What happens when condominium towers go bankrupt? It’s a looming question being asked by homeowners, investors and even many property management professionals. The primary forms of resolution for failing condominiums are bankruptcy and receivership which can be used separately or in combination. Thanks to recent court decisions, there is even a Blanket Receivership which is sweeping through condominium associations statewide to mitigate losses. There are different ramifications for developer controlled homeowner associations as opposed to associations in control of the individual members. Ultimately, the goal of the workout process is to return the association to its members, while ensuring that all of the creditors are paid, vital services are available and regular maintenance is performed or brought current.

Bankruptcy is a federal court filing in which a person requests protection from creditors and can be used to restructure agreements such as leases, loans and settle accrued payment obligations. Recently, the Maison Grande condominium’s bankruptcy placed 500 beachfront apartments in Miami Beach, under the court’s protection from their creditors legal actions. The association’s 30% delinquency rate caused a downward spiral into bankruptcy. Unit owners were suffering from a long term obligation initiated by the developer over 30 years prior, which over the course of time damaged the association’s finances until there was little other recourse to avoid a their creditor’s receivership action.

Thus far, condo bankruptcy has mostly come in the form of Chapter 11 reorganization, however it remains to be seen if a Chapter 7 filing for liquidation will result from these court actions from established condos. The Maison Grande’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, and it is likely that the association will rid itself of their crushing liabilities. The Debtor-in-Possession (DIP) financing provisions of Chapter 11, will allow the condominium borrow new money for the purposes of continuing to function normally while in bankruptcy. They will use the filing to obtain a court order to service providers such as utilities and managers to honor agreements and collect payments on a deferred basis.

Receivership is a court mandated appointment of a 3rd party management company to pursue collections, rent condominium property and pay the bills. There are many circumstances when a receiver can be appointed to collect rents from tenants payable to parties who are not the owner of record on title. In the above example, a creditor was threatening an entire condominium with a receivership action to collect an outstanding debt from a struggling association. In mortgage loans where the condo property is purchased as investment, Fannie Mae’s standard mortgage documents have a Rider or add-on which gives mortgage holders the right to place these investment properties into receivership and begin collecting rents prior to the completion of a foreclosure activity.

Condominiums can use Florida Statute 718 to open receivership to collect rents for units in foreclosure, which in itself is nothing new. When it comes to the condo receivership the real news is the Blanket Receivership. In the past, associations had to open a separate receivership for each property in distress. The legal fees and expenses of individual receivership were simply too burdensome to make it a worthwhile action. Enterprising condo litigants obtained judicial permission to establish a Single receivership action for all delinquent units in any given association. The recent 3rd District Court of appeals decision, where a developer who fell into HOA foreclosure challenged the blanked receivership and lost has had the effect of affirming the Blanket Receivership as the preeminent new tool in the arsenal of condo lawyers statewide.

There’s a high rise, waterfront condo on South Beach, which shall remain nameless, whose developers went bankrupt twice. After much trepidation, the bankruptcy trustee only completed the sales process last month with the project having been since turned over to the unit owners several years ago. The risks of buying bankrupt condominium units are starkly illustrated by the difficulties this condo had in continuing operations, as well as the emptiness of the building since the building now had an expected cost; the bankruptcy attorneys and trustee. In addition to the weight of court costs, the developer’s budget was underfunded, just as the developer, which led to a rapid spike in condo assessments. Many developers attempt to have a reduced initial budget because of the way that condo law gives developers incentive to have the lowest budgets possible.

This South Beach condo was one of the first condominiums to file a blanket receivership action. However, the building, through shrewd management by its Board and its management company, has managed to continue as a going concern, lower the monthly budget, improve and remodel the building and take a leading role in foreclosing against non-paying unit owners. According to a recent search of the MLX by Condo Vultures Realty and public records, the last sales closed in August of 2009 for $240 per square foot; this closeout is happening more than 8 years after construction began and 4 years after end sales started. This closure has come at an exacting price, as it took more than eight years after the Notice of Commencement and four years after the bankruptcy to get the building sold out and stabilized. It’s important to note that the bankruptcy sales for this South Beach high rise came at the very robust top of the market, when there was no excess condo inventory.

When condominium towers go bankrupt, there are negative consequences for nearly all interest holders, but the balance of the law is actually in favor of preservation of the improvements for use of the occupants over the interests of equity holders, debt holders and creditors. Florida’s condominium laws are easily amongst the most advanced of shared ownership in our country today and are showing that with strong remedies and flexible application, that it is possible to work out many situations where a condominium is unable to pay its bills.

Alternatively, there do exist, written into each condominium, provisions for termination of the subdivision agreement and these workout processes can be adapted to facilitate a Condominium Termination process as well. When looking to invest into a distressed condominium, knowing the potential pitfalls can help investors mitigate risk factors. Best practices include insuring the income streams through the use of landlord’s insurance policies with rent loss coverage and maintaining capital reserves against potential rises in operating costs associated with owning distressed condominium property.