HOA foreclosures are being challenged on multiple levels in SC

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The HOA won in a recent Court of Appeals case

In January, I blogged about a Federal class action lawsuit filed in Charleston seeking to invalidate non-condo foreclosures by owners’ associations. You can read that blog here but the short version is that the suit challenges foreclosures on the grounds that these non-profit corporations don’t have the power to create liens for unpaid assessments prior to obtaining judicial judgments. Condominium associations established through the Horizontal Property Regime Act have statutory authority to create liens, but the power of non-condo projects is created by restrictive covenants. We’ll have to wait and see how that suit turns out, but if the plaintiffs there are successful, foreclosure practice will change drastically in South Carolina.

gavel house

Our Court of Appeals decided a case* on April 4th that could have made drastic changes in another way. In fact, Richland County’s Master-in-Equity, Joseph Strickland, stated in his order that “the practice of homeowners’ association foreclosures would effectively be eradicated if (the Plaintiffs’) position came to bear.”

This appeal was handled by the law office of my friend, Brian Boger, a Columbia lawyer and well-known champion of consumers’ rights. The appeal argued that the $3,036 successful bid “shocked the conscience” and violated equitable principles. The parties agreed that the home was valued at $128,000. There was a mortgage balance of $66,004, leaving equity of $61,996. The Hales did not argue that there were irregularities in foreclosure process, but instead argued that the low bid should have encouraged the Master to use his gavel to “do equity”.

Comparing the successful bid to their equity using the “Equity Method”, the Hales argued that the bid amounted to 4.8% of the fair market value of the property. The HOA argued, using the “Debt Method”, that the bid must be added to the senior mortgage balance to judge its sufficiency because the successful bidder would have to pay the senior mortgage to have good title. In this case, using the Debt Method, the bid amounted to 54.94% of the fair market value. The Court of Appeals agreed that the Debt Method was the proper method for considering a senior encumbrance in a foreclosure.

The Court found no South Carolina cases that expressly weighed the two methods of judging a bid, but pointed to prior cases that considered the amount of a senior mortgage in the determination and found a 3.15% bid sufficient. One reason the Court of Appeals prefers the Debt Method is that it will result in “fewer set asides”.  In other words, the Court of Appeals is not interested in upsetting the foreclosure practice applecart at this point.

Justice Lockemy dissented, stating that he thought it improper to give a judicial sale buyer credit for assuming a debt it is not legally required to pay. He said the Court’s decision could create a perverse circumstance where a judicial sale bidder purchases property for a de minimis amount simply to capitalize on rental revenue until the senior lienholder forecloses. The majority called this argument a solution in search of a problem because there was no evidence that the successful bidder in this case was engaged in such a scheme and because the successful bidder must satisfy the mortgage to obtain clear title.

Foreclosure practice in South Carolina remains the same…for now.

* Winrose Homeowners’ Association, Inc. v. Hale, South Carolina Court of Appeals Opinion 5549 (April 4, 2018)

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SC Supreme Court Crafts New Foreclosure Law

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foreclosureFailure to file bond does not render appeal moot

In a case decided on November 4*, the Supreme Court of South Carolina interpreted S.C. Code §18-9-170** in a way that may come as a surprise to dirt lawyers.

The case arose from the foreclosure of an HOA lien. The absentee owner defaulted in the foreclosure and did not appeal. Instead, he moved to vacate the resulting sale. When his motion to vacate was denied, the master issued a deed to the successful bidder, and the defaulting owner appealed without filing an appeal bond.

The Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal, holding that the property owner failed to comply with the statute that would have stayed the sale, and, therefore the master-in-equity’s deed rendered the appeal moot.

The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case to the Court of Appeals for a decision on the merits.

Real estate practitioners have likely read §18-9-170 to mean that failure to file a bond in this situation renders the appeal moot. This case indicates that the failure to file a bond may not be an issue. If no bond is filed, the master may issue the deed to the successful bidder, but the appeal can proceed. By implication, if the appeal is successful, then the purchaser’s deed may be set aside. The Court specifically stated that the master’s deed does not moot the appeal, and the appellate court may reach the merits.

For title examiners and the lawyers who rely on title examinations, this case means that whether or not an appeal bond has been filed, we must pay attention to a case on appeal.

* Wachesaw Plantation East Community Services Association, Inc., v. Alexander, Appellate Case No. 2012-21340, Opinion 27585

** S.C. Code §18-9-170 reads in relevant portion: “If the judgment appealed from directs the sale or delivery of possession of real property, the execution of the judgment shall not be stayed unless a written undertaking be executed….”

Mobile Home Claims Continue

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What do a hurricane, a tornado and a redneck divorce have in common?
Somebody’s fixin’ to lose a mobile home!

Trailer Park Treehouse

That joke may be attributable to Jeff Foxworthy, Lewis Grizzard or some other Southern comedian.  Regardless, a large number of South Carolinians lost mobile homes during the economic downturn, most often as a result of foreclosures rather than the disasters in the joke. Foreclosures uncover title issues that lead to title insurance policy claims. Because our office continues to see mobile home claims on almost a weekly basis, this reminder might be in order for residential real estate practitioners.

When sales and mortgages of real estate including mobile homes are closed, titles to the mobile homes should be retired, and ALTA 7 series endorsements should be issued.

If a title examination reveals a recorded Manufactured Home Affidavit for Retirement of Title Certificate, it is advisable to request from the Department of Motor Vehicles a letter confirming that the title has been placed on the DMV’s list of retired vehicles.

If no Manufactured Home Affidavit has been filed locally, then follow our statutory process to retire the title. The Affidavit requires the owner to:

  • install the home on the real property;
  • remove the wheels, axles and towing hitch;
  • attach proof of ownership (the deed);
  • attach a copy of the certificate of occupancy; and
  • pay the recording fee.

Surrendering the certificate of title to the DMV requires:

  • a filed copy of the Manufactured Home Affidavit from the ROD;trailer duck
  • the original certificate of title with either releases of liens or consents of secured parties;
  • a copy of the most recent tax receipt for the manufactured home; and
  • payment of the DMV fee.

When the title is retired, it is safe to issue an ALTA 7 series endorsement. Your title company will appreciate compliance with these guidelines.

And here’s a practice tip. Our former boss, Nancy Booco, always said, “If it looks like a mobile home, it probably is one.”