Homeowners Associations and Bankruptcy: How Does Bankruptcy Affect My Condo or Townhome and My Association Dues (HOAs)?

The prevalence of condo and townhome development in the mid-2000s throughout Minneapolis and the suburbs was hit especially hard by the decline in the real estate market, with prices sinking disproportionately on these urban homes that were often originally overpriced and over-marketed to younger consumers. Owners of condos or townhomes who file bankruptcy should be aware of the Minnesota laws that govern the association’s rights as well as be properly advised of what bankruptcy can and cannot do with regard to unpaid HOA assessments.

Under Minnesota law, a homeowner’s association has a statutory lien for any unpaid HOA assessments, which means that unpaid association dues automatically become a lien against the property much like a second mortgage would be however without the need for the HOA to record the lien with the county. Additionally, the association also has a claim against the homeowner for any unpaid HOA dues incurred prior to filing bankruptcy. With both avenues of relief available, the association has several options to collect against a defaulting homeowner, including restriction of rights to use common amenities, bringing a civil action against the homeowner and even foreclosure of the unit under Minnesota law.

While the bankruptcy of an association member will discharge their personal liability to repay the HOA assessments accrued through the file date of the bankruptcy case, the association nonetheless still retains its lien against the property. This association lien can be foreclosed just same as an unpaid second mortgage. An association lien often also includes additional amounts for unpaid late charges or interest, fines imposed upon an owner for violations of the HOA’s rules and regulations, attorney fees incurred by the association, and any other amounts charged against an owner under the association’s declaration.

In either Chapter 7 bankruptcy or Chapter 13, the rule of thumb is that a homeowner will be liable for most if not all HOA assessments in spite of their bankruptcy, particularly if the property is not foreclosed or otherwise the homeowner continues to own the property. This is because any HOAs arising after the file date of a bankruptcy case are not included in the bankruptcy, and any HOAs that arose prior to the file date of a bankruptcy case usually remain a lien against the property and therefore must be paid off in order for the owner to sell or refinance. If the property is foreclosed, the homeowner generally will owe all HOAs due through the later date of either the foreclosure (i.e., the sheriff’s sale in Minnesota) or the homeowner’s bankruptcy.

In Chapter 13, the homeowner can obtain relief with regard to HOA arrears by paying those off with interest over the course of a three to five year Chapter 13 plan.

If you are considering bankruptcy and own a condo or townhome, it’s important to understand how bankruptcy may impact your liability for HOA association dues and other assessments, your right to continue to occupy the property and use the common amenities (noting some amenities can be denied), and foreclosure. Especially under these circumstances, you should seek advice from a bankruptcy attorney who can advise you on the best way to obtain bankruptcy relief while protecting your interests with regard to your property.

Lynn Wartchow is a Minneapolis / St. Paul area bankruptcy attorney representing clients in Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 consumer bankruptcy proceedings in Minnesota since 2005. Email for a free bankruptcy consultation to understand your options in Chapter 13 or Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

Bankruptcy and Divorce: Some Payments in a Divorce Decree May be Dischargeable in Chapter 13

The rule of thumb is that bankruptcy will discharge most unsecured debts that are not taxes or domestic support obligations (which are two of the most common “non-dischargeable debts” that will survive a bankruptcy). This means that child support, domestic support owed to an ex-spouse and many taxes are never discharged in any form of bankruptcy. However a fine line can be drawn where some payment obligations in a divorce decree can still be discharged, but only in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

The divorce obligations that can be discharged in Chapter 13 bankruptcy (but not in Chapter 7) are payments that relate to property settlements such as a cash equalizer. Cash equalizers are common, for example, when there is equity in a homestead that needs to be fairly divided between the spouses when one spouse will stay on deed to the home. The general standard for discharging these types of divorce-related obligations is whether the payment is “domestic support” in nature (non-dischargeable) or is more of a property settlement (dischargeable).

In Chapter 13 cases, payments due to an ex-spouse on account of a property settlement are not allowed in the debtor’s budget since these obligations typically are considered general unsecured debt similar to a credit card. Also like a credit card, the ex-spouse can file a proof of claim in the Chapter 13 case to claim their right to receive a proportionate distribution paid to all unsecured creditors, with any amount unpaid being discharged at the end of a successfully completed Chapter 13 plan. While usually this distribution is only fraction of the amount that is owed, unsecured creditors may nonetheless file a claim.

Support obligations are never dischargeable in any form of bankruptcy and a Chapter 13 debtor will be expected to continue making these payments during the course of their Chapter 13. These include child support and domestic support owed to an ex-spouse, but not necessarily property settlements, cash equalizers and possibly other payments owed.

