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Can Your HOA Foreclose on Your Home for Non-Payment of Dues?
Losing your home in a foreclosure because you missed a $250 HOA payment – can that actually happen? Is it even legal?
Yes and yes. This exact situation happened to Tina and Devery Hale. Our past two blogs went into detail on their case, Winrose Homeowners’ Association v Hale (read the opinion here), which went before the South Carolina Supreme Court in 2019. Those blogs are linked here and here.
But we’re not done yet because there’s even more to it. This case exposes bad parties acting in bad faith that every homeowner should be aware of.
Can Your HOA Take Your Home for Non-Payment of Dues?
Did you know that it’s not only the bank that has the power to foreclose on your home? It may seem absurd that your HOA can foreclose on your home because you missed paying your assessment, but it is legal in South Carolina and it does happen.
In the Winrose case, the Hales agreed to the following covenants and restrictions when they bought their house:
“If the [HOA dues] assessment is not paid within thirty (30) days after the delinquency date, the assessment shall bear interest from the date of delinquency at the rate of eight percent per annum, and the [HOA] may bring legal action against the owner personally obligated to pay the same or may enforce or foreclose the lien against the lot or lots […]”
The HOA was within their legal rights to do what they did. However, that doesn’t mean the SC Supreme Court was happy about it.
HOAs Making a Buck Off Unsuspecting Homeowners
Typically, once the court has stated its decision, that’s the end of the opinion. But not here. Writing the opinion for Winrose v Hale, Justice Kittredge had more to say. “We note our concern about this foreclosure proceeding,” he begins.
Recognizing the right of the HOA to pursue a lien and a foreclosure on the Hales’ house, the court characterizes this as a tactic to “capitalize on a small debt.” Though the amount past due was small, the HOA’s attorney went straight to the strongest measures possible as a next step – placing a lien and foreclosing on a house valued at $128,000 for a past due amount of $250.
Why? “The true nature of this foreclosure action is illustrated by the service and filing fees (which are more than double the amount of the principal due) and attorney’s fees (which were eight times the amount of the principal due),” writes the court (emphasis original). “A foreclosure proceeding is a last resort, not a business model to be swiftly invoked for the purpose of exploiting property owners.”
The Hales’ HOA was willing to let them lose their home and their equity in it in order to make some money in fees. Luckily for The Hales, they got their house back in the end, but that’s not always how this scenario plays out. Many people have lost their homes to HOA foreclosures.
Buyers Extorting Homeowners
The HOA was not the only bad actor here; the court was also “especially troubled” by the actions of the party that bought the Hales’ home, Regime Solutions, LLC.
In the majority of judicial sales, like the kind that was used to sell the Hales’ home, the purchaser of the foreclosed home takes on the property’s mortgage and other debts. This is necessary because the house is only free and clear once the associated debts are settled.
But Regime never took on the Hales’ mortgage. Not only that, but their business model appears to be based on not assuming the mortgage of the properties it purchases. After buying a foreclosure at a very low price, Regime either lets the bank foreclose on the property or it negotiates with the homeowners to let them have their house back for a large fee.
Between 2013-2016, Regime bought 38 properties that were later foreclosed on by the bank and 15 properties that it gave back to the original owners through a quitclaim deed for a profit of between $2,911-$13,984 per property. In the present case, the Hales offered to pay Regime $9,000 to settle the matter, but Regime asked for $35,000. The Hales didn’t pay it.
Summing up this section, the court states, “We do not countenance the improper use of foreclosure proceedings by the HOA, its attorney, or Regime” (emphasis original).
Could This Happen to You?
Yes, possibly. Depending on what covenants and restrictions you agreed to with your own HOA or regime, you could potentially find yourself in a similar situation as the Hales.
What can you do to avoid it?
First, make good decisions. Towards the end of its opinion, the court states “Our decision today should not be read as a shift toward providing relief to homeowners despite their own poor choices, in particular here, falling behind on a minimal amount of HOA dues and subsequently failing to respond to the summons and complaint.”
So take action on any and all legal matters that come your way. Fulfill your legal obligations as you promised to do in a timely manner by paying your mortgage and dues on time every month. Don’t assume that there could be no legal ramifications to paying late just because it’s a relatively small amount of money. This thinking can get you in trouble.
Next, review the paperwork you signed with your HOA or regime. It’s common for buyers to skim over these documents during a long real estate closing and therefore have no idea what it is they’re actually agreeing to. But you can take the time now to look at your covenants so you’re aware of the powers your HOA or regime has to charge you interest, place a lien on your property, pursue a foreclosure, and so on.
Finally, contact an attorney if you have any questions, especially if you’ve been served with papers.
Smart Legal Advice
If you need help with estate planning, business documents, commercial real estate, or strategic advice in a legal matter, contact Gem and his associates at the Gem McDowell Law Group in Mt. Pleasant, SC. Gem is a problem solver with over 35 years of experience helping families and business owners alike protect their interests and make smart decisions for peace of mind. Schedule a free consultation by calling 843-284-1021 today.