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Can I walk away from my home mortgage?

Posted by attorney Mitchell Sussman
Filed under: Foreclosure

This is an information article about foreclosure, the housing crisis and whether it is wise to "walk away" from your mortgage.

The answer to this question depends to a large part on whether you live in a state that has consumer protection statutes known as "anti - deficiency" statutes. These statutes are designed to protect the homeowner from being responsible for loans secured by their personal residence when the personal residence is "underwater."

An "underwater" personal residence is one in which the principal balance on the loans that are against the property are in excess of the value of the property.

In many states, some form of consumer protection has been enacted by the state legislature which prevents banks from suing homeowners for deficiencies. These laws typically apply to single family owner occupied residences.

In California, for example, the legislature enacted Code of Civil Procedure section 580b which prohibits a deficiency judgment in the strict sense, i.e., a personal judgment against the debtor. In relevant part the code section provides as follows:

"No deficiency judgment shall lie in any event after a sale of real property or an estate for years therein for failure of the purchaser to complete his or her contract of sale, or under a deed of trust or mortgage given to the vendor to secure payment of the balance of the purchase price of that real property or estate for years therein, or under a deed of trust or mortgage on a dwelling for not more than four families given to a lender to secure repayment of a loan which was in fact used to pay all or part of the purchase price of that dwelling occupied, entirely or in part, by the purchaser."

In layman's terms this means that a homeowner who secures a "purchase money" loan ( which means a loan used to purchase his home) can not be sued by his bank on the loan that is secured by the home.

You will also note that this section only applies to a "dwelling of not more than four families" which in essence means that if you live in and own and duplex, triplex or fourplex, this anti - deficiency statute applies to you.

This type of statute has been adopted in many states across the country. You should check with an attorney in your state to find out the exact language of the statute in your state and whether or not it applies to you.

So if your personal residence is "underwater" in the state like California and it is secured by a "purchase money" loan, you can safely "walk away" from the mortgage and its financial obligation without fear of being sued by your lender.

Once you made this determination, that you are in an anti - deficiency state and that the anti - deficiency statutes apply to you, your next decision really is one of personal choice. Do you love the house? Do you think the market will recover? Can you afford your mortgage payments?

It is certainly nice to know that you do have choices. However, be clear not everyone can simply "walk away" from their mortgage. It is best that you seek legal advice from a competent real estate attorney in your state before you make the decision to "walkaway."

Additional resources provided by the author

Additional resources can be found on line by using the search phrase "anti - deficiency" statutes.

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