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A Family’s Florida Homestead Saved: Just in Time for the Holidays

The legal practice area of real estate law touches on so many unique aspects. Because of this, and as a Florida Bar board certified real estate attorney, that means that I handle a number of diverse cases, all with unique challenges. However, few matters have been as emotionally charged, but ultimately rewarding, as the one I’m about to share with you.

They Never Go Away

In 2023, a hardworking, family-oriented couple faced a legal challenge that had been brewing for over a decade: a judgment that was entered all the way back in 2009. Fast forward to now, and the judgment creditor resurfaced, using that dormant judgment to obtain a sheriff’s levy against real estate that my clients purchased in 2021 – real estate that was serving as this family’s permanent residence, their homestead. The sheriff’s department conducted an auction and the highest bidder then became the legal owner of the property, for a fraction of the market value of the property. My clients learned of this when a stranger demanded that they pay rent to stay in their own home.

At this critical juncture, my clients were panicked. I was hired to guide them through this complex and frightening situation. Driven by a strong desire to save my clients’ home, I pursued a determined and calculated course of action. My first step was to file a motion to challenge the sheriff’s deed.

Initial attempts at amicable resolution failed – the creditor understandably held their ground. Undeterred, and with a strong belief in the case, I drew from my past experience as a debtor-creditor attorney to advocate for my clients. This, combined with my current expertise in real estate law, allowed me to assert a comprehensive strategy.

My initial instinct was to protect the home from further sale, as a third-party-purchaser coming into the picture at this juncture could have been the end of my attempts to save the home. To protect the home in this situation I promptly recorded a lis pendens in the public records to notify the world of the legal dispute created by my motion to set aside the deed. This created a cloud on title to prevent the home from being sold.

The evidence was clear: this was their homestead, protected by Florida’s property laws, but the creditor was not seeing it our way. We certainly intended on prosecuting our position before the court. However, justice moves slowly, and going to court is expensive, meaning that if I was not able to convince the creditor to concede its position, my clients path would be a long and possibly costly one.

Action without knowledge is blind; knowledge without action is passive.

Confucius

This is when my past experience as a creditors’ rights attorney kicked in, drawing from my knowledge in consumer collection laws. I pressed on and made my position very clear – what had occurred was a violation of Florida consumer collection laws, and if we were required to go all the way to prove our case, we would be bringing claims against the creditor under the Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act for damages and recovery of all of my client’s attorney’s fees and costs.

Faced with compelling facts and potential legal consequences, the creditor conceded. In a decisive turn of fortune, the purchase funds were returned. To clean things up, I ensured that legal title was vested back in my clients, by preparing and obtaining the execution of a deed from the high bidder in favor of my clients. Just days prior to Thanksgiving, my office received the original executed deed back from the high bidder and my office promptly recorded it. For my clients, the victory was swift and impactful – their home secured and spirits lifted. Just in time for the 2023 holiday season.

This case highlights the importance of seeking legal counsel in complex situations. It underscores the vital role of homestead laws in protecting families. Most importantly, it exemplifies the commitment of legal professionals like myself who navigate legal intricacies on behalf of our clients, even in challenging circumstances. While we cannot guarantee miracles, unwavering dedication and legal expertise can sometimes achieve remarkable results.

Thanks for reading.

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