Written by Craig D. Robins, Esq.
For New Yorkers considering bankruptcy, the biggest bankruptcy news in five years dropped like a bombshell this afternoon when Governor Patterson unexpectedly signed legislation greatly increasing exemptions for consumers.
Exemptions are those statutes that permit consumer debtors in bankruptcy to keep and protect assets.
New York Residents Seeking Bankruptcy Relief in 2011 Will Be Able to Protect More Assets than Ever Before
This will certainly cause an explosion in the number of consumer bankruptcy cases we will see next year as more financially burdened consumers will be able to eliminate their debts while keeping and protecting all of their assets.
Homestead Exemption Increasing to $150,000 per Person for those on Long Island
Right now each homeowner can protect only $50,000 worth of equity in a house. However, for those on Long Island who live in Nassau and Suffolk Counties, that amount will triple to $150,000.
Since a husband and wife can pool their exemption, that means that a couple will be able to protect a whopping $300,000 worth of equity in their home.
This will enable almost any typical Long Island middle class family to file bankruptcy to eliminate their credit card debts while protecting their home.
In my Long Island bankruptcy practice, I am regularly meeting with homeowners who are forced to file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy instead of Chapter 7 because they have too much equity in their homes. Now, almost everyone will be able to seek Chapter 7 bankruptcy relief and keep and protect their homes.
Incidentally, the amount of the new homestead exemption will be based on what county the debtor’s home is in. For most upstate counties, the homestead exemption will only be $75,000 per person.
More than half of the states previously had more generous homestead exemptions than New York; now it will have one of the best.
Amounts for Almost All Other Exemptions Categories Are Being Increased and New Categories Are Being Added
The new bill also increases the exemptions for a great deal of other assets like cars, and adds some new categories like home computers and vehicles for the handicapped.
Many of the exemption amounts that are being increased had not changed in decades.
I am in the process of reviewing each of the various changes to the exemption laws, and I will discuss and outline them in a post tomorrow.
Proposed Legislation to Expand New York’s Exemptions Has Been Periodically Submitted in Albany for Years
For years, legislation was proposed each and every year in Albany that sought to increase exemption amounts. This legislation never received any publicity because it was periodically struck down and nobody ever expected it to pass.
In years past, when I would discuss this with some of my colleagues, they were surprised to hear that there was pending legislation considering that it wasn’t publicized at all.
Despite reaching various stages in Albany each year for the past decade, such legislation has never found its way into law except once, when the homestead exemption was increased in September 2005. That year it was increased five-fold from $10,000 per person to $50,000 per person. Here’s the article that I wrote about that: Surprise Law Enactment – Homestead Exemption Increased
The Governor’s Signing of the Bankruptcy Legislation Today Was Totally Unexpected
In July of this year we seemed to get closer than ever before to seeing a change in New York’s woefully inadequate exemption laws.
At that time, both houses of the New York State Legislature passed legislation to increase bankruptcy exemptions in New York State. However, the banking industry, which has an extremely large presence in New York, vigorously lobbied Governor Patterson to veto the bill.
Very few people thought there was any chance that Governor Patterson would sign the legislation into law. For that reason, no one was holding their breath about its passage because nobody expected it to happen.
The Bankers carry a lot of power, even with Democrats. They argued that many consumers owe taxes to New York State, and with the bill’s added protections for debtors, both in and outside of bankruptcy, New York State’s tax collections would suffer.
New York City officials also opposed the legislation, arguing that it would impair the City’s ability to tow and auction cars for outstanding parking violations.
For months, the bankruptcy legislation, which was signed by both houses, just sat on the Governor’s desk, and we all assumed it would die there.
Yet, Gov. Patterson, who is leaving office in just one week, signed the bill today – his very last — with no advance notice and no fanfare of any kind, catching me, as well as all other bankruptcy practitioners, by surprise. And a very nice surprise at that!
Perhaps the Governor, who apparently does not see public service in his future, was upset at the damage wrought by the financial sector which drove the economy into a recession, and used this opportunity to give something back to his constituents.
Governor Patterson Issues Press Release Discussing Why He Signed New Exemption Law
Along with the new law came a press release. In it the Governor said:
“During this time of economic crisis, it is our responsibility as public servants to protect those who are struggling the most.
“A reconsideration of the current exemptions, which in some cases have not been changed in decades, is particularly warranted when an increasing number of individuals find themselves in dire financial condition. Though this is not a perfect bill, the benefits far outweigh its concerns.”
The press release also stated: This bill would provide a much-needed update to the exemptions law in New York as many provisions of State’s exemptions law are antiquated or have not been amended since the 1980’s. The purpose of such exemptions is to permit debtors in bankruptcy to retain a modest amount of personal property and equity in their homes so that they can continue to maintain their lives, and to protect them from becoming homeless, unemployed, or otherwise dependent on the State.
The New and Increased Exemptions Will Help Future Bankruptcy Debtors in Many Ways
Not only will more consumers be able to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, but many of those who seek Chapter 13 protection instead will end up paying substantially less through their monthly Chapter 13 plan.
Also, many existing Chapter 13 debtors may be able to convert there cases to one under Chapter 7 and eliminate all further monthly payments.
The bankruptcy attorneys in my office and I will be quite busy reviewing all of our cases over the next few weeks to ascertain how to best take advantage of the new exemptions amounts.
To see a number of post that I’ve written about bankruptcy exemptions, see the articles under this category: Bankruptcy Exemptions