Barbara O'Brien

Barbara O'Brien
Location
New York, USA
Birthday
October 01
Bio
Barbara O'Brien blogs at Mahablog, Buddhism.About.com and the Mesothelioma and Asbestos Awareness Center.

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OCTOBER 22, 2009 12:51PM

Help! They're Stealing My Home!

Rate: 4 Flag

There it was, stuck on the door to my co-op apartment with chewing gum — a court summons. “Notice of petition to recover real property non-payment,” it said.

This had to be a mistake. Yes, I had gotten three months behind on my management fees — business was bad last year, and I hit bottom in February. But then my income picked up, and for five months I’d been sending the management company extra big checks to catch up. My last check, sent several days before, had paid off the entire previous balance, so that I owed only for the current month.

I went to my computer and checked my bank account. The check hadn’t cleared. Maybe it had been lost in the mail. I could just give them another check and clear this up.

Then I checked my mail. There was my check, for $1,609.55, returned uncashed by the management company. I was not to mail them checks, it said. I could send only certified checks to the co-op board’s lawyers.

This made no sense. My checks don’t bounce. The management company had been accepting my checks until then, and they’d all cleared the bank. Why were they being difficult?

I read the court summons. The lawyers had tacked hundreds of dollars of fines to what I owed. The debt I had thought I had whittled down to about $1,000 had suddenly blossomed up to nearly $4,000.

The next day I met with a lawyer. [Note: The guy has a long-established practice specializing in real estate law.] His fee for representing me in court would eat most of the $1,609.55, which was all I could pay for the month. But I felt helpless, surrounded by sharks. I couldn’t understand why the co-op board wouldn’t let me just pay off the debt, especially when I was so close. These people are crazy, I told the lawyer. I don’t want to deal with them.

We talked about options, including bankruptcy. It seemed extreme, because I am not that far into debt, but I had to save my home. Do you have more than $50,000 in equity, he asked. For reasons I don’t understand, he recommended bankruptcy only if I had less than $50,000 in equity. I will check, I said.

So I went online to find out what apartments are going for in the neighborhood these days. I knew prices had dropped, and I had no idea how far. But I’m carrying a mortgage of only $50,000, and in Westchester County, New York, an unheated garage is worth at least that much. Sales are slow, but units are selling.

I learned there is a 2-bedroom apartment in my co-op complex on the market for $222,500. I have a two-bedroom apartment. A 1-bedroom apartment is on the market for $189,000. The cheapest unit available in the neighborhood — in one of the rattier complexes — is a 1-bedroom fixer-upper, on the market for $130,000. So, I certainly have more than $50,000 in equity. More like $150,000, probably.

Finally, a light dawned. No wonder the co-op board is trying to keep me from paying off the debt. If they can “recover” my apartment, that equity goes to the corporation.

I wasn’t able to go to the court hearing; as I had come down with the flu.  [Note: The lawyer was there on my behalf and said I didn't have to be there, so I didn't miss the hearing..] The lawyer’s office called and said the case had been “adjourned.” I was to be given more time to pay the debt, but how much time I do not know. Apparently I still have to pay the hundreds of dollars in fines. And I have no assurance the co-op board will not continue to tack on more fines and haul me into court a few more times. I had been paying them every penny I could scrape together, and it wasn’t good enough. I sent a formal complaint to the state attorney general’s office, but I have not heard back from them.

And note that tapping into the equity is not an option, for other reasons that would take time to explain.

Here’s my situation: I had seen a light at the end of the tunnel. Now the tunnel is ten miles longer, and growing. I think the only way I can keep my home is to pay off the debt in one lump, so they can’t keep adding fines. So I’m rattling the tin cup, so to speak, and asking for donations (see tip jar). Please help me keep my home.

Author tags:

fraud, homelessness, personal

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Comments

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sue them right back. they're not acting in good faith and this may be considered a form of harassment. you'll probably have to pay the fees, so pay them. but sue them for a refund. I think you can do that in small claims court.

keep every scrap of paper but I suspect your lawyer already told you that. keep a diary. make DAILY entries. do you need a lawyer? does your lawyer specialize in real estate law?

start researching real estate law so you know where you're going. so far you're not so far behind and it's still manageable. get on top of it and SUE. that's what money people do. sue.
"If they can “recover” my apartment, that equity goes to the corporation." This is correct, however, I do not believe the corporation is acting in good faith. Since a corporation is set up only to make a profit, they are doing all that they can do.

You should not have missed your court appointment and you do not have a good enough attorney. This should be able to be negotiated OUT OF COURT by a competent attorney. If you had a enough to pay it off and be current, they should have adjusted down the late fees for you.

I am sorry, but asking for money is not the right way to go about this. You need to find an attorney that can and will negotiate on your behalf. You are being robbed for certain, but YOU have to fight that battle for yourself with the help of a negotiator. Otherwise, this is snowballing and makes no sense if you have that much equity.
"do you need a lawyer? does your lawyer specialize in real estate law?"

I have a lawyer. Yes, he specializes in real estate law.
Sorry, I have no money, just empathy. If the co-op had accepted your prior checks then they must notify (at least here in IL) before a policy change can take effect. Even then if a policy was in place and they accepted prior payment by your method then they must accept all payments by this method or allow a reasonable time for you to pay by the method preferred. It sounds to me like your theory of the equity driving them to make an attempt to put you out is spot on.
"You should not have missed your court appointment and you do not have a good enough attorney."

I did not miss the court appointment; the lawyer was there on my behalf and said I didn'thave to be there. However, I don't know exactly what went on.

If you can recommend a better attorney in Westchester County, New York, then speak up. However, the guy I'm working with has a long-established practice in real estate law. So far, he's mostly just another expense.
Well, perhaps things are different in your state, but all should be governed by your by-laws. If there is no specific language as to how late payments are handled, then they do not have a leg to stand on.

I had a problem with a business in Florida and the State's Attorney's office facilitated an equitable solution. Perhaps there is a way to use this agency to help you.

Honestly, why throw good money after bad, and why ask fellow writers to pay late fees to a management company? You have a LOT of equity in your property from what you are writing -- likely over $100,000. If all of this is true, something is NOT right in what is happening.

If this is all that is happening to you, you CAN fix it. There is a way you have to keep looking. If it is something else, then write about that something. I am sorry, but as a Realtor I hear about these stories all the time. Yes, it is happening but I think only because you do not have the right person fighting for you.
"I had a problem with a business in Florida and the State's Attorney's office facilitated an equitable solution. Perhaps there is a way to use this agency to help you."

I've already sent a formal complaint to the state attorney general's office. I haven't heard back.

"Honestly, why throw good money after bad, and why ask fellow writers to pay late fees to a management company?"

It's the co-op lawyers who are charging the fees. And my lawyer in New York tells me I don't have any other options but to pay up asap. Maybe it's different in other states.