Foreclosure questions hit Hawaii condominium associations

Stop by and read my column at Civil Beat today (“Ian Lind: Wrongful Foreclosure Claims Rock The Condo World“).

It’s the tale of a legal issue that has slowly been making its way through the courts and now, it seems, is poised for a decision.

The issue seems simple but has far-reaching consequences: Did condominium and community associations act legally when they pursued nonjudicial foreclosures under Part I of the state foreclosure law to collect delinquent payments due from condo owners?

There are several cases crawling through appeals that raise the issue in different forms, but a definitive legal answer is still a way off, it seems.

But the issue has suddenly been highlighted by a lawsuit filed here in federal court which accuses two major condo law firms, and the owners associations of more than 70 condominiums, of wrongful foreclosure, deceptive practices, and more.

Hawaii law allows nonjudicial foreclosures in certain circumstances, but their use to collect debts owed to condominium associations is controversial.

The suit alleges that these foreclosures are barred unless the condominium declaration contains a specific “power of sale” clause, which acts as a contract giving the condo association the right to foreclose on an owner’s property to collect delinquent maintenance fees or other unpaid assessments. And, according to the suit, none of the defendant associations had the required “power of sale” in their governing documents.

The lawsuit seeks payment of restitution and damages, including punitive damages, along with interest, to those whose properties were allegedly improperly foreclosed.

The spicy part is the participation of two San Diego-based law firms specializing in consumer-related class action lawsuits. That’s got people’s attention in the way that a slew of local challenges to nonjudicial foreclosures have not.

And I wasn’t able to include one very big, messy part of this legal battle.

Since the condominiums and their legal teams are named separately in this class action suit, it’s highly likely that the association insurers will be asked to step in to defend them.

And if the case doesn’t get thrown out of court in the early stages of litigation, I’ve been told that it’s again highly likely that the condominium associations will have to file cross claims against the lawyers that represented them in the foreclosures, sort of a “if anything illegal happened, it was their fault because were were only following their legal advice” kind of defense.

And that would create a big conflict of interest, possibly forcing the associations to sever their ties to their former law firms and retain new attorneys to handle their routine legal business.

What a mess that’s going to cause!

And, in the background, there’s a looming issue of whether or not the insurance policies purchased by condominium associations will cover the damages if the plaintiffs in this or other similar cases prevail in court.

If not, we could at least theoretically be seeing at least some condo associations sinking financially into the legal mess and declaring bankruptcy. And what will that mean in practical terms? I don’t know, but I think I’ll cover my eyes!

Bottom line: the legal uncertainty makes this all a big and unsettling legal mess for anyone who owns a condominium unit, serves on a condo board, or provides management or legal services to condominium associations.

Back in the kitchen…

Last night I decided to rehabilitate the decidedly disappointing chicken from Friday night (“Not all kitchen experiments turn out well“) using ingredients we happened to have on hand.

So while we had an artichoke cooking, I stripped most of the remaining meat off the chicken, and set it aside.

Then I checked the refrigerator, and pulled out some watercress that didn’t fit into the salad on Saturday night, a red onion, garlic, anchovies, olive oil.

It doesn’t get much simpler than that.

When the water for the pasta was near to boiling, I started cooking.

I first chopped the onion and dropped it into my favorite cast iron frying pan, with some olive oil, of course. Then added the pasta to the boiling water, set the timer for 9 minutes. I added the garlic to the frying pan, and followed with the chicken, stirring to keep it from burning. Then the chopped watercress stems, followed by the leafy parts. Most of a bunch of basil. Oh, did I mention the hot peppers? Then anchovies, and a bit more olive oil from the anchovy can. It all came together well, and right own schedule.

I really wasn’t sure about the watercress-pasta-garlic combo, but the tastes actually all worked well together.

A bit of Italian cheese grated over the top, washed down with a glass of Shiraz, and that nice plump artichoke on the side.

I’ll have the leftovers of this leftover meal for lunch today.

The chicken, Part 2

Apologies for yesterday’s absence

Yesterday was one of the infrequent days where events stacked up enough that I never managed to post at all.

I spent much of the morning helping out my sister, who is back in her Honolulul apartment after stints in Straub Hospital and, later, a Liliha nursing home (for rehab). She’s able to be at home with the assistance of a couple of good friends who have stepped up to help, at least for the next five or six weeks or so. I’m dealing with paying bills and catching up with other financial matters.

Later, I stopped in at the main Straub Medical Center on King Street to find out whether the account information for my sister’s supplemental insurance as a retired City of San Francisco employee had been recorded in her records at the hospital.

I was ready for this to be a battle with the medical establishment. Instead, Straub made it a pleasure. At the information window, it was suggested that I inquire at the Admissions office. And the receptionist there immediately took me over to speak with a customer service rep.

