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Mr Hertz,

  Lawyers for a company that collects front foot assesments(ffa) for my community are charging us unreasonable fees on a late payment.
  In January 2013 my daughter was critically ill.  Hovering near death, the local hospital put her on a ventillator and flew her to a top hospital out of town. My family and I temporarily moved out of town to be near the hospital.      
  I was certain that I had paid the ffa, though apparently with all that was going on I was mistaken. I was made aware of the mistake and made a payment when we returned home in May. They continued to send me collection letters from a lawyers office with huge fees stating that I still owed them for the ffa. I contacted them repeatedly telling them that I had paid this in May.  Fees continued to accrue.
  Finally they discovered they had credited it to the wrong address(a home we had owned that the bank had purchased and had informed us they would be taking care of that ffa). Eventually they admitted to the error but then said,"well, you still paid the wrong amount; the bill was $350.00 not $300.00" (as I had assumed the ffa was the same amt. as it had been in the previous home.)
  So, at this point I owe lawyers fees of hundreds of dollars for a $50 mistake? It felt like a "shake-down". The company secretary suggested I apply for a waiver of fees due to extenuating circumstances. With no other options, I did do that. After several months,it came back denied.
  After the denial, I recieved a forclosure notice on the home in leui of a 2,553.69 payment to the law office.
  To sum up:  I have paid $1,049.00 to date. 2013 and 2014 ffa total $700.00.  In essence; I owe lawyers fees of $2,553.69 because I payed Jan.2013 ffa in May 2013, the ffa company credited the wrong account, and because I inadvertantly paid $300 instead of $350... all this despite the fact that I have paid $1049.00 to date.
  To make this succinct, I have left out some details that would make this whole situation even more absurd. Any suggestions you could give would be appreciated.

This is a difficult choice, but I have a few questions.  First, I am assuming that you had never paid the ffa in your present home prior to Jan. 2013?  (Or else a judge would want to know why you assumed the payment was $300 rather than $350.  In other words, was the home the bank purchased in the ).  Second, do you have any document from your community that explains how much by way of attorneys fees can be charged if you fail to make a timely payment.  Third, was the payment late when made in May?  Had you received a collection letter by that time showing how much was owing for the ffa due in Jan. 2013?  Had you ever received a notice from the community about the amount of the ffa that was due?  Fourth, are the attorneys fees claimed going up in amount because you fail to pay them?

Your goal is to resolve this as cheaply as possible.  Your only choices are: (1) To make an offer to the community to pay a portion of the attorney fees, telling them that if you cannot resolve it, then either they have to sue you or you have to sue them.  (2) If that fails, you can wait until they sue you or (3) you can sue the community in small claims court.  But be careful, because if there is a law suit and you lose, they can probably add more attorneys fees.

I cannot tell you if the amount of fees seems unfair, although facially it does.  I am thinking that the community must have told somewhere what the amount of the ffa was supposed to be.  So your error in paying the wrong amount and paying late would be held against you.  The fairness of the fees depends on what your agreement with the community says about attorney fees and late payments.  From what I read online, in Maryland the attorneys fees charged under a contract are the actual amount of fees that the attorneys bill their client, and that could be the amount you have been billed, although you could certainly ask for copies of the bills as part of your negotiation.

I may be able to do more for you if you answer my questions and provide more details.  

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Michael T. Hertz


I can answer most questions concerning bankruptcy, whether business or personal, including questions by debtors, creditors, persons interested in purchasing assets from bankruptcy estates, and the like. Also have expertise in tort law, French and Canadian law.


Practiced bankruptcy for 27 years in California and taught bankruptcy for three years in Maine. This included Chapters 7, 9, 11, 12 and 13 cases, representing debtors, creditors (secured and unsecured), bankruptcy trustees, creditors committees, and persons interested in purchasing assets from bankruptcies. Debtors included persons with virtually no money up to large corporations.

Inactive member of the Bar of the State of California. Nonpracticing member of the Bar of Massachusetts. Formerly member of the Maine Bar and conseil juridique in France. Certified by National Committee on Accreditation in Canada.

Georgetown Law Review; California Bankruptcy Journal; Maine Law Review; Dalhousie Law Journal; University of Toronto Law Journal.

Harvard Law School (J.D. 1970; cum laude) and Pomona College (B.A., 1967; cum laude)

Awards and Honors
Selected as a "Superlawyer" in 2005 and 2006 for Northern California.

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