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How A South Carolina Couple Missed an HOA Payment and Lost Their Home
Imagine this situation:
You miss an HOA payment. Then you receive some legal documents in the mail, put them in a drawer, and forget about them. When the HOA sends a bill for the outstanding amount, you pay it and later receive confirmation that the situation is resolved.
The next thing you know, you discover that your house has been foreclosed on, someone bought it at auction, and now they are trying to evict you.
Though this may sound crazy, this is exactly what happened to Tina Hale and her husband Devery Hale. Their case, Winrose Homeowners’ Association v Hale (read it here), went all the way to the Supreme Court of South Carolina. It’s a good cautionary tale about what can happen when you ignore legal proceedings and an eye-opening look at the way some parties try to take advantage of unsuspecting homeowners.
The Hales Miss an HOA Payment
Tina and Devery Hale bought their home (the Property) in 1998 for $104,250. In addition to paying their mortgage regularly, they were also obligated to pay a monthly assessment of $250 to their HOA, Winrose Homeowners’ Association, Inc.
In January 2011, the Hales fell behind in HOA dues. In response, the HOA first filed a lien against the Property and then pursued a foreclosure, seeking $556.41, which was the amount of the late dues plus accrued interest. The right of the HOA to charge interest on late payments, put a lien on the lot, and pursue foreclosure was part of the covenants and restrictions that the Hales agreed to when they bought their house.
The Hales didn’t respond to the complaint (in an affidavit, Tina Hale said that she simply put it in a drawer and forgot about it), so the HOA submitted an affidavit of default. From then on, the Hales didn’t receive any further notices of what was going on with respect to the foreclosure and sale.
It was here that the HOA sent the Hales a bill for the outstanding $250, which they paid. The HOA’s law firm then sent the Hales a letter saying that the lien had been satisfied, and the Hales thought that was the end of it. But the HOA didn’t withdraw their suit.
Foreclosure and Sale
The matter first went to a master-in-equity (Master), who entered a default judgment of foreclosure and sale against the Hales. He calculated an amount due of $2,898.67, comprised of $250 in principal, $80.87 in interest, and $2,025 in attorney’s fees. The Master noted that the sale of the property would be subject to the existing mortgage.
The Property sold at public auction two weeks later to Regime Solutions, LLC (Regime) with the high bid of $3,063. At that time, the fair market value of the Property was approximately $128,000, with an outstanding mortgage balance of approximately $66,000.
The Hales remained unaware of all of this. It wasn’t until Regime tried to evict them from their house – which they continued to make mortgage payments on – that they discovered what was happening.
The Hales Fight Back
Upon discovering what was going on, the Hales filed a motion to vacate the foreclosure sale on the basis of the sale price being “so grossly inadequate as to shock the conscience of the court.” Vacating the sale would give the Hales back ownership of their house.
The Master denied the motion to vacate. Though the amount of $3,063 is low, when taking into account the outstanding mortgage amount of $66,004, he calculated an effective sales price of $69,0404. At a little over half the fair market value of $128,000, this is a great deal for the buyer but is not low enough to shock the conscience of the court.
The matter next went to the South Carolina Court of Appeals, where a majority of the panel affirmed the Master’s decision. Notably, Chief Justice Lockemy dissented, saying it didn’t make sense to consider the outstanding mortgage amount in the effective sales price, since Regime had not, in fact, assumed the Hales’ mortgage and never took any steps to do so.
The South Carolina Supreme Court’s Decision
The matter then went to the South Carolina Supreme Court, where it was heard in September, 2019. The issues at hand were whether the judicial sale of the Property should be set aside due to an inadequate sales price and how to calculate that price.
Ultimately, the SC Supreme Court agreed with Chief Justice Lockemy’s take that it wasn’t right to credit Regime with having taken on the debt of the mortgage. Using the Debt Method, the court determined that the sales price of $3,036 on a house with a fair market value of $128,000 was, indeed, so grossly inadequate so as to shock the conscience of the court. The court set aside the foreclosure sale and remanded the case back to the Master.
(Read more on how the court determined the sales price and what exactly constitutes a “grossly inadequate” price in this follow-up blog.)
Take Care of Legal Matters Promptly
Though the Hales ultimately won, it took over eight years to get a verdict in their favor and surely caused a lot of stress and expense in the meantime. While they weren’t in control of the actions of their HOA or Regime, there are a couple lessons to be learned here.
First, do not ignore a summons, lawsuit, or any other legal document, and don’t put it in a drawer and forget about it; speak to an attorney right away about it. Second, understand the contracts you’re involving yourself in. Most people would probably find it inconceivable that their HOA would foreclose on their house for a simple missed payment of $250. But that’s exactly what happened here, and it was because of the terms in the contract both parties agreed to. It’s important to understand what you’re agreeing to anytime you sign a contract.
For help or advice on contracts, or for issues of business law or estate planning, contact Gem McDowell. Gem and his associates at the Gem McDowell Law Group can give you the strategic advice you need to make smart, informed decisions. Call 843-284-1021 today to schedule a free consultation or to book an appointment at the Mount Pleasant office.