After I explained the situation, and produced my power of attorney, the customer service rep got on the phone to the provider, spent quite a long time working her way through an automated telephone system on the other end until she reached a real person. She was then quickly able to confirm that my sister does have the supplemental medical plan coverage, got the current account number, and updated all the online records. And then she advised that we should ignore the bill that just arrived, and wait for a revision after it’s determined how much the SF policy will cover.

I walked out after 15 or 20 minutes with the problem resolved and a high respect for the Straub system of customer service.

Then I waited around until my scheduled eye exam, also at Straub.

I walked out with a new reality: Cataracts. Both eyes. I was advised years ago that there were baby cataracts lurking in the background that “someday” would likely cause me trouble.

Someday, it seems, is today.

It’s a bit spooky, although the corrective surgery is a procedure with a very high success rate.

If you’ve been through this and have any advice, I would love to hear it!

So the next couple of months will be a bit different than I had been planning! Luckily, our insurance will go a long way to cover the costs.

Waiting for Madeline

Here we are again, waiting to see whether Tropical Storm Madeline and Hurricane Lester are going to be wandering through the neighborhood over the next week.

Recent forecasts put both trajectories near the islands, and now its all dependent on the way the storms wobble over the next few days.

I usually rely on the Weather Underground view of hurricane and storm activity, which gives a pretty good summary.

Anyway, this was a view of the slightly threatening weather early this morning viewed from Waialae Beach Park.

Remember, just click to see a larger version.

Waiting for Madeline

What about the city’s new “smart” parking meters?

The city administration has been bragging on its plan to replace most of Honolulu’s parking meters with new “smart meters” that will take credit cards and provide increased security.

It looks like the Caldwell administration put out a press release on August 18 announcing plans to upgrade 1,000 parking meters around the city.

KHON reported:

Phase two of the city’s smart meter project includes replacing 333 existing smart meters with the latest model that accepts the chip cards. Another 676 coin meters will be updated as well. This will also add 51 new smart meters in Waikiki on Launiu Street and Kaiolu Streets which previously didn’t have any meters at all. When the city is finished with this second phase, all $1.50 per hour meters will accept credit cards.

“The smart meters except credit cards as well as coins, and they have larger screens that are easier to read. It also accepts the latest version of the EMV cards. The ones with the chip. So it provides better fraud protection, better safety and security for the customers,” said Mark Garrity of the city Department of Transportation Services.

The announcement came just two days after Honolulu City Councilman Trevor Ozawa introduced a resolution calling for such an upgrade.

Ozawa’s resolution describes some of the supposed advantages of the new meters:

WHEREAS, in recent years, municipalities throughout the country have been replacing traditional Coin-only parking meters with smart parking meters that allow payment by credit card or mobile phone; and

WHEREAS, smart parking meters are generally paired with wireless sensors embedded in the pavement or installed in stalls to detect the presence of vehicles; and

WHEREAS, the advantages of smart parking meter technology include: payment convenience, warning alerts for users, improved compliance and enforcement, more efficient parking space usage, and comprehensive user data collection; and

I was especially interested in the reference to parking meters that work with a smart phone app, allowing both payments and tracking of time remaining on the meter.

We’ve seen these in a number of mainland cities, and there were prior hints that Honolulu was going in this direction.

Back in 2012, when a pilot project with new meters was being discussed, Hawaii News Now reported:

Eventually, the city plans to create an app which drivers can tap into for up-to-the-minute information.

“You could look at a little display,” says city transportation director, Wayne Yoshioka. “It will show you which spaces are vacate, which spaces are taken, so that way, you don’t have to go round and round the block.”

Well, it’s been four years since that time, but no details seem to be available about the type of meters than have been selected, their features, whether they are smartphone compatible, the vendor, etc.

There was one news report indicating that problems had come up with the first several hundred meters installed as a pilot project.

Almost a year ago, KHON reported:

The city says they have had problems with the solar panels on the meters, batteries draining too quickly and in some cases people would put in coins and the machine would not show credit.

“They didn’t do everything they were represented to do,” said Formby. “So it is whether or not you are getting the value for your money. There are several features that we had not engaged or that we engaged once and then we turned it off and it should not be that way if you pay for the full complement of features you should get them and we did not.”

But how that turned out, whether and how problems were resolved, and what features will be available in the latest batch of meters, is unknown. At least to the public.

I tried searching the city’s Docushare system, and came up with nothing. Then I checked the city’s Procurement Office website. In the section on bid results, there were two entries on point. Each included a link promising that bid results could be downloaded.

[text]

[text]

But click on the link, and instead of bid results, you get this message:

The file you are trying to open does not exist.

Another case where the city comes up short on the transparency scale.