Thursday, May 22, 2008

'It Began With Cavities' - Utah Woman Loses Home Over $68.00 Dental Bill

ABC News reports on a Salt Lake City, Utah woman's unlikely quest to retain her home - twelve years after it was sold at a judicial auction for $1,550.00 to satisfy a $68.00 dental debt:

Can you imagine losing your home over a $68 dental bill? That's what happened to one Utah woman.

Sonya Capri Ramos says her Salt Lake City home was sold out from under her in 1996 to pay a collections agency seeking payment for dental work performed on one of Ramos's daughters. And despite the fact that she had made three years of payments on a $51,000 mortgage, the title changed hands for just $1,550 at a sheriff's auction.

...Ramos said she paid for part of the treatment, but not all of it -- a $68 bill remained.

...According to a 10-page published decision by the Utah Court of Appeals, the judge ordered the sheriff "to collect the judgment, with costs, interest and fees, and to sell enough of defendant's non-exempt real property to satisfy" the amount due.

Kurt Johnson, the president of the North American Collection Agency Regulatory Association and a senior investigator with the Minnesota Department of Commerce, said it was highly unusual for a collections agency to recover payments through the sale of a home that isn't facing foreclosure.

"Typically, they just put liens on the property," he said. "I've never heard of it in my 20 years in Minnesota, and I've never heard of it in any other state..."

"The law is simply unjust when your home can be sold to satisfy such a small debt, when other property exists that could also be sold to satisfy the debt," said Ryan James, of Haskins & Associates, the Salt Lake City firm currently representing Ramos, in an e-mail to ABC News.

Ms. Ramos claimed to have had no notice or warning of the pending sale.

The Court dismissed Ms. Ramos' claim as barred by the state's Statute of Limitations.

For more reading, see the May 1, 2008 opinion of the Utah Court Of Appeals in Sonya Capri Bangerter v. Ralph Petty, et al.

- Garry J. Wise, Toronto

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