Painting showing a large group of people to the left of a house. A man is at a desk, with carpets and paintings and a decorative chair in front of him. This may be an auction.

Saved from the Auction Block

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A Kings County homeowner was unable to pay his mortgage. He had been in and out of bankruptcy and his Midwood-area house had been in foreclosure since 2007. A Judgment of Foreclosure and Sale had been entered in 2010. Now, the foreclosure auction was scheduled for September 13th. In laymen’s parlance, the auction sale date is the “drop dead” date for the homeowner to keep his house and, in the final days before the auction, the homeowner needed Richard A. Klass, Your Court Street Lawyer, to save the house from the auction block.

What is a Foreclosure Auction Sale?

When there is a lien against real estate in New York, the plaintiff-lienor (usually a mortgage lender) can bring a foreclosure proceeding to foreclose that lien against the property in order to have the debt paid. This includes actions to foreclose a mortgage, mechanic’s lien for labor rendered or goods delivered by a contractor, a condominium building’s common charges, or homeowners’ association fees. The culmination of a foreclosure proceeding is the auction sale of the property to the highest bidder.

Once the hammer of the court-appointed referee drops, the homeowner’s right to redeem the property is gone! Then, it’s time for the homeowner to plan to move from the house or be ejected by the successful bidder. In this case, this homeowner needed to stop the auction sale — stop the drop of the hammer.

Old Foreclosure Cases

Recently, the foreclosure process in various counties has ground to an almost-halt, where foreclosure proceedings have been litigated in the courts in excess of three or four years (or even longer!). Depending on the perspective of the plaintiff-lienor or the defendant-homeowner, this is either a good or bad consequence of the slow process.

As a result of several factors, including the slower foreclosure process, bankruptcy, motions to vacate default judgments and requests for loan modification, the actual foreclosure auction sale date could wind up being many months or even years after the Judgment of Foreclosure and Sale has been entered by the court. Eventually, concern may arise about holding an auction sale so long after the Judgment has been entered. While the amount indicated in the Judgment may have been $100,000 at the time of the auction, the amount due to the plaintiff with accrued interest, property taxes, etc., may become $150,000.

In the Supreme Court decision of Bardi v. Morgan, 17 Misc.3d 927, 847 NYS2d 431 [Sup.Ct., Kings Co. 2007], Justice Kramer noted that a crucial component of the foreclosure process — which is often conducted on the default of the homeowner who never answered the Summons — is the referee’s accounting of the amounts due to the mortgage lender — which is done pre-judgment, providing a detailed snapshot of the mortgage debt. This accounting, done by an impartial appointee of the court, ensures the reliability and fairness of the foreclosure proceeding. This serves the function of accurately advising the court of the costs and disbursements expended during the process, thus enabling the court to determine whether the charges were taken in accordance with the law and ensure that there has been no overreaching by the plaintiff. An accurate, impartial and transparent accounting becomes particularly important when the purchaser is not a third party but is the foreclosing mortgage holder and the potential for self-dealing arises. In Bardi v. Morgan, the judge held as follows: “Accordingly, this Court holds that in any case where an auction sale has been scheduled more than one year after the entry of the judgment of foreclosure and sale, the Notice of Sale is invalid and the Clerk of this Court is directed to reject it, unless an amended and updated reference and a supplementary foreclosure judgment reflecting the corrected amount is provided.”

The Supreme Court for Kings County followed suit and enacted Rule 13 of Part F of the General Foreclosure Rules, which provides as follows: “Notices of Sale may be filed with the Clerk within one year of the entry of the Judgment of Foreclosure and Sale. Permission of the Court must be obtained for any filings made thereafter.”

Upset Price vs. Judgment Amount

The reasons this rule is so important become evident when considering the above example (Judgment is $100,000 but amount due with accrued interest is $150,000), including: (1) The homeowner may be relying upon the judgment amount in order to attempt to raise the money necessary, right before the auction sale, to satisfy the judgment; (2) The homeowner may need to know the amount due if he elects to file a bankruptcy case for estimation purposes; and (3) Prospective bidders would be interested so they know how much money to bring to the auction to bid on the property. At the auction sale, if the lender calls out a much higher “upset” price than the judgment amount, everyone except the lender will be surprised; it would be unfair for the lender to have so much control over the bidding process.

In our case here, upon presentment of the Order to Show Cause to stop the auction sale — because the lender proposed selling the house without having gotten permission from the Supreme Court — the lender retreated and agreed to cancel the sale. Now, the lender will have to go through the steps of obtaining an amended referee’s report of the amount due, along with the request from the court of issuance of a supplementary judgment. These steps will add several months to the process.

— by Richard A. Klass, Esq.

Richard A. Klass, Esq., maintains a law firm engaged in civil litigation at 16 Court Street, 28th Floor, Brooklyn Heights, New York. He may be reached at (718) COURT-ST or RichKlass@courtstreetlaw.comcreate new email with any questions.Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

Copyright 2012 Richard A. Klass
Painting at top: The Captain’s Auction (by 1875), John Ritchie (fl. 1858-1875). This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1923 and its copyright has expired.