How To Walk Away From Your Home

January 3, 2012

There are many reasons that an individual would consider “walking away” from a home. Before abandoning your home, speak with a qualified bankruptcy attorney about the consequences. Your attorney can discuss alternatives for keeping your home such as loan modification, bankruptcy lien stripping, or Chapter 13 repayment. If surrendering your home is the best option, then a short sale, a deed in lieu of foreclosure, or even renting out your home may be better solutions than walking away. In most cases staying in your home as long as possible is the best choice. Be sure to consult with an attorney and examine all of your options before you make a decision.

If you decide to walk away from your home, be aware that you are still the legal owner. Consequently you should maintain insurance on the property until the property is transferred. Many things can happen to an empty house. Someone may be injured on the property, there may be fire or flooding, the roof may leak, or the pipes may freeze. If the lender takes out insurance on the property (“force-placed” insurance), you are not covered. Force placed insurance only covers damage to the property.

Filing bankruptcy does not mean that you no longer own the property. You may be liable for a claim or an accident that happens on the property after you file bankruptcy and before ownership is transferred. A claim that arises after you file bankruptcy is generally not dischargeable! Additionally, some condominium or homeowners association fees that occur after you file bankruptcy may not be dischargeable, and there is the possibility of tax consequences. Speak to an experienced attorney to determine whether you will be responsible for these fees and taxes.

Aside from insurance, there are other things you can do to protect yourself and the property. First, be sure that all windows and doors are locked. Second, ensure that all mail and newspaper service are forwarded or cancelled. Do not advertise that the house is vacant. Third, turn off lights and unplug appliances. Fourth, turn off air conditioning and turn down heat to a low level. Maintaining a modicum of heat is necessary to prevent walls and pipes from freezing. Fifth, remove any swing sets, trampolines, play gyms, or other items that might attract children into your yard. Finally, arrange for someone to inspect the home periodically and take care of any yard work. Failure to maintain the property may result in fines or citations from local authorities.

Document all of the activities surrounding the home including the date that you move out, and the condition of the house. Note any damage, and take digital pictures of the inside and outside of the house. Do not remove anything that is permanently attached to the property. Toilets, built-in appliances, and other fixtures are a permanent part of the property and removing these items may cause you legal headaches in the future.

Walking away from your home can lead to legal complications. Explore your options with your attorney before making a decision. Your attorney can help you reach the best decision for your family, and help manage any potential legal liability.

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