Help! They’re Stealing My Home!

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. “Notice 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.

49 thoughts on “Help! They’re Stealing My Home!

  1. Maha, the “asking for donations” link throws an error (in 8 or 9 languages no less). It really sounds like the equity pirates are at it. You don’t need me to tell you that this must be protected at any cost – I’ve heard some real horror stories (in relation to single family homes) where the owner forfeited all the equity/down payment they had made.

  2. Barbara, PayPal says they are experiencing difficulties, so I can’t send you something immediately. You are right though, something is not on the up and up.

  3. Wish I could help but my ‘help’ these days is all spoken for (which is forcing me to become a vegetarian.) I don’t know about NY, but California has an organization of pro-bono lawyers (I used them to go to bat for homeless women etc.) My daughter does pro-bono work (but nothing to do with real estate) so I know the species exist. Try that and keep us posted. Felicity

  4. Barbara, very sorry to hear about your situation. I am not a lawyer but it seems to me that what your co-op board is doing would be illegal in many states. I didn’t think the commenters at Salon were being snarky, they were trying to help. The co-op board definitely seems to be acting in bad faith and you need to fight back hard. I question whether your lawyer is being aggressive enough. A countersuit should be seriously considered.

    Sorry I can’t be of much financial assistance due to my own situation (I just got out of major surgery and I don’t even want to think about the bills that are coming soon), but for what it’s worth, I posted about your story on my blog:

    • I question whether my lawyer is being aggressive enough, too, but I don’t have the money to chase down another one.

  5. Sorry I can’t help with a donation at this time.

    Have you thought of calling the office of the NY State Attorney General? Since it’s that department which oversees conversions and other contract matters, perhaps they have an information line or service pertaining to co-op governance. (I don’t have the time right now to search their website, but maybe later I can. My co-op has its annual meeting tonight.)

  6. Maha, I should have read the Salon piece and the comments before writing my 6:01 entry. Please accept that I’m not trying to be snarky.

  7. Maha, I don’t have much, my life seems to be balancing on a thin edge too. Email an address or PO box though (I don’t have paypal or a credit card) and I will send a little (count that very little since that is all I have).

  8. Maha, sorry to hear about your situation. I’m happy to donate what I can to help. Hopefully your situation will get resolved soon.

  9. I’ve alerted a real estate lawyer here in California who hopefully knows one in NY who might take your case, pro bono. Hope something positive results.

  10. Once you’ve retired the debt would be a good time to think about going after them to recover the fees. First things first, though….

  11. The CC function works. I said I’d do that a long time ago and flaked but better late than never. Every little bit helps and what you have here is worth more to me that what I’ve sent already so I’ll keep on keepin’ on, like next payday. Good luck. Let’s elect people who hold consumer protected up first and foremost!

  12. Barbara,
    I just got my first pay check after over 11 months. I won’t be able to put it in the bank until Saturday, and won’t have any cash until Tuesday. Please make sure to keep the donation link up at all times. I’ll try to contribute $20, I’m not sure, but I’ll try – I’m ashamed to say that’s all I can afford for my favorite website.

    One of these days, karma will take over, and all of the evil cashsuckers will get theirs. The job I want in the future is guillotine sharpener. I’ll finally be happy to get my productivity measured.

  13. Maha, I threw a little something in the cup. It’s not near what’s in my heart to give but it’s more than what’s in my current budget to give. Financial hard times has been my closest friend these days, so I’m hoping my paltry donation brings with it a gesture of love and respect for you beyond its meager amount.

  14. Maha,

    You already have equity in the house. Dont you have equity line of credit? Not that it matters now, you should always have that for cases like this. You dont need to access it but you can use it for emergencies. A bank is certainly better than co-op that you are describing.

    Once this matter is resolved, you should look for a bank which gives access to Home Equity Line of Credit. You can then use it to pay off the co-op and then pay bank monthly.

  15. Maha my sister (no legal training but smart) said keep notes and records of every contact. She once had a judge throw out a claim against her because she had sent the money and they refused it. The judge said, She tried to pay it, what do you want? Out went the whole claim and she didn’t have to pay them at all.

    (didn’t get a PO box #, guess I should check and see if there is one on the link)

  16. Ditto on the NY State Attorney General’s office suggested earlier. In my experience (with a somewhat different matter), I found they had some very excellent people in certain offices, and others not-so-on-the-ball for offices in other locations. I may be not remembering correctly here, but I think, at the same, the folks in White Plains were very sharp, and eventually, very helpful. Another time I dealt with Poughkeepsie, and I think the guy was stoned.

    Good luck with this!

