Potential Government Shut-Down & Impact on Bankruptcy

I’m ripping these notes directly from this morning’s e-mails on the BICR Section listserv…
As you likely are aware, if Congress does not agree on a temporary spending bill (a “continuing resolution”) by midnight tonight, the federal government will shut down. The judiciary has sufficient funds to continue operating at last fiscal year’s budget levels for approximately ten (10) business days after September 30.  If Congress still has not passed a continuing resolution by the expiration of that ten-day period, the judiciary,too, will be forced to shut down.  If things come to that, only “essential personnel” will be allowed to come to work, and those individuals will not be paid until Congress passes a continuing resolution or a final budget. This means that, while the courts will remain open during a shut-down,services likely will be severely reduced. 
– Hon. Pamela Pepper, Chief Judge, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Eastern District of Wisconsin
Sheboygan and Green Bay Section 341 hearings for October 3 remain on the calendar regardless of what the Congress does or does not do.  The Chapter 13 Trustee office is not a government entity. The Green Bay hearings are in the City Hall, a municipal facility–not a federal facility affected by a federal shutdown.  The Sheboygan hearings are in the Sheboygan County Courthouse, a county facility–not a federal facility affected by a federal shutdown.  We should have an update on the Milwaukee Chapter 13 Section 341 hearings for October 4 by tomorrow.  In Milwaukee, this non-governmental entity relies on a federal facility  for the hearing site.
– Thomas J. King, Chapter 13 Trustee
Assuming there is a shutdown, it is my current belief we will be able to continue 341 meetings as scheduled in E.D. and W.D. of Wisconsin for at least 10 days.   Our ability to hold  341 meetings in federal buildings will depend upon whether they remain reopen or not.   In the event that one or more federal buildings close, I will post the contingency plan on this list-serve.  So stay tuned.
With respect to the UST Offices, a shutdown will reduce both E.D. and W.D. UST offices to skeleton staffs.    It is unlikely we will be able to offer much, if any, assistance to practitioners or the public.   The main focus of those who remain will be to cover and reschedule work-in-process.
– David Asbach, Assistant U.S. Trustee

Is someone suspicious taking pictures of your home?

For as long as I have been practicing bankruptcy, I have focused my practice on helping homeowners successfully stop foreclosure by way of Chapter 13 Bankruptcy (in which, arrears can be cured at no additional interest over a 3-5 year plan).  Accordingly, I have met hundreds of people whose homes are either in foreclosure or at risk for it.
Very early on, I learned that banks often send people to do drive-by appraisals of properties in foreclosure, or to verify whether or not the property appears to be abandoned (which affects the redemption period in foreclosure).
In recent years, I have had some clients complain that they have seen people snapping photographs of their home, despite their home not being in foreclosure.  I was able to confirm this recently when – shortly after purchasing my first home – my neighbor informed me that she saw someone taking photographs of my home.
So, I set out to find out why people might take photographs of someone’s home in the hopes that posting my findings will alleviate some concerns.
Couple of things before I get to the list of reasons…
  • Upon discovering that someone has been snapping pictures of their house, most people are angry.  They feel disconcerted, unsettled, and feel that their privacy has been violated.
  • However, unless the person taking pictures is physically trespassing on your property, there is nothing illegal about it.  If you choose to confront the photographer, exercise some measure of restraint.  You may ask them to identify themselves and their reason for being there, but don’t get into a shouting match.  As annoying as it may be, they are not breaking the law.
  • You should not confront photographers if you are alone or have reason to believe that the photographer is armed or dangerous.  In these situations, it is best to jot down the license plate and deal with the issue later.

All right, so why would people be taking pictures of your home?
The most mundane explanation might be “the tourist”.  It could be a literal tourist – someone from out of town who is making a photographic catalog of their trip.  Someone who thinks your house has some unique architecture.  It could also be someone who lived in the house previously who came back to visit for nostalgia’s sake.  Perhaps they wanted a memento.  It could be a neighbor who is looking for some home remodeling or landscaping ideas – they like something about your house and hope to do something identical or similar to their own house.  Or, it could be someone who really likes your house and is keeping an eye on the MLS listings to see if you put your house up for sale so they can pounce and buy it right away.
The most likely explanation is a professional one – “the appraiser”.  Tax assessors routinely do drive-by appraisals to help the county determine how much property tax to assess against you.  Mortgage lenders often send appraisers to ensure their property interests are not falling into a state of disrepair.  And, as stated earlier, they could be doing an appraisal for foreclosure purposes or to verify abandonment.  Insurance companies also send out appraisers to look at properties when you acquire or change homeowner’s insurance.  Realtors and appraisers may visit homes for the purpose of compiling a comparative market analysis.  This is especially likely if you recently closed on your home (as what evidently happened to me).
The most nefarious explanation (but hopefully the least likely) is “the criminal” – someone casing the joint, so to speak.  Meaning you have someone who is inspecting your property so that they can break in at a later date.  And they may do so under the guise of being an appraiser or a tourist.  I mention this as a possibility because crime does happen, and I certainly don’t want anybody to think that if they see someone photographing their home, that they simply shouldn’t worry about it.  However, before you jump to conclusions and become hysterical, consider this explanation to be the least likely of the three.  Jot down the plate number and exercise prudent home security measures.
If you are facing foreclosure, call us today at (920) 490-6160 to find out how we can help you prevent it.

BAPCPA Anniversary Reminder #4

This is just a reminder to those of you who filed bankruptcy before BAPCPA went into effect and intend to file again when their 8 years is up, please call us to schedule an appointment today, instead of waiting until October.
As you may remember from my previous post, a lot of people felt compelled to file bankruptcy during the 2005 hysteria, erroneously believing that they would be unable to file for bankruptcy once BAPCPA went into effect.  In many cases, the October 17 deadline induced people to file prematurely – before it would have been in their best interest to file.
Without the imminent nature of another round of changes to the bankruptcy law, people are able to approach bankruptcy more level-headed, better educated, and able to make more informed decisions.  Nevertheless, there will be some who are waiting for October 17, 2013, when they will once again be eligible for another Chapter 7 discharge, and intend to do so quickly because of an imminent threat of wage garnishment or other invasive debt collection actions.
If you believe that you may be facing such an imminent threat, don’t wait until the last minute to meet with an attorney.  The bankruptcy laws have indeed changed, and while it is certainly possible to file, the requirements that one must fulfill before they can be eligible are substantial.  In other words, bankruptcy is more complex nowadays than it was 8 years ago, and it takes a little longer to get a case ready to file than it did 8 years ago.  By speaking to us now, you can use the time between now and your eligibility date to prepare yourself for your next bankruptcy case, and hopefully be able to approach bankruptcy this time around in such a way that you won’t have to undergo something like this again in the future.
I expect to have additional information regarding the new “modernized” bankruptcy forms, which will go into effect December 1, 2013 – shortly, and that will be shared with you.
At Holbus Law Office, we know we’ve done our job if you only need our services once.

Winter Moratorium – what it doesn’t mean.

In less than two months, Wisconsin’s winter moratorium will be in effect.  From November 1 through April 15, utility companies such as Wisconsin Public Service, WE Energies, WP&L, and Alliant – will be prohibited from disconnecting utility services for nonpayment.  Wis. Adm. Code PSC 113.0304.  However, if utility services are disconnected before November 1, the administrative rules do not compel the utility companies to restore services on November 1.If your utilities become disconnected before November 1 and you need to get those services restored before the cold winter weather arrives, you will need to take action.  The calendar changing from October to November will not automatically renew your services.  You can restore services by bringing your account current.Alternatively, filing bankruptcy (either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13) imposes an automatic stay that will restore your utility services.  Additionally, your past-due utility bill is a dischargeable debt in bankruptcy – just like credit cards, payday loans, and medical bills.  You may be able to wipe your account clear and start fresh with the utilities.If you’re facing a utility shut off, contact us to discuss how bankruptcy can offer you relief.  Don’t wait until after your services have already been terminated.

IRS Memo re: Windsor

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision earlier this year in U.S. v. Windsor ruled unconstitutional section 2 of the Defense of Marriage Act, however, it still left a number of questions open.  Chief among them being – whether a couple lawfully married in one state, after moving to a state that does not recognize same sex marriage, is nevertheless entitled to the same federal benefits they would have enjoyed in the state in which they married.
What seems clear at this point is that Wisconsin (where same sex marriage is not allowed) is not obligated to recognize a same sex marriage performed in – say, for example – Massachusetts for the purposes of state law and benefits.  But suppose that couple applies for a federal benefit while in Wisconsin?
While we wait for a Bankruptcy Court to address this specific question, news out of the IRS – in the form of this 15 page memo – seems to suggest that the federal government will honor legal marriages, regardless of where the couple may later move to.
Bankruptcy law is, in many ways, closely intertwined with IRS regulations, so this memo is likely to have a profound influence on judges who are asked to decide this question.