Update 10/26: Thanks to your help I am out of immediate danger, although I am not able to completely pay off the debt and I will remain in some jeopardy until I do. So more donations are welcome. I still hope to hear something from the state attorney general’s office, to which I sent a complaint several days ago.
Update: I’m keeping this at the top for a couple of days; check below for new posts.
I hate to ask for help again, but I’ve had a major setback and feel defeated. I posted the story below at Salon to see if it could get some attention, and so far I’ve just gotten snarky advice to get another lawyer. This is not helping. I am sincerely afraid I will be homeless by Christmas. At the very least, please help me get this linked around the blogosphere.
There it was, stuck on the door to my co-op apartment with chewing gum — a court summons. â€œNotice 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, a guy with a long-established practice dealing with real estate law. His fee for representing me in court would eat most of the $1,609.55, 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 co-op corporation.
I wasn’t able to go to the court hearing; as I had come down with the flu. My lawyer was there on my behalf and told me I didn’t have to be there, but since I wasn’t there I don’t know exactly what happened. All I know is that the case was “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 tapping into the equity is not an option.
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. I hate to keep asking for help, but I don’t see that I have a choice. So I’m rattling the tin cup, so to speak, and asking for donations. Please help me keep my home.