Supreme Court: Party That Buys Defaulted Debt Not A “Debt Collector” Under The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

by:  Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher) (LinkedIn)

Debt collection (pd)In Henson v. Santander Consumer USA Inc., Justice Gorsuch delivered his first opinion for the Supreme Court, and in doing so, provided an interesting opinion on a relatively boring issue, and subconsciously (I assume) invoked the movie Repo Man, a classic (?) mid-1980's movie starring Emilio Estevez and Harry Dean Stanton, which the website, imdb.com, summarized as follows: "Young punk Otto [Estevez] becomes a repo man after helping to steal a car, and stumbles into a world of wackiness as a result."

Neither the facts nor the law in Henson were wacky. Plaintiffs took out loans from CitiFinancial Auto to buy cars, but later defaulted on those loans. Defendant purchased the defaulted loans and sought to collect the debt from plaintiffs in ways that plaintiffs claimed violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. The Act, which was designed to curtail "[d]isruptive dinnertime calls, downright deceit and more besides" authorizes private lawsuits and "weighty fines" for anyone who engages in "wayward collection practices." But, it only applies to "debt collectors," a term that is defined to include anyone who "regularly collects or attempts to collect . . . debts owed or due . . . another." The question in Henson was whether a party who purchases debts originated by someone else and then seeks to collect those debts for its own account qualifies as a debt collector." Justice Gorsuch framed the issue as follows:

Everyone agrees that the term ["debt collector"] embraces the repo man – someone hired by a creditor to collect an outstanding debt. What if you purchase a debt and then try to collect it for yourself – does that make you a "debt collector" too? That 's the nub of the dispute now before us.  

The district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit sided with defendant, holding that a party that buys defaulted debt and collects it for its own account is not a "debt collector." In doing so, however, the Fourth Circuit acknowledged that other circuit courts had come to the opposite conclusion. The U.S. Supreme Court took the case to clear up this split. 

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It’s Not “Bad Faith” For Lenders To Stick To The Terms Of Their Agreements With Borrowers

by:  Peter J. Gallagher

Today, the Appellate Division provided another reminder that it is not “bad faith” for a lender to abide by the terms of its mortgage with a borrower. In Warner v. Sovereign Bank, borrowers fell behind on their residential mortgage and contacted their lender to request a modification. While their request was under review, the lender filed a foreclosure complaint. The lender eventually denied the borrower’s request for a modification, but the two sides entered into a forbearance agreement.  

The borrowers claimed — without evidential support according to the Appellate Division — that the lender required, as a condition of its agreeing to review their request for a modification, that borrowers not list their home for sale. Therefore, after their loan modification request was denied, the borrowers sued the lender claiming, among other things, that the lender acted in bad faith by initially not allowing them to list their home for sale and for then not providing them with a timely answer about their request for a modification. The borrowers claimed that both of these actions prevented them from selling their home, which caused them to sustain a substantial loss of their equity.

 

Continue reading “It’s Not “Bad Faith” For Lenders To Stick To The Terms Of Their Agreements With Borrowers”

Good News For Condo Collections

by:  Katharine A. Muscalino

Collections have become an area of increasing concern for condominium associations, as unit owners struggle to pay their maintenance fees on time and in full during the current economic downturn.  As unit owners’ debt continues to rise, associations are left with few options to collect: a lien on the unit and a lawsuit against the individual unit owner.

Many condominium associations have been frustrated in their attempts to collect from a unit owner individually, as Special Civil Court judges are often sympathetic to delinquent unit owners, offering extensions, scrutinizing certifications of amounts due, and reducing or eliminating the association’s ability to collect attorneys’ fees.  Grandview at Riverwalk Port Imperial Condominium Association is one such association, but its frustrations were recently assuaged on appeal in Grandview at Riverwalk Port Imperial Condominium Association, Inc. v. Han

In this case, the association sued a unit owner for failure to pay maintenance fees, only to have the Special Civil Court inexplicably deny their demand for attorneys’ fees.  The Association appealed the judge’s rejection of their demand and the Appellate Division reversed the Special Civil Court, finding that the fees were authorized by statute and by the Association’s governing documents.  Noting that the unit owner had not objected to reasonableness of the attorneys’ fees and that the Appellate Division itself perceived “nothing unreasonable” in the attorneys’ fees, the Appellate Division remanded the matter to have the judgment amended to reflect the attorneys fees. 

Chancery Division To Condo Association – No Rent Receiver For You

In New Jersey, condominium associations often face an uphill battle when trying to collect on delinquent owners’ accounts.  A recent decision out of the New Jersey Chancery Division marks another setback in this regard, as it held that an association was not entitled to the appointment of a rent receiver to collect and forward rents associated with a unit that was in foreclosure.  If nothing else, this decision emphasizes the importance to condominium associations of including appropriate collection and remedial provisions in their governing documents.

In Paddington Square at Mahwah Condominium Association, Inc. v. Sanzari, a unit owner defaulted on its mortgage, and both the first mortgage-holder and the condominium association initiated foreclosure proceedings.  At the same time, the condominium association moved for the appointment of a rent receiver to forward any rents collected on the unit by the unit owner to the association.  However, the court denied the association’s request because: (1) the association’s governing documents lacked any specific provision for the appointment of a rent receiver; (2) the governing documents did not require the unit owner to rent his unit to a tenant; (3) no tenant currently occupied the unit; and (4) the association failed to give notice to the first mortgage-holder, which had also foreclosed on the unit.  What this decision makes clear is that, in communities where unit owners are permitted to rent their units, associations should ensure that the governing documents authorize the association to seek the appointment of a rent receiver in addition to foreclosing on a unit in the event of a unit owner’s default in maintenance payments.