Archive for March, 2013

Can a Judgment Lien Stop the Escrow of My House?

Monday, March 11th, 2013

Question: I sold my home and it is now in escrow with the buyers. I just learned from the escrow company that an old judgment that I discovered on my credit report years ago must be paid in full with interest, because of a lien that they filed against my house. Is this true and is it legal?

My response:
When a plaintiff wins a judgment for money, such as an unpaid credit card debt, against the defendant, if the judgment is not fully satisfied very soon after entry of judgment, then the judgment creditor’s attorney usually obtains an “Abstract of Judgment,” which is California Judicial Council Enforcement Form # EJ-001 (“Abstract”).

When the Abstract is recorded with the County Recorder or County Clerk’s office, a lien exists over all real property in that county, including a residence. From that point forward (excluding bankruptcy discharge, in many instances), until the judgment is satisfied in full or the judgment creditor records a release of lien, any sale of real property or attempt to refinance property in the name of the judgment debtor(s) becomes an opportunity for the judgment creditor to be paid.

I know of no title company that would insure the title to a property (which is required by the bank for financing a purchase or refinancing), unless all Abstracts that name any of sellers involved are satisfied in full or a release of lien recorded. Buyers also may be unable to obtain real property financing, if they have an outstanding recorded Abstract. Escrow companies facilitate this payoff process by contacting the judgment creditor’s collection attorney for a written payoff demand. When the collection attorney receives this request, they are supposed to compute how much is due and send a letter of the correct amount, including costs and accrued interest. The escrow company then will deduct the appropriate amount and pay this to the creditor’s attorney, who must provide the documentation that can be recorded to show the judgment has been fully satisfied and the Abstract released.

There are some exceptions to this rule, such as the homestead exemption amount ($75,000 or more, depending on the situation of the occupants and owners, such as age or disability). The homestead exemption protects equity when applied towards purchase of another home within six months. See Cal. Code of Civil Procedure, Section 704.720. My blog posting explains the homestead declaration and links to a sample homestead form.

One point about this process is that there is often abuse by the judgment creditor’s attorney.  In particular, there is the temptation to inflate the amount, such as by improperly adding attorney’s fees, demanding excessive fees and costs, and other such nonsense. This might be considered a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). Obviously, the damages would be the inflated amount, as this is an attempt to collect more than the amount allowed by law. However, inflating the amount could also make it impossible for the Abstract to be satisfied in full, if the amount is so high that the transaction cannot be closed and the judgment creditor is not willing to sign a release of lien. Thus, damages could also be claimed for preventing the sale or refinancing from being completed.

While you might not have time to consider trying to vacate and set aside an old default judgment, especially if you are in the middle of escrow and need to complete that promptly, please read my blog postings about setting aside a default judgement. If the summons and complaint were not properly served on the defendants, the court lacked jurisdiction over the defendant(s), and even an old default judgment can be set aside by a special type of complaint in equity. Here’s one blog posting in particular, that concerns an old default judgment.

Robert Stempler
www.StopCollectionLawsuits.com
Twitter @RStempler

Facebook: www.facebook.com/SoCalConsumerLawyer

Debt Collection Lawsuit for Unpaid Balance of a Car Loan Contract

Friday, March 8th, 2013

Question: About three years ago, I was unemployed and did not have enough money to keep paying for the insurance, gas, and installment payments. I contacted the finance company and they told me to surrender my car at the dealership and they would take care of the paperwork. The car was in great condition and I got a notice from the lender after the drop off that they would sell the car at an auction if I did not want the vehicle back. I thought that it would be over, but it wasn’t. They sent me a bill for the unpaid balance, reported it on my credit reports as a repossession, and now they hired a debt collection law firm from Orange County, which is pursing me in court. I was served with the debt collection lawsuit yesterday.

My response:
Please review my legal guide on Avvo.com which explains the California consumer’s rights following repossession of a motor vehicle. The fact that you took it yourself to the dealership and voluntarily surrendered it during business hours rather than have a repo agent come to your home at night to seize it does not change the fact that it was a repossession and the finance company’s duty to give you proper notice before they may sell the vehicle at auction or private sale. Essentially, before the finance company may sell the vehicle and then have the right to the unpaid balance, they must send you a proper notice of intent to sell or dispose and then perform the sale in a commercially reasonable manner. More details are in my repossession legal guide.

Once you have an idea of the substantive law regarding repossession from my legal guide, now you can review my blog on your options and the civil procedure for defending a debt collection lawsuit, in my “Next Steps” blog posting. That blog posting provides guidance on the defendant’s options when receiving a debt collection lawsuit and how much time is appropriate to avoid a default judgment, as some people confuse a hearing date with the due date for a proper, written response. Usually, the defendant has 30 days to file the defense papers in court from date of personal service by a process server.

To reduce the risk of losing and a money judgment entered against you, I’d recommend hiring an experienced consumer attorney who handles debt collection lawsuit defense. Most of these cases are settled or dismissed, once the consumer and his or her lawyer see what documents the debt collection law firm has or is missing. Sometimes the notice of intent was missing a required disclosure or the amounts were not correctly stated or the vehicle was not sold in a commercially reasonable manner. These are challenging arguments to present in court and not for the do-it-yourself types, even if you’ve been in a courtroom before.

Robert Stempler
www.StopCollectionLawsuits.com
Twitter @RStempler

Facebook: www.facebook.com/SoCalConsumerLawyer

I was just served with a credit card collection lawsuit. Now what?

Monday, March 4th, 2013

Question: I stopped paying on my credit card a while back, because I was tired of paying a high interest rate and I did not have enough money to pay it all off. I sort of suspected that this debt would be sold to a debt collection agency for pennies on the dollar, but the papers are asking for me to pay the full balance, plus the high interest rate that I thought I was going to avoid. I contacted the company and they are holding firm on that number. I don’t have the money for this and my income is too high to qualify for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

My response:
First, please check out the short videos on my home page. The first video is a quick overview of all options that are possible to the situation of being served with a debt collection lawsuit. That will help you narrow down your options to the one or two that suit your situation and your own preferences. Your posting did not specify what bank had the original credit card or when you last paid it, which will help determine if they filed the lawsuit after the statute of limitations period had expired. That is very important in these cases and makes a big difference.

I’d then suggest reading my blog posting on the defendant’s Next Steps when the consumer has been sued in a debt collection lawsuit on a defaulted credit card. That blog explains how much time is appropriate to avoid a default judgment, as some people confuse a hearing date with the due date for a proper, written response. If you want to defend this lawsuit and have a good chance to settle for much less or possibly get the case dismissed, do not miss the deadline for filing a response or having a lawyer do this for you. It is usually 30 days from the date of being personally served, but please don’t wait for the last minute.

I don’t suggest that consumers or non-litigation attorneys try to handle the lawsuit defense for themselves, as I have seen too many people either pay way more than they should to settle with the debt collection law firm or they file papers with the court, which get stricken as being defective or improperly admit most or all of the debt collection lawsuit. Almost as bad, is when the debt collection lawyers press the case very hard against the defendant, using court procedures and formal discovery requests to overcome the defendant’s attempt to get the case to trial. I have some of these as PDFs on my website, in the Case Examples tab.

To avoid the risk of losing a money judgment for the full balance in the lawsuit plus accrued interest, I urge you to contact an experienced consumer attorney, who regularly handles debt collection lawsuit defense. An experienced attorney should be able to help negotiate a satisfactory settlement or get the case dismissed, depending on the admissible evidence that the debt collection law firm can obtain or not obtain.

Robert Stempler
www.StopCollectionLawsuits.com
Twitter @RStempler

Facebook: www.facebook.com/SoCalConsumerLawyer