, whether they be for standard landlord/tenant cases or post-foreclosure eviction matters, are brought in one of two courts.  For eviction cases brought in the District Court, appeals go to the District Court Appellate Division.  This is a court made up of other District Court judges, and hold hearings in different courthouses around the state.  A decision from the Appellate Division can then be appealed to the Appeals Court.  Eviction cases coming from the Housing Court or Superior Court go directly to the Appeals Court, which sits in Boston.

The appeal rules for the Appellate Division and Appeals Court have some differences, but the process is generally the same.  An appeal requires a party to prepare a brief, a written document (usually 40-50 pages) stating the reasons why the lower court was wrong.  Depending on the case, the parties may have an opportunity to do an oral argument before the appellate judges, and state the reasons why the lower court was wrong.  The appellate court will then issue a written decision, where the court will either agree or disagree with the lower court’s decision, and state what will happen next for the case (if anything).

Anyone considering appealing an eviction case should follow the following pieces of advise closely.

Tip #1: Act Quickly 

Hands down, the most important advice on the topic of appeals: act quickly.  Unlike most other appeals, which allow a party thirty days to file a notice of appeal, a notice of appeal for an eviction case must be filed within ten days of the trial court’s entry of judgment.  Moreover, several cases have held that the failure to comply with this deadline is grounds for dismissing an appeal . . . regardless of the circumstances.  This suggests that even a showing of good cause is not enough to file a late notice of appeal for an eviction case.  With this in mind, never, never take a chance of missing this deadline.  If you do not have a lawyer, the clerk’s office can generally help you fill out a notice of appeal, a short form telling the court and other side that you plan to appeal.

This advice, importantly, applies equally to both landlords and tenants/former homeowners: the failure to comply with this appeal deadline can be fatal to your case.

Tip #2: Get a Lawyer

The second piece of advice for appealing an eviction case is to get an attorney.  I’m generally not a fan of advising people with legal matters to do cases on their own.  Without a solid legal background, it is difficult for even the smartest pro se  party to prevail in court.  For appeals, it is near impossible.  The rules of appellate procedure are a challenge for even experienced lawyers, and the many other complexities of appeals make this process a real challenge for even the best lawyers.  If you find yourself involved in appealing an eviction case, don’t do it on your own.  Speak to an experienced attorney about obtaining legal representation.

Sherwin Law Firm Succeeds in Bringing Lawsuit Over a Denial of a Loan Modification

I’m pleased to announced that I prevailed today in bringing a lawsuit against a national lender for the denial of a loan modification.  The court rejected the lender’s argument that the lawsuit should be dismissed, allowing the lawsuit to go forward as planned.  In this lawsuit, I am seeking damages against a lender whose two year refusal to properly review my client’s loan modification application forced him into foreclosure.

What is a Loan Modification?

A loan modification is the restructuring of a mortgage loan to make the payments more affordable.  This generally consists of a combination of a lowered interest rate, term extension, and principle forbearance.  To apply for a loan modification, a borrower must generally prove they have sufficient income to afford a modified loan payment.  Lenders generally want borrowers to provide bank account statements, tax returns, and a variety of other documents about the need for this assistance.

Problems in Applying for Loan Modifications

Despite loan modifications being intended to help homeowners, the process of applying for this assistance is often a mess.  It is not uncommon for lenders to “lose” paperwork and required the repeated submission of the same documents over and over again.  Mortgage lenders have been known to deny loan modifications for reasons that do not make the slightest bit of sense.

What Can Be Done After a Denial of a Loan Modification?

In Massachusetts, like most of the country, a lender is not required to offer a homeowner a loan modification.  As such, a homeowner generally does not have a viable claim against a lender merely because their modification application has been denied.

