Debt Incurred From Failure to Pay Rent Not Dischargeable in Bankruptcy

As a Sacramento Bankruptcy Attorney I pay close attention to cases that affect residents living within the Sacramento metropolitan area. In a recent case heard by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Bankruptcy Appellate Panel – In re Cha and Park – failing to pay ones rent, if determined to be an act of fraud, can be non-dischargeable in bankruptcy. This means a person attempting to eliminate this type of debt would be forced to repay the debt despite having filed the bankruptcy.

One of the exceptions to receiving a discharge in bankruptcy is when an individual incurs a debt while having no intention to repay that debt. The law sees this type of transaction as fraud. Incurring debt through fraud is a bar to having that debt wiped clean through bankruptcy. The best example of this situation is where a person who knows he will be filing for bankruptcy decides to go on a shopping spree and make thousands of dollars in purchases on his credit card knowing that the debts will be wiped clean in the bankruptcy. Sometimes these types of purchases are unintentional and the creditor has the burden to prove that the individual had no intention of repaying that debt.

In the case of Cha and Park, the debtors entered into a lease in 2008. During these negotiations, the debtors made assertions to the landlord that they made $14,000 a month and had $50,000 in the bank. The landlord presumably relied on these statements when making the decision to offer a lease to the debtors. Upon signing the lease the debtors only paid one month’s rent. By the time the landlord evicted the debtors they owed him over $46,000 in back rent. The landlord obtained a judgment against the debtors for the back rent in state court. The debtor’s promptly filed for bankruptcy and attempted to discharge the $46,000 judgment for back rent. The landlord then sued the debtors in the bankruptcy court saying that the debtors had engaged in fraud in that they never had any intention to pay the rent from the first place. Specifically, the landlord argued that the debtors lied with regard to the income and savings they disclosed and he relied on those false statements when making his decision to enter into the lease with them.

The Bankruptcy Appellate Panel noted that the debtors never argued that their statements regarding the income and savings were true. They merely attempted to knock the landlord’s presence in court on a legal technicality. Ultimately the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel found for the landlord and determined that the debtors did engage in fraud and that as a result the $46,000 debt to him was not dischargeable.

As a Sacramento area bankruptcy attorney I must inform my clients of all the pitfalls present in their prospective cases. I always make sure that my clients have not inadvertently engaged in conduct that could be interpreted as a fraudulent charge before they file their case. If you are in a position that your debts have become insurmountable it is time for you to have a conversation with a bankruptcy professional to discuss your options.