The U.S. Bankruptcy Code states that only a person that resides or has a domicile, a place of business, or property in the United States, or a municipality, may be a debtor in bankruptcy.
Does that mean that you must have a physical address to file for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy?
Under Michigan law, a “domicile” is a place where a person has his true, fixed, and permanent home and principal establishment to which he or she intends to return whenever absent.
Does this mean that you must have an actual fixed address to file for bankruptcy?
The Bankruptcy Code language noted above requires a domicile OR residence in the United States or a “municipality”—by which it means a State or city within the United States.
Does this mean a physical address is required?
The Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure list the items required to be filed when a bankruptcy case is opened.
These include a list of the debtor’s creditor’s names and addresses, among other things—but not the debtor’s address.
Those Rules also outline the duties of a debtor in bankruptcy.
A debtor is required to provide personal identification, usually a driver’s license or State ID card, to the extent necessary to prove his or her identity, but the Rule is not more specific than that.
The Local Court Rules of the Eastern District of Michigan Bankruptcy Court do require a government-issued photo identification to be produced upon the filing of the case (or, in actuality, at the 341 Meeting of Creditors).
But those Rules also do not specifically require a fixed address or physical residence. Not really.
What does any of this mean?
The Homeless, Nomads, and Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 Bankruptcy
What all of these rules references collectively indicate is that there is no specific requirement that you have a fixed address when filing for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy.
If you are without a fixed permanent address for whatever reason, be it homelessness, a nomadic lifestyle as portrayed in the film Nomadland, or a temporary period of “couch-surfing,” it does not mean that Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy is unavailable to you.
If you “reside” in the United States, you are eligible for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy.
This requirement, the first noted above, essentially aims at making ineligible foreign citizens and not those without a fixed physical address due to economic (or chosen) condition.
You need to have a government-issued photo identification to prove your identity at the 341 Meeting of Creditors.
You must complete and file Official Form 101, otherwise known as the Bankruptcy Petition form.
Line 5 of this Form asks you where you live and provides 2 separate address lines: one for physical residence and one for a separate mailing address.
This Form must be completed and filed.
However, with the assistance of a good bankruptcy lawyer, it can be completed any number of ways in a manner which satisfies the general requirement that you not be a foreigner with no personal or business connection with the United States.
It is worth noting that Federal law (42 U.S.C. § 11302) sets out a definition of homelessness that includes those residing in publicly or privately operated shelters designed to provide temporary living arrangements.
These shelters have addresses. Hotels have addresses.
Other locations utilized by a house-less individual as a “base of operations” may likewise have addresses useful for the completion of Official Form 101.
A post office box can be used as a separate mailing address as needed.
Homelessness and Bankruptcy Filing: The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that, in reality, however the bankruptcy petition form is completed, you will clarify with your bankruptcy lawyer your actual circumstances at the 341 Meeting of Creditors hearing that you will be required to attend approximately 30 days after filing your case.
This hearing is a question-and-answer session at which you will be required to disclose and confirm various things to the Chapter 7 Trustee or Chapter 13 Trