Walking Away From A Mortgage in Canada

If you are over-mortgaged and facing negative equity in your home, can you walk away from your mortgage in Canada?  We explain what you can do when you can’t pay off the entirety of your mortgage loan after a sale or bank foreclosure.

How does a mortgage shortfall happen?

If you’re a homeowner and your mortgage is higher than the equity or the market value of your home, you are by definition, underwater. Meaning, if you sold your home today, you are not likely to get the full mortgage paid out by selling. Put another way, you have negative equity in your home.

Causes of a mortgage shortfall:

  • Price decline: you bought at the peak with a high-ratio mortgage, and the market dropped. For example, you bought a condo or a house for let’s say a million dollars with 10% down. The market subsequently flattens, and the list price is now $800,000, so you’re underwater by $100,000 plus selling costs, real estate commissions and potential mortgage penalties.
  • Debt consolidation: our typical homeowner client has more than $50,000 in unsecured debt. If you consolidate this through a second, or even third mortgage and the market softens, you can easily find yourself with less equity in your home that the total of all your mortgage debt.
  • Negative investment cash flow: you may have purchased an investment property and are funding the rental shortfall via a secured line of credit. If the market does not increase sufficiently to cover your accumulated cash loss, you may find yourself facing growing negative equity.

Canada has full recourse mortgage laws

A theoretical shortfall is not a real shortfall. You don’t have to sell. If you can keep your mortgage payments current, and expect that the market will return before you intend to sell you can hold tight.

If you are in default your lender will begin proceedings to collect. If you do not respond and cannot catch up on missed mortgage payments, your bank or lender will likely begin proceedings to sell your home through a power of sale.

If you sell with a shortfall, or your bank forecloses, you still owe your mortgage lender any deficiency between the money realized from the sale and the balance owing on your mortgage.

Should you sell your home for less than you borrowed and find yourself unable to repay the shortfall, in Ontario, your lender can pursue you to collect the difference, as they have full recourse:

Full recourse means that a lender can pursue you if your house is underwater and you sold your home, and there’s a shortfall … your mortgage lender can come after you legally for that debt in Canada.

How do I deal with an unsecured mortgage shortfall?

Like any debt, you are expected to make payments on it. If you are unable to pay back this shortfall, your creditors will pursue legal actions like a wage garnishment. In the case of CMHC, while it may take some time, they can also seize your tax refunds.

In Ontario, any mortgage shortfall after the sale of your home becomes an unsecured debt. Initially, your mortgage lender was a secured creditor. However, because the security, your home, has been sold, there is no longer any asset attached to the debt, and they are now an unsecured creditor.

If your mortgage was subject to insurance because you had a low down payment, your first step might be to draw on your CMHC Insurance. In this case, CMHC pays your original lender. However you still owe the debt, it’s just that now CMHC is now your creditor.

The good news is you have options to deal with mortgage shortfall debt:

  1. Make a settlement offer through a consumer proposal,
  2. File for bankruptcy to eliminate what you owe faster and get a fresh start.

The best place to start is to speak with a licensed debt professional about your relief options.

I think the big myth buster here is that if you have a shortfall on a house that someone’s pursuing you for, a consumer proposal or a personal bankruptcy actually takes care of that. And that’s where I think a lot of people are pretty surprised about Canada’s legislation around this stuff.

For a more detailed look at how to deal with mortgage shortfalls and how lenders can pursue you to recover a mortgage shortfall in Canada, tune in to today’s podcast or read the complete transcription below.

Source:  Hoyes.com (Hoyes – Michalos) By 

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