Massachusetts courts, however, do allow lawsuits to be brought under the Consumer Protection Law under certain circumstances involving the denial of a loan modification.  The Consumer Protection Law, commonly known as Chapter 93A, prohibits “unfair and deceptive business practices.”  Massachusetts courts have taken the positions that repeated instances of misconduct by a lender in the denial of a loan modification can constitute a Consumer Protection Law claim.  This is the key, however: the borrower must alleged more than simply that their application was denied.  Rather, the borrower must show, as one court puts it, a “pattern or course of conduct involving misrepresentations, delay, and evasiveness” in reviewing a loan modification application.

The Consumer Protection Law can be a powerful weapon for consumers facing the denial of a loan modification.  This law, in certain circumstances, can allow for attorney fees, treble damages, and costs if the court find in the borrower’s favor.  In addition to money, the law also provides for equitable relief, which is a remedy other than money, such as a court order rescinding a foreclosure sale.

If your find yourself struggling with the denial of a loan modification, contact me to see if you have a similarly viable lawsuit against your lender.

What Happens After a Foreclosure Sale?

Homeowners who have gone through a foreclosure often ask me what happens after a foreclosure sale.  More specifically, these homeowners often ask if they need to leave their home right away after a foreclosure auction sale.  The answer is no.  Even after a foreclosure sale, the new owner is required to perform an eviction of the occupants remaining in the foreclosed property.

Overview of a Massachusetts Foreclosure

Massachusetts is a non-judicial foreclosure state.  This means that a bank does not need to go to court to get permission to foreclose (unlike states like New York and Florida).  A Massachusetts foreclosure requires sending a number of required notices, publishing a foreclosure sale notice, and holding a foreclosure auction.  If done correctly, the bank (or third-party buyer) becomes the record owner of the property.  While ownership of the home changes after a foreclosure sale, possession does not.  The new record owner is required to bring an eviction case against the former homeowner(s) residing in the foreclosed home.

Post-Foreclosure Eviction

What happens after a foreclosure sale?  The bank (or third-party buyer) must file an eviction against any persons who remain in the property.  This eviction, known as a summary process action, is generally filed in a District Court or Housing Court.  In these cases, the homeowner has the opportunity to defend against the new owner’s claim to possession by alleging that the foreclosure was not performed correctly.

An important point to note for homeowners in such a case: you do not need to leave the home until the court orders you to do so.  The new owner must obtain a judgment from the court allowing them possession of the home.  Until this is done, the new owner cannot forced you out of the property under any circumstances.

What Should You Do After a Foreclosure Sale?

If you have gone through a foreclosure of your home, contact a foreclosure defense attorney for a consultation, regardless of your intentions for the home.  In other words, even if you plan to leave the home, it is still worth speaking to an attorney.  An attorney can help determine if you have a defense against the foreclosure.  Even if you plan to leave the home, a foreclosure defense attorney can assist you with resolving any liability you may have against the new owner and possibly get you relocation assistance.

Avoid Foreclosure

Potential clients often ask me for advice on how to avoid foreclosure.  Here are a few important tips I recommend.

Obtain and Document Income

Contrary to free “advice” available on some Internet websites, foreclosure defense is not about getting a free home.  While there are ways of delaying or stalling foreclosure, that is only what can be done: delay the inevitable.  The only sure means to avoid foreclosure is paying the mortgage loan for the property.  To do so, a homeowner needs income.  For purposes of obtaining a loan modification, a lender will generally consider any documented source of income.  This is an important qualification for showing a lender that you qualify for a modification: you must be able to account for where the money comes from.   This advice is usually most relevant to self-employment and rental income.  Lenders generally want to see such income deposited in a bank account.  Without such deposits, a homeowner faces a difficult time trying to prove they really earned the alleged source of income.

An important side note: homeowners facing foreclosure who do not have the required income to obtain a loan modification should still contact an attorney for assistance with their case.  An attorney can help a homeowner review their options and decide with them their best course of action.

Keep a Record Of All Contact With Your Lender

One of the single, most important pieces of advice I can give homeowners to avoid foreclosure is to keep a record of all contact with your lender.  If you find yourself in a situation where legal action may be necessary, having a record is a huge help in advancing your case.  Even homeowners with the best memories are often unable to remember specific details occurring years ago.  Keeping a paper trail of your communications with a mortgage lender can be one of the best things you do to avoid foreclosure.