Located in Edina, Minnesota, Lynn Wartchow represents clients in all Chapters of bankruptcy in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Ramsey and Hennepin County, and throughout Minnesota.

What is the Median Income in Minnesota and How Does is Factor into Chapter 7 Bankruptcy?

Qualification for Chapter 7 bankruptcy is largely determined by comparing one’s household income to the median income for their state. Essentially, if your gross annual household income exceeds the Minnesota median income for your family size you may not qualify for Chapter 7 and may be required to file Chapter 13 instead. Therefore, the Minnesota median income is a significant factor in determining whether you may qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy or if you may be instead steered toward filing a five-year Chapter 13 repayment plan. As of 11/01/2015, the median income in Minnesota for a household of one person is $51,199, for two people $68,515, for three people $80,804, and $98,447 for four people. The median income adjusts at least once per year and these amounts reflect the median income as last adjusted on November 1, 2015 which will again be adjusted in April of 2016.

If you fall above the median income, it’s important to understand that you may still qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy if certain factors are present—this is called “rebutting the presumption of abuse” in bankruptcy. These factors are part of a more comprehensive “means test” eligibility calculation and include such expenses as mortgage payments, tax payments, health care expenses, child care and child educational expenses, child support or maintenance payments, and a host of other variables that may be employed to qualify someone for Chapter 7 even if they are above the median income. In general, the higher over the median income a household falls, the less likely it will be to “rebut the presumption” and qualify for Chapter 7. In this case, your option is to file Chapter 13 bankruptcy, which can still be a good solution (see my blog on why Chapter 13 is not always a gloomy diagnosis in bankruptcy).

While some people seek out some of the unique advantages of Chapter 13 bankruptcy—including the possibility of cramming down a car loan, paying off mortgage arrears over five years or even stripping a second mortgage off a homestead—many people still prefer the ease and speed of Chapter 7. Nevertheless, the means test and the median income establish the threshold criteria for whether Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 may be filed, and usually there is little to no wiggle room from the strict results calculated by the means test.

The means test is complicated and often it’s best to have an experienced bankruptcy attorney calculate your household income based on the last six months of income, compare your number to the median income and prepare the means test calculation to determine what type of bankruptcy you may qualify for.

Wartchow Law Office is a law firm located in Edina, Minnesota with an exclusive practice in Chapter 7, Chapter 13 and Chapter 11 bankruptcy law, representing individual consumer and business clients throughout the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. Contact Wartchow Law Office for a free bankruptcy consultation.

What are the Debt Limits for Chapter 13 Bankruptcy?

Click here to see the current Chapter 13 Debt Limits effective April 1, 2016 and valid through 2019.

As of the date of this post, the debt limits for Chapter 13 bankruptcy are $1,081,400 in secured debt plus $360,475 in unsecured debt (see the 2014 debt limits here). These limits include only debts that are not disputed, non-contingent and liquidated. This means that amounts which are not yet decided (for example, a potential award of attorney fees in a pending lawsuit) may not count toward these limits. Taxes (whether dischargeable tax or non-dischargeable tax) are included in the unsecured debt limit calculation and disputing a debt without cause generally does not remove it from either calculation.

These statutory debt limits for Chapter 13 are adjusted every three years and the next adjustment is scheduled to occur in 2013. Note: The 2014 Chapter 13 debt limits have been updated as of April 1, 2013.

If you exceed these Chapter 13 debt limits, you can still file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy assuming that all other eligibility criteria for Chapter 7 are met under the “means test”. However, if you are above the debt limits for Chapter 13 and also above the income qualification for Chapter 7, you may still file an individual Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceeding, which is a more involved and expensive bankruptcy proceeding than Chapter 13 however an individual Chapter 11 has unique opportunities to reorganize certain debts with more favorable terms.

Lynn Wartchow is a bankruptcy attorney located in Edina, Minnesota and representing clients in both Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 consumer bankruptcy proceedings throughout Minneapolis and St. Paul in Minnesota. Contact for a free consultation and more information on options available under Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

What Should I Expect at the 341 Bankruptcy Meeting of Creditors?

If you have done basic research into the bankruptcy process, you will know that about one month after filing a bankruptcy petition and schedules there will be a mandatory hearing called the “341 Meeting of Creditors”, which is named after the section of the Bankruptcy Code that requires the hearing.

Clients often ask what to expect at the Meeting of Creditors, what they should bring to the Meeting of Creditors and what creditors will be present at the Meeting of Creditors.

