One thing you won’t find at BAIT is a legal advice column. Everyone here has IANAL stamped on our foreheads. We are a lawyer-less company by design, so any advice we give is from one pro se litigant to another.
Because of our work here at BAIT, I get requests for advice all the time, even though everybody knows I Am Not A Lawyer. Here’s one we received recently:
I bought a house in Florida at the height of the market, and the value has now dropped by half. It became clear to me years ago that I was never going to get out from under the mortgage the regular way, and I’ve wanted to move up north. So I stopped paying five years ago in hopes the bank would make a deal. Instead, they sued to foreclose three years ago.
I’ll save you the long story, but the gist is that I’ve forced the bank’s foreclosure case into a slow walk. The bank has now hired a third legal team and I haven’t even been ordered to answer their complaint. I have a decent shot at dismissing the case when my motion is heard sometime late this year. (I expect to see it dismissed without prejudice, so they can file again later.) When I do answer, I’ll have some affirmative defenses that could keep the case in discovery for a long time.
So my question is this: Can I go ahead and move? Or should I stay put until the case is resolved? Signed,
Restless in Florida
I’m sharing this one only because it’s rare that we hear from a pro se litigant as talented as this. How do you not pay a mortgage for five years? How do you make a bank hire three different law firms in three years?!? Wow. This is clearly someone who knows her way around a courtroom, not someone who needs advice from me.
But I wrote back anyway.
Thanks for sharing your story, and congrats on your success so far. It sounds like you know what you’re doing, so I’m not sure I can help you much.
According to RealtyTrac, two years ago there were more than 600,000 active foreclosure cases in Florida’s courts. I’m guessing the chaos kept your bank and the court much too busy to press the case against you, especially since few homeowners would put up the fight you apparently have.
You probably already know this, but your state passed a law in 2013 designed to cut that backlog and expedite the foreclosure process. Along with several other provisions, the Florida Fair Foreclosure Act (Florida Statute §702.015) allowed courts to make homeowners pay their mortgages while a foreclosure case is pending, as long as the owner isn’t occupying the house. The number of foreclosure cases in the state has fallen well below 100,000 as a result of this new law, so the courts are probably picking up speed.
Stay put or head north, but know that if you move — and your bank gets wind of it — they may ask the court to make you start paying again. And if you miss a payment, the bank wins the house and your case is over. I can’t say for sure what I’d do without knowing more about your situation. But all other things being equal, the choice between free housing in Florida and house payments in two states is a no-brainer. You also want to consider your chances of settling with the bank once you’ve left your home.
Now as you know, IANAL. This isn’t legal advice. If you still need legal advice, be sure to see a lawyer or use one of the many legal advice forums online. Thanks and good luck!
Hopefully I didn’t break any unlicensed practice of law statutes there, but I don’t worry about it. UPL enforcement actions are often used to protect lawyers from competition, but they also aim to protect consumers from people pretending to know the law. We don’t do that here.
The interesting thing is that most of us only need a little knowledge. Most pro se litigants make good use of legal information — like that new Florida foreclosure law — as opposed to the legal advice lawyers offer. As an information technology company, finding information is something we do well. And of course, there is the Internet.
Where do you find legal information and advice online? Share your best sources in the comments below.