Seek The Help of a Foreclosure Defense Lawyer Sooner Than Later

Most importantly, seek the help of a foreclosure defense lawyer sooner than later if you find yourself facing foreclosure.  Stopping a foreclosure becomes increasingly difficult as a foreclosure date is scheduled (but still not impossible; homeowners in any stage of the foreclosure process should talk to a attorney if foreclosure defense is needed).  The sooner you speak to an attorney, the better luck an attorney will have in helping you resolve the problem.

If you need help to avoid foreclosure, contact me for a consultation.

SJC Extends Paragraph 22 Defense

The Supreme Judicial Court issued an important ruling last weekend extending the “paragraph 22 defense” to other homeowners facing foreclosure.  In Federal National Mortgage Association v. Marroquin, the Court extended the benefit of the prior Pinti v. Emigrant Mortgage decision to those homeowners who similarly challenged a foreclosure based on non-compliance with paragraph 22 of the standard mortgage (a full copy of the decision is included below).  This is alot of information to take in at once, so read on for a “non-lawyer” explanation!

Paragraph 22 of the standard mortgage is a provision in a typical mortgage agreement that requires a foreclosing entity to provide a default notice to borrowers prior to foreclosure.  This notice requires specific disclosures that need to be given to the borrower.  In the wake of the recent foreclosure crisis, many of these notices have had errors, and have not included all of the required disclosures.  A paragraph 22 defense is a challenge to a foreclosure based on non-compliance with this mortgage requirement.

In Pinti v. Emigrant Mortgage, the Supreme Judicial Court determined that the failure to strictly comply with this mortgage requirement made the foreclosure void.  Pinti, importantly, required “strict compliance” for this part of the mortgage: a borrower does not need to show any harm from such a defect to challenge the foreclosure.  The Court’s decision in Pinti was “prospective”: it would only apply to the homeowners in Pinti and future foreclosure challenges based on non-compliance with paragraph 22.  In Aurora Loan Services v. Murphy, the Appeals Court extended the Pinti ruling to other cases on appeal at the time of the Pinti decision.

In Federal National Mortgage Association v. Marroquin, the Supreme Judicial Court needed to decide whether a paragraph 22 defense could be raised by a homeowner who had a trial court case pending at the time of Pinti.  This would include post-foreclosure eviction cases and Superior and Land Court challenges to foreclosure.  In  Marroquin, the Supreme Judicial Court extended Pinti to these cases as well.  If a homeowner had raised a paragraph 22 defense in one of these cases at the time of Pinti, “strict compliance” would apply.

Marroquin will likely apply to only a small range of cases.  The Supreme Judicial Court did not suggest that the prospective ruling of Pinti has changed.  In other words, a homeowner who did not properly preserve a paragraph 22 defense will not be helped by Marroquin.  As this decision comes over 1.5 years after Pinti, there are likely many homeowners who had such viable defenses, but failed to preserve them, on the belief that Pinti’s  prospective ruling would not let this defense apply to their case.

This is my main complaint with Marroquin and the Supreme Judicial Court’s other decisions on paragraph 22.  The Court in Pinti knew that the issue of the paragraph 22 defense would come before the Court again.  Why the Court could not have addressed this matter in the first place, making these later decisions unnecessary, is beyond me.  Nonetheless,  Marroquin fully resolves the scope of this defense for homeowners with a paragraph 22 defect.

If you find yourself in need of assistance with foreclosure, contact me for a consultation.

Federal National Mortgage Association v. Marroquin

Beware of Foreclosure Scams

While there are many dedicated professionals committed to helping struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure, the unfortunate reality is that the foreclosure crisis has its share of con artists.  Too often, I have met with homeowners who have come to me after having been scammed by an alleged business claiming to help avoid foreclosure.  These scams require homeowners to pay a large sum of money upfront and give the alleged “business” permission to speak with their financial institution.  These scammers do nothing to help the homeowner, leaving them to face foreclosure despite having spent money for purported foreclosure defense services.