  17. If the management company is no longer accepting personal checks but did not notify you of this change, there is no way in hell you should be held liable for this. Whatever their reasons for changing this rule may have been, without notifying you, their penalties are unintended fraud at best and criminal at worst.

  18. Sorry to report that I’ve hit a dead end and I’m thinking that real estate lawyers don’t do pro bono work – why am I not surprised.

  19. “If they can “recover” my apartment, that equity goes to the co-op corporation.”

    Just to reassure you, I seriously doubt the equity goes to the association. In the worst case of a forced sale, equity should go to you, with only the amount you owe going to them. What you describe would amount to “taking” under the law.

    Are you sure they are actually forcing a sale? The title of the document you named didn’t actually describe a foreclosure. In California, all they can do is attach a lein, which is certainly inconvenient but really has no effect until you go to sell the property. They can sue in Small Claims, but that would not involve foreclosure on a home. Sometimes we can over-react to dire circumstances, and yours certainly justify a reaction, but it sounds like you might want to draw a breath and regroup.

  20. Maha, fortunately, I’ve got a total shark of a lawyer helping me out with a deal right now. He’s somewhat expensive but I’m glad I sucked it up and went with him.

    I hope this helps a little. I’ll toss some coinage into your tin can in a bit. Good luck with everything!

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  22. One thing to keep in mind: the courts do not exist to enforce inequitable situations. The courts exist to enforce the law.

    Make sure your lawyer helps you establish that you are making good faith attempts to pay the debt. If you want to see a judge get really pissed off, let them see someone trying to use the (overcrowded, overworked) courts to bully someone who is making an earnest attempt to pay off their debts.

    Good luck – this is a scary, frustrating situation.

  23. I don’t consider myself xenophobic but when I get my daily phone call from Bank of America’s debt collection call center in Karachi,Pakistan wanting to know when I’m going to pay my mortgage payment, I somehow sense a big resentment. Why is that?

  24. Maha, I’ve sent a contribution, but it is really a “thank-you” for each day’s chance to connect.
    When I’ve needed a lawyer, I’ve found that they tend not to tell you what they’re going to do because there are options at each step of proceeding. If yours is as good as mine have been, he’ll want to work on it a little while before he has anything to tell you. Just my experience.

  25. @Canadian Reader: I had to do a full new PayPal registration after some time on the phone with a lovely lady with an exotic accent who read her script scrupulously. They had an incorrect phone and address for me, neither of which bore any resemblance to the real me. They did not even know that I was a pink circle with eyeglasses.

  26. Maha, just threw a little in the till, as I am a daily lurker and I never comment, though I truly enjoy your insights. I consider it giving back. For what it’s worth, I put your link up on my Facebook page and I have sent your link to my real estate attorney. He’s out on Long Island, but he’s been great to me and the wife in our real estate dealings this year. I don’t know that he can do much, but it couldn’t hurt. Keep up the good fight.

  27. Barbara, I just sent you a donation. Please tell me as soon as you get the notification. PayPal worked for me, but maybe that’s because I already have an account there. I don’t know, but it did appear to go through.

  28. Barbara,
    I just sent you a donation and I hope to God you can raise enough to beat this. I read your blog religiously and really appreciate your writing. Good luck and keep us posted.

  29. It would make me feel better not just to see you keep your home but to see justice done. Hopefully, with each person who has benefitted from your site and writing doing whatever they can that will come to pass. In that way we’d be helping others besides you as these people use their fine print to kick others while they’re down.

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  31. File a racketerring charge against them. This in bunco that they are attempting. Investigate any criminal actions you might be able to charge them with.

    You’re sending a check actually clears you of the obligation. If they refused to accept it, you are cleared of the debt. In a local case a hospital refused to accept money in payment of a bill and sued . when the judge heard that the money that was offered was refused, he declared the entire debt null and void.

  32. Glad to hear that the wolf has backed off of the door….although unfortunately he’s still circling the property.

    It’s a real bad place to be emotionally when your survival is threatened, and you have to scramble just to keep free from the wolves…It robs your peace and detracts from living. I can identify with what you’re going through. I hope things continue to improve for you.

    ” It was so cold outside yesterday that my lawyer had his hands in his own pockets”

  33. I enjoy reading your blog so much, though I never comment. This time I am, because I wanted to tell you I paypal’d you a bit. It’s not much (tight budget here) but I hope it helps, and good luck!

  34. Have a friend make a video of you standing outside the management company’s office. Tell everyone loud and clear what they are doing. Make sure their name/sign is visible. Put it on You Tube. They don’t like it when the world sees what they’re doing.

  35. Put coffee in the tin cup. Remember, my Dr Niece will always have a place with her DR AUNT — as the saying goes, “The check is in the mail.” I do think the organization has hopes for your house. Love

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