In a recent decision, our firm successfully defended an Association’s ability to collect post-petition assessments in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case. The decision reaffirmed the 2005 amendments to the Bankruptcy Code. Following these Amendments, a debtor remains liable for post-petition assessments, so long as he or she holds “mere” legal title ownership.
In In re Brown, Bankruptcy Judge Donald Steckroth held that a debtor remained liable for post-petition association assessments in a Chapter 7 proceeding. This liability remained, even after the unit was abandoned by the Trustee and the debtor did not live at the unit, so long as the debtor held legal title.
The matter was brought before the Court on the debtor’s motion to compel the Association to release monies levied in a bank account, post-petition, after the bankruptcy case was closed. As background, the Association had received a state court judgment for only post-petition amounts, and subsequently levied on the debtor’s bank account. Prior to filing the motion, the debtor requested the bankruptcy case be reopened so that she could list the Association as a creditor, since she had failed to provide initial notice to the Association. After the bankruptcy case was reopened, the debtor then filed the motion against the Association, claiming that the subsequent levy was improper.
2005 Amendments to the Bankruptcy Code
After extensive oral argument, the Court found that the 2005 Amendments to the Bankruptcy Code clearly widened the scope of non-dischargeability under § 523(a)(16). The statute provides that a chapter 7 discharge:
“…does not discharge an individual debtor from any debt…for a fee or assessment that becomes due and payable after the order for relief to a membership association with respect to the debtor’s interest in a unit that has condominium ownership…for as long as the debtor or the trustee has a legal, equitable, or possessory ownership interest in such unit, such corporation, or such lot…” (Emph. added).
As such, the Court ruled that the debtor remained liable for post-petition assessments.
Know Your Collection Rights in a Bankruptcy Case
Unit owners often feel that once they file a chapter 7 bankruptcy case and vacate the unit that they are free from the duty to pay their assessments to the Association. This decision validates and supports an Association’s efforts to ensure owner payment of these assessments.
Associations should not “give up” when bankruptcy is filed. When an Association knows its rights, and has counsel experienced in representing Associations vis-à-vis bankrupt owners, it can successfully navigate an owner’s bankruptcy and recover unpaid assessments.