A strong indication of a foreclosure scam is when the alleged business tells the homeowner to send them their monthly mortgage payments, and claims it will then forward the money to the financial institution as part of a loan modification.  Last month, a Lowell man was convicted of such a scheme, showing that such fraud remains prevalent as the foreclosure crisis continues.

How should homeowners beware of foreclosure scams?

  • Research any business, non-profit, or attorney who you are considering hiring for your case.  If you can’t find a reputable website, location of a physical office, or any indication that the service has been in operation for a while, proceed with caution.
  • Stay clear of any business, non-profit, or attorney who requests that you make mortgage payments directly towards them.  There is no reason why loan payments should go anywhere besides directly to your financial institution.
  • As the old adage goes: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  If the purported foreclosure defense service guarantees to get you a free home or permanently avoid foreclosure, strongly considering speaking with a reputable professional.

If you find yourself in need of assistance with foreclosure, contact me for a consultation.  Too much is at stake to take chances with a fraudulent foreclosure defense service.

72 Hour Notice to Quit

A 72 hour notice to quit is a unique type of notice that is generally used for post-foreclosure eviction (“summary process”) cases.  Receipt of one of these notices is a sign that an eviction case following a foreclosure sale will begin soon.

A notice to quit is required prior to the start of an eviction case.  For evictions involving landlord/tenants, where the parties previously entered into a rental agreement, there are specific requirements for the notice to quit required prior to eviction.  Terminating a tenancy for non-payment of rent, for example, generally requires a 14 day notice to quit.  The sending of a notice to quit for a landlord/tenant eviction is a mandatory part of the process; a court will throw out an eviction if the proper notice is not sent, or the landlord cannot prove that the landlord received it.

The same is not true for a post-foreclosure eviction case, where the landlord (often the bank or lender who purchased the home at the foreclosure sale) is attempting to evict the former homeowner.  There is no specific requirement as to what type of notice a foreclosing entity needs to provide to a former homeowner.  Many cases on this matter suggest that no notice to quit is required for one of these cases (unlike a landlord/tenant eviction).

Despite the law suggesting that no such notice to quit is required, out of custom, a 72 hour notice to quit is generally used for post-foreclosure eviction cases.  This notice informs the former homeowner that they have 72 hours to leave the property, or an eviction will begin.  A notice to quit is generally served by a sheriff or constable.

Despite the 72 hour “deadline” in one of these notices, a former homeowner does not need to leave their home after receiving one of these notices.  A homeowner only needs to leave the home after a court enters an execution for possession, allowing the owner of the property to physically remove the former homeowner and their possessions from the property.  Before doing so, a former homeowner (like a tenant) is entitled to their “day in court” and allowed to present their reasons why they should not be evicted from the home.  The 72 notice to quit, simply put, is merely the start of the eviction process, and not the end.

A homeowner who receives a 72 hour notice to quit needs to act quickly in defending themselves against the imminent post-foreclosure eviction.  If you find yourself in such a case, contact me for a consultation.  Eviction cases move quickly, and it is important to have an experienced attorney to help you understand your rights.

Appeals Court Issues Decision on Legal Rights Following a Loan Modification

 

The Massachusetts Appeals Court issued an important decision last week concerning a homeowner’s legal rights following a loan modification.  In Barrasso v. New Century Mortgage Corporation, the Appeals Court held that a homeowner was unable to raise prior claims related to their mortgage loan after accepting a modification of that loan (a copy of the decision is below).

Background

In Barrasso, the homeowner entered into a loan modification with their lender, for the purpose of making the loan payments more affordable.  Years later, the homeowner brought a lawsuit against the lender, challenging several of the mortgage loan assignments and whether the present holder of the mortgage was the proper holder of the loan.

Legal Decision

Barrasso held that the homeowner was estopped from challenging the transfer of his mortgage due to the homeowner’s signing of this loan modification.  Estoppel is a legal defense that prevents a party from making an allegation or defense that contradicts a prior representation.  The loan modification in Barrasso, like most loan modification agreements, required the homeowner to agree to several factual representations about the mortgage loan, namely, who held the mortgage.  The Court reasoned that, because the homeowner benefited from this loan modification agreement, it could not then deny one of the prior statements in this agreement that it had agreed to: who the owner of the mortgage was.

Implications to Homeowners

Barrasso follows a line of reasoning that I have often taken with loan modifications: the signing of one of these agreements generally waives any prior legal claims associated with the loan.  A loan modification, in essence, is a new loan, with new terms and conditions.  If a homeowner had legal claims arising from the original loan (such as predatory lending), the homeowner probably won’t be able to raise them following a loan modification.  As explained by Barrasso, if a homeowner gets the benefits of a loan modification, it can’t then go back and raise matters that arose before the modification.

Some loan modification agreements, such as those coming from the federal Home Affordable Modification Program (“HAMP”), do not require a homeowner to waive any legal rights against a lender.  Barrasso makes clear, however, that  a loan modification has strong implications for one’s legal rights following one of these agreements.  Homeowners should keep this in mind when considering accepting a loan modification: homeowners generally won’t be able to raise claims arising out of the prior loan.

Barrasso should not scare homeowners away from accepting a loan modification.  Loan modifications are the best means of avoiding foreclosure, and a homeowner should absolutely accept a modification with an affordable loan payment.  The key is to make sure that such a modification is right for the homeowner.  If you find yourself in such a scenario, contact me for a consultation.

Barrasso v. New Century

Foreclosure Judgment

A common inquiry about foreclosures in Massachusetts is regarding a foreclosure judgment.  What does a bank get from a homeowner after it forecloses?

In judicial foreclosure states, where a bank needs to go to court to foreclose, a foreclosure judgement is a court order allowing the bank to do a foreclosure sale.  Massachusetts, in contrast, is a non-judicial foreclosure state, where a bank doesn’t need a court order.  A foreclosure judgment in Massachusetts, therefore, generally refers to what a bank can get after foreclosure: possession of the property and a deficiency judgment.

Even if a bank performs a lawful foreclosure, it must still bring an eviction (“summary process”) case to get possession of the property.  A foreclosure only changes title to the subject property; a eviction is required to get the former homeowners out of the home.  A post-foreclosure eviction case generally occurs several months after the foreclosure sale, and is usually brought in District or Housing Court.  If a bank is successful in one of these cases, it is entitled to an execution for possession, allowing the sheriff or constable to physically remove the occupants and their possessions from the property.  In one of these eviction cases, a bank can also obtain a judgment for use-and-occupancy against the former owners, which amounts to  rent for the time that the former owner resided in the home after the foreclosure sale.  While banks generally request use-and-occupancy in post-foreclosure eviction cases, it is rare for a bank to pursue this claim for money; the bank generally just wants possession of the home.

Another foreclosure judgment in Massachusetts is a claim for any deficiency judgment that exists following the foreclosure sale.  This is the difference between the amount that the homeowner owes on the mortgage loan and the amount obtained at the foreclosure sale.  For example, if the homeowner owes $400,000 on the mortgage loan, and the bank obtains $300,000 at the foreclosure sale, the homeowner is potentially liable for the difference: $100,000.  Claims for deficiency judgments are not frequently pursued.  Generally, most former homeowners do not have sufficient assets to make one of these claims worth pursuing.  Additionally, a bank has a two-year deadline (“statue of limitations”) from the foreclosure sale to bring one of these claims, which many banks fail to do.  A homeowner can also usually file a bankruptcy to get rid of this type of debt.

Each type of foreclosure judgment in Massachusetts is an important consideration for homeowners who are facing foreclosure or who have been foreclosed.  If you find yourself in either situation, contact me for a consultation.