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Real Estate

Single Asset Real Estate Tightening the Noose for Developers

By: Anna Drynda

St. John's Law Student

American Bankruptcy Institute Law Review Staff

 

Recently, the United States Bankruptcy Court for District of New Jersey in In re Kara Homes, Inc. held that affiliated Chapter 11 debtors, each owning separate real estate development projects for the construction of single family residences and condominiums, qualified as single asset real estate (“SARE”) cases, a holding that allowed the lenders expedited relief from automatic stay.

[1]

  The case focused on whether the debtors conducted “substantial business” other than operating the real property sufficient to exclude them from the SARE provisions.

[2]

  Adopting a “pragmatic approach,” the Court held that even if the business activities would qualify had the debtors performed them for third parties, such activities when performed for the debtor itself, or one of its affiliates, do not constitute substantial business.

[3]

  The residential home building business, although involving real estate, arguably has more similarity to a manufacturing operation than to the on-going property management operations of many SARE debtors.  The Kara Homes approach makes it very difficult for real estate developers to reorganize in bankruptcy.

Ride Through Option for Real Property Survived BAPCPA

By: James Lynch

St. John's Law Student

American Bankruptcy Institute Law Review Staff

 

Although the Bankruptcy Abuse Protection Act of 2005 (“BAPCPA”) largely eliminated the so-called “ride through” option for security interests in personal property, the Connecticut Bankruptcy Court in In re Caraballo

[1]

held that the option remains available for liens secured by real estate.  Under the ride through, a debtor whose real estate mortgage is not in default does not have to reaffirm the debt or surrender the real estate, but can retain the real estate by continuing to make the scheduled mortgage payments.

[2]

  Thus, since the debtor in Caraballo was not in default, the Court disapproved the debtor’s mortgage reaffirmation agreement as not being in her best interests “because she could retain the subject real property without reaffirming the [d]ebt.”

[3]

 

Should Escrow Accounts Funded by the Debtor be Property of the Estate

By: Meagan Mahar

St. John's Law Student

American Bankruptcy Institute Law Review Staff

 

Despite conflicting New York case law, the Delaware Bankruptcy Court in In re Atlantic Gulf Comtys. held that funds in an escrow account are not property of the estate even where the funds were deposited by the debtor.

[1]

  Only the debtor’s contingent right to recover the funds upon satisfying the escrow conditions is considered estate property.

[2]

The Limits of Unbundling Legal Services

By: Heather Navo
St. John’s Law Student
American Bankruptcy Institute Law Review Staff

 

Although the Ninth Circuit barely addresses the unbundling of consumer bankruptcy services in Hale v. U.S. Trustee,[1] one of the first appellate cases on the point,[2] the court appears to require that an attorney provide, at a minimum, those services “critical and necessary” to the bankruptcy case.[3]   Tom Hale, like any other bankruptcy attorney, charged debtors to analyze their financial situation and prepare their petitions.[4]  However, unlike most other attorneys, Hale charged debtors for doing just that and nothing more; Hale referred to this practice as the “unbundling of legal services to pro se debtors.”[5]  The bankruptcy court deemed Hale’s fee disclosure inadequate, and ordered sua sponte that Hale submit an itemization to determine whether the amount was reasonable under section 329.[6]  However, after numerous opportunities, Hale never fully complied with the court’s order, but instead filed a Motion to Recuse, Vacate and Jury Trial Demand on the issue of his fee.[7]  The court scheduled a hearing, but Hale did not attend; the court set response dates, but Hale never filed a reply brief.[8]  Finally, the bankruptcy court published a decision denying both Hale’s motion for recusal as well as Hale’s request for a jury trial, finding that an attorney has no Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial regarding the reasonableness of his fees.[9]  Moreover, the court ordered Hale, a repeat “unbundler”,[10] to disgorge his fees and further penalized him with both monetary and non-monetary sanctions.[11]  On appeal, the Ninth Circuit affirmed both the jury trial determination and the imposition of sanctions.[12]  Although the appellate court’s discussion of the unbundled service is brief and intertwined with its review of the sanction award, the court appears to adopt the view that an attorney cannot limit consumer debtors to merely pre-petition advice and preparation of the petition and related papers.[13]  The attorney must sign the petition or be subject to sanctions under the bankruptcy court’s inherent power to sanction vexatious conduct, may not exclude critical and necessary services, adequately advise the client of any limitations on services and obtain the client’s informed consent to those limitations.[14]