For most people, the Meeting of Creditors is relatively uneventful: it’s typically held at the federal courthouse in a hearing room with people who filed bankruptcy around the same date that you did and their attorneys, all waiting for their names to be called so they can sit for the few minutes of questioning by the bankruptcy trustee assigned to their case. When your name is called, you can expect to go up and sit at the hearing table across from the trustee, and then be sworn in under oath to tell the truth, to confirm your name and address and then to answer some basic yes/no questioning for several minutes. If you have fully disclosed everything to your attorney and on your bankruptcy schedules, there should be no surprises and nothing new that comes up during the Meeting of Creditors. In the vast majority of cases, the trustee’s job is routine and they blandly conduct this hearing to determine if there are any non-exempt assets and to get your required testimony on record.

What should I bring to the Meeting of Creditors? In Minnesota bankruptcy cases, you should plan to bring your driver’s license and social security card, all paystubs received since the date that your case was filed, and also a bank statement that confirms the balance in each bank account on the file date of your bankruptcy case. If the trustee wants more documentation, they will either request it at the Meeting of Creditors or from your attorney.

Who shows up at the Meeting of Creditors? Usually, just you, your attorney and the bankruptcy trustee are present for a Meeting of Creditors. It is rare that any creditor will appear for a Meeting of Creditors, even though all creditors will receive notice of the scheduled time and date at least 21 days prior to the hearing. However, the only creditors who typically show up are ex-spouses or ex-business partners that feel jilted by the bankruptcy or, in some rare cases, individuals who have something to reveal to the trustee that was may not have been fully disclosed in the bankruptcy petition and schedules. Rarely does an everyday unsecured creditor make an appearance at the Meeting of Creditors. Even if a creditor or other party-in-interest shows up for the Meeting of Creditors, they are only allowed to ask questions related to the information contained in the schedules and are not allowed to use the Meeting of Creditors as an opportunity to ask unrelated questions.

Many people understandably feel nervous about their upcoming Meeting of Creditors, and inevitably all feel much relief once it is favorably concluded without incident. As long as you have fully disclosed all information in your petition and to your attorney, and you have the required documents and IDs on the hearing date, then the Meeting of Creditors should pose no concern. If you still feel anxious, just ask your attorney to spend a little more time helping you prepare for the Meeting of Creditors and/or provide a list of the sample questions asked at the Meeting of Creditors.

Keep reading for the Typical Questions Asked at the Chapter 7 Meeting of Creditors

Wartchow Law Office is a bankruptcy law firm located in Edina, Minnesota with  an exclusive practice in Chapter 7, Chapter 13 and Chapter 11 bankruptcy law,  representing individual consumer and business clients throughout the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota.

Foreclosure in Minnesota: Know the Process, Timeline and How Bankruptcy Can Help

Home foreclosures in Minnesota are common and arguably are even on the rise despite an improving real estate market. In April 2012, the Star Tribune reported that while foreclosures were slightly down during the first quarter of 2012, signs still point to an 11 percent increase in Minnesotans facing foreclosure, adding that one in 312 Minnesota homeowners have received some sort of notice of foreclosure.

Home foreclosure in Minnesota happens via one of two legal proceedings: either the lender forecloses by advertisement or the lender forecloses by action. This post only discusses foreclosure by advertisement, which is the more common of the two Minnesota home foreclosure processes.

In a foreclosure by advertisement, the defaulting homeowner will typically receive one or more pre-foreclosure notices that warn of their lender’s intent to start the foreclosure process if payments are not brought current within a specified time. The time between the first default in mortgage payments and a homeowner’s receipt of the pre-foreclosure notice can be one to three months or more, depending on the lender and any efforts the homeowner may be making to do a workout with their lender. After the pre-foreclosure notice has gone out and the homeowner still has not brought their mortgage current, the lender will then serve the homeowner with a notice of sheriff’s sale. While the Minnesota laws governing service of process in a foreclosure proceeding are detailed, most homeowners are served in-person with the foreclosure papers at their home address. The Notice of Sheriff’s Sale, sometimes also called the auction notice, will provide the date, time and location of the upcoming sheriff’s sale, usually to be held six weeks after the date of service and at the county sheriff’s office. Once the sheriff’s sale has come and passed, ownership of the home transfers to the winning bidder (which is usually the lender for the first mortgage on the home) and the homeowner then has his or her redemption period to reside in the home before vacating it permanently. The length of the redemption period varies according to circumstances, but is most often six months from the date of the sheriff’s sale.

Chapter 13 bankruptcy can help a homeowner save their home from foreclosure by providing an avenue to repay the mortgage arrears over three to five years in a Chapter 13 plan. In fact, mortgage arrears is one of the most Common Reasons for Filing Chapter 13 Bankruptcy in Minnesota. If the homeowner can afford to make the monthly Chapter 13 plan payments, their mortgage may be brought current at the end of the Chapter 13 plan, in addition to the discharge of other debts allowed in bankruptcy.

Chapter 7 can stall the foreclosure process for two or more months and, like Chapter 13 bankruptcy, can also serve to discharge any deficiency owed on the second mortgage. While Chapter 7 bankruptcy will not help to resolve any mortgage arrears owed so that the homeowner can save their home, it can buy more time in the house before the homeowner must leave.

Keep reading for more information about How to Postpone a Sheriff’s Sale in Minnesota.

While Minnesota law governs the foreclosure process, the terms of a mortgage also govern a homeowner’s rights and a lender’s ability to foreclose. For more information on the foreclosure process in Minnesota and how Chapter 13 or Chapter 7 bankruptcy may help, contact Wartchow Law Office for a free bankruptcy consultation to understand your options.

What is the “Means Test” and Why Does it Matter in Bankruptcy?

The “Means Test” was one of the major and most controversial additions to consumer bankruptcy law that occurred as part of the 2005 Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act (“BAPCPA”). Part of the congressional intent of BAPCPA was to limit a person’s ability to obtain Chapter 7 relief and instead direct them into filing Chapter 13. While there are many reasons why some consumer debtors actually prefer to file Chapter 13 bankruptcy, Chapter 7 is still widely available and common, only now with a few additional hurdles to pass.

These “hurdles” to qualify to Chapter 7 that were added in 2005 as part of BAPCPA are collectively referred to as the “Means Test”. In actuality, the Means Test is an 8-page calculation that determines one’s eligibility for Chapter 7 using criteria such as the debtor’s income (as based on the last six months), household size, expenses and any special circumstances that may justify relief under Chapter 7 bankruptcy. While many of the numbers used are drawn from IRS standard allowances for food, utilities, and similar routine expenses, a person’s actual payments made monthly on secured debts such as mortgages and car loans are included to reduce their income. Generally speaking, if a person has no disposable income remaining at the end of the month after payment of all these standard and actual expenses, they may qualify for Chapter 7.

However, if when the last six months of income is annualized (i.e., doubled) and the person falls above the median income for their household size and state, they are instead steered toward filing Chapter 13, which includes a monthly repayment plan. As of 11/01/2015, the median income in Minnesota for a household of one person is $51,199, for two people $68,515, for three people $80,804, and $98,447 for four people. The median income adjusts at least once per year and these amounts reflect the median income as last adjusted on November 1, 2015 which will again be adjusted in April of 2016.

Even if someone is above the median income for Minnesota, they may still qualify for Chapter 7 (also referred to as “passing the Means Test”) based on other circumstances.

One job of your bankruptcy attorney is to give you all your bankruptcy and non-bankruptcy options, including calculating the Means Test for you and advising you on whether you qualify for Chapter 7 or if you may want or need to file Chapter 13 instead.

Wartchow Law Office is a law firm located in Edina, Minnesota with an exclusive practice in Chapter 7, Chapter 13 and Chapter 11 bankruptcy law, representing individual consumer and business clients throughout the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota.

 

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and How It Protects You

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) is pro-consumer legislation that was originally enacted in 1978 for the purpose of protecting consumers from the aggressive and sometimes abusive collection tactics often used by third party collection agencies. Among the its lengthy list of prohibited acts and conduct, the FDCPA makes it illegal for debt collectors including collection agencies, lawyers, forms writers and other third party collectors to do the following:

  • State information that is false, deceptive, or misleading
  • Threaten to take any action that cannot legally be taken or that is not intended to be taken
  • State that a legal process such as a lawsuit has begun when in fact it has not
  • Represent that collection documents have been authorized or approved by a court, official, or an agency of the government
  • Threaten to unlawfully repossess property
  • Claim that the consumer has committed a crime
  • Incessantly call on the phone or engage in repeated telephone conversations
  • Call the consumer at their place of employment when the collector knows that the employer prohibits such communications
  • Discuss the debt with a third person, such as an employer or family member
  • Call the consumer if they know they are represented by an attorney

There are several requirements that must be met before a consumer’s claim for an FDCPA violation arises, including that the underlying debt must have been incurred for personal, family or household purposes as opposed to for business reasons. Damages for successful FDCPA violations include up to $1,000 plus the cost of attorney fees for bringing the action. Additional damages may be available if the consumer can prove emotional distress or that they suffered an out of pocket expense due to the violation.

If you believe that you may have a claim under the FDCPA, you should tell your bankruptcy attorney about the claim as this could be a potential asset in your bankruptcy case.

Wartchow Law Office provides free bankruptcy consultations to discuss options in Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy in Minnesota as well as non-bankruptcy debt relief alternatives. Located in Edina, Minnesota, Wartchow Law Office represents clients throughout the Twin Cities of Minneapolis, St. Paul and surrounding areas.

What is the “Credit Counseling” Requirement to File Bankruptcy?

A credit counseling course must be completed before an individual can file bankruptcy. This course basically goes through your budget and educates on how to prioritize certain expenses, save money and manage a household budget.

While every individual who files for Chapter 7, Chapter 13 or even Chapter 11 bankruptcy is required to complete this credit counseling course before filing bankruptcy, this class is relatively simple and some even find it useful.

What you should know about the credit counseling course:

  • You can take the course online, over the phone or in person.
  • The course usually costs around $25 if you take it online or over the phone.
  • Once completed, you will be issued a Certificate of Credit Counseling, which you must provide to your bankruptcy attorney for filing with the court.
  • Have your attorney’s email address handy when you take the course so the agency can forward the certificate directly to your bankruptcy attorney.
  • A Certificate of Credit Counseling is only valid for 180 days. If you do not plan to file for bankruptcy for another six months or more, you may wish to hold off on taking the class until closer to the file date.
  • It must be taken from an approved credit counseling agency in Minnesota (for Minnesota bankruptcy filers).
  • You will also have to take a second course after you file bankruptcy but before you get a discharge. This second course is called “Debtor Education” or “Financial Management” and the process is similar to taking the first course. This second certificate must be filed with the bankruptcy court before you can receive a bankruptcy discharge. You do not have to take the second course from the same agency that you took the Credit Counseling.

A list of the approved Credit Counseling and Debtor Education agencies can be found on the US Department of Justice website at www.justice.gov/ust/eo/bapcpa/ccde/index.htm.

Lynn Wartchow represents clients in Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 in Minneapolis, Edina and Twin Cities Minnesota consumer bankruptcy proceedings. Consultations are free.

Common Reasons for Filing Chapter 13 Bankruptcy

For some people, the bankruptcy code and rules may dictate that you simply do not qualify for Chapter 7, in which case the alternative is to file Chapter 13 “wage earner’s plan”. However, there are reasons why someone may actually choose to file a Chapter 13 rather than Chapter 7, even when they have the option of filing for the more common “straight discharge” Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

Possible circumstances when you must file Chapter 13 (i.e., do not qualify for Chapter 7):

  • Your household income exceeds the applicable median income for the state of Minnesota and you do not have enough other certain expenses to reduce your disposable income in order to qualify for Chapter 7. If your income is too high, you will need to file Chapter 13 instead of Chapter 7. This calculation is determined by the “Means Test”.
  • Regardless of your household’s income level, you still have disposable income every month after payment of all your monthly living expenses. In Chapter 7, you cannot have significant disposable income or your case could be dismissed or converted to Chapter 13.
  • You filed a previous Chapter 7 within the last 8 years so you do not qualify for another Chapter 7 at this time. Chapter 7 can only be filed once every 8 years. Note: a previous discharge in any chapter of bankruptcy will prevent a discharge in subsequent bankruptcy filed within 8 years, meaning that if you file a Chapter 13 within 8 years after a prior Chapter 7, the new Chapter 13 plan must propose a 100% repayment to creditors (i.e., no discharge is allowed in less than every 8 years). Other bankruptcy protections and tools, such as the automatic stay and ability to repay mortgage arrears to fend off foreclosure, are still available in a subsequent Chapter 13 filed within 8 years after a prior Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

When you may choose to file Chapter 13 bankruptcy over Chapter 7:

  • You need to repay mortgage arrears and/or default payments on your car loan in order to prevent foreclosure or repossession of the collateral. In Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you can repay home mortgage arrears over 3 to 5 years in the Chapter 13 plan.
  • You have assets which would be non-exempt in a Chapter 7 filing and would either face surrendering or paying to keep if you filed Chapter 7. In Chapter 13, you can “pay to keep” any non-exempt assets over 3 to 5 years of a Chapter 13 plan.
  • You want to see that your creditors receive some money despite the bankruptcy and even if it means they still won’t get paid in full. Most Chapter 13 bankruptcy plans provide for the proportionate repayment of unsecured creditors anywhere from pennies on the dollar to 100%.
  • You have non-dischargeable debts that you want the flexibility to repay over five years with low or no interest.

Lynn Wartchow is a Minneapolis / St. Paul area bankruptcy attorney representing clients in Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 consumer bankruptcy proceedings in Minnesota since 2005. Call for a free bankruptcy consultation to understand your options in Chapter 13 bankruptcy.