Both Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 Bankruptcy will stop a foreclosure.
The Bankruptcy Code says that a bankruptcy “petition filed… operates as a stay, applicable to all entities, of—… any act to… enforce [any lien] against any property of the debtor… .” See Section 362(a)(4). This means that the mere filing of your bankruptcy case will immediately stop a foreclosure from happening.
But What if the Foreclosure Still Occurs?
But what if your bankruptcy case is filed just hours or even minutes before the foreclosure sale, but the foreclosing mortgage lender or its attorney can’t be contacted in time for them to be informed? Or what the lender is contacted in time but messes up on its instructions to its foreclosing attorney so that the foreclosure sale mistakenly still takes place? Or what if the lender refuses to acknowledge the effect of the bankruptcy filing and deliberately forecloses anyway?
As long as the bankruptcy is in fact filed at the bankruptcy court BEFORE the foreclosure is conducted, the foreclosure would not be legal. Or at least would very, very likely be immediately undone. It does not matter whether the foreclosure happened mistakenly or intentionally.
A Foreclosure by Mistake
If a foreclosure happens by mistake after a bankruptcy is filed, or because the lender didn’t find out in time, lenders are usually very cooperative in quickly undoing the effect of the foreclosure. It is usually not difficult to establish that the foreclosure occurred after the bankruptcy was filed, and that usually quickly resolves the issue. If a lender fails to undo such a foreclosure after being presented evidence that the bankruptcy was filed first, the lender would be in ongoing violation of the automatic stay. This would make the lender liable for significant financial penalties, so they usually undo the foreclosure right away. In Riverside County of California, where I practice, I make it a habit to contact the foreclosing Lenders (actually the trustees under the deed of trust) with as far in advance as I can to alert them to the fact that a bankruptcy will be filed imminently. Of course, sometimes I am engaged by my client at the eleventh hour and don’t have a lot of time to prepare the lender. The more time you give your lawyer, the less likely a glitch will occur.
A Foreclosure Purposely Conducted after Your Bankruptcy is Filed
This almost never happens. If you are harmed by a foreclosure intentionally done after your bankruptcy filing, you can “recover actual damages, including costs and attorneys’ fees, and in appropriate circumstances, may recover punitive damages.” See Section 362(k). Bankruptcy judges are not happy with creditors who purposely violate the law. Enough of them have been slapped that most creditors know better.
Chapter 7 vs. Chapter 13
For purposes of stopping a foreclosure that is about to happen, it does not matter whether you file a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 case. The automatic stay is the same under both.
But how long the protection of the automatic stay lasts can most certainly depend on whether you file a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” or a Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts.” That’s because even though you get the same automatic stay, each Chapter gives you very different tools for dealing with your mortgage. That’s why your mortgage lender will likely react differently depending on which Chapter you file under and how you propose to deal with the mortgage within each.
That’s the topic for our next blog.