|HOA Lawyer In Risky Business|
Article Courtesy of The Tampa Tribune
By Michael Sasso
Published June 18, 2008
Tankel wants you to know that he's not Snidely Whiplash.
an attorney for more than 500 homeowners associations, Tankel is foreclosing
on people's homes for unpaid association dues with surprising frequency.
Although some are investors, others live in the homes and lose them because of
a few hundred dollars in back dues, he says.
makes Tankel an unsympathetic figure. He jokingly says people sometimes
compare him to Snidely Whiplash, the top-hatted villain with the handlebar
mustache in the old Dudley Do-Right cartoons.
Tankel insists he's not a bad guy and doesn't want to take people's homes away
he is looking out for the interests of homeowners and condo associations,
which also are victims of Florida's housing mess, he says. The huge spike in
mortgage foreclosures has left many deed-restricted neighborhoods dotted with
vacant homes. Homeowners who remain often put off paying their association
dues to save money.
resolving these things. Clients have no interest in owning someone's home or
kicking someone out.
The last thing I want is a physical confrontation for anybody. Some angry people might go home and take it out on their president. I have had association presidents that have had slashed tires and threats and so forth.
people surprised that their homeowners association can foreclose upon them?
who buy into these communities don't read the fine print, and the fine print
says that if they don't pay the association it has the right to sue them
personally for the amounts that they owe. And it has a lien, or claim, against
the property. They can actually sell the property to satisfy the debt, no
different than a mortgage.
often are you taking a delinquent homeowner's home to foreclosure sale, and how
much has that changed?
I can say is that three years ago I had one person working on foreclosures,
which is I what I call the start of the legal process, and one person working on
all the efforts prior to the start of litigation.
I have two paralegals just for homeowners association collections, one paralegal
for condo collections, one paralegal just for defense of mortgage foreclosures,
one paralegal overseeing the process, and probably another floater who works as
needed and follows through with the foreclosures. So if you go by staff, it's
five times the staff.
my experience, we would sell a home on the courthouse steps once every couple
years. Now we're taking six to 10, maybe six to 12 a year, maybe as many as one
a month to foreclosure sale. Because there's a lot of them that are working
their way through the system, it takes at least six or eight months after you
start before you can get to the courthouse steps.
advise your association clients to seek foreclosure against delinquent
homeowners. Why don't you just file a lawsuit for a money judgment? Isn't that
more humane than taking someone's home?
has a lot of protections for debtors. When you have a judgment against someone
you still have to execute the judgment, which means you have to find assets that
you can sell to satisfy the judgment. Frankly, I don't seek judgments against
people because a judgment is just that - a piece of paper.
you've got a situation where a person doesn't pay, the association can either
foreclose and sell the home on the courthouse steps or get a judgment. When you
seek foreclosure, you know that the home is not going to move to Alabama. The
home is not going to go bankrupt. You know that the home is not going anywhere.
We just go after the home.
you seek a judgment against someone and they go bankrupt, the judgment may
disappear. The most powerful tool that an association has is foreclosure.
a home doesn't sell at a foreclosure sale, the homeowners association sometimes
buys it. What do they do with it in a depressed real estate market?
this market, the value of the home is almost universally less than the mortgage.
In the situation where the association takes back title, that's a perfect
opportunity for someone in the association to step forward and become a real
estate investor. Buy the judgment from the association and seek a short sale of
the mortgage from the mortgage company.
the association finds itself as the unfortunate owner, I recommend they either
try to rent it on Craigslist, or in the alternative, actually deeding it back to
the bank immediately. In other words, take the position that the bank now owns
it and has to pay the back assessments to the extent allowed by the law, and the
law is changing.
attorney's fees in foreclosure cases often exceed the amount of past-due
fees routinely exceed the amount that is in question. And judges, I think, have
a hard time with that - when I end up in the judge's chambers and we're at the
summary judgment and I have my affidavit of costs and fees that can run in a
routine case $1,500 or $1,800, maybe $2,000, and the amount due is only $400 or
critics of the association lawyers who say you're taking people's homes away and
you're profiting out of whack to the amount due don't understand the process.
It's hard work, it involves analysis of title. It's fundamentally the same work
as if it was a $10 million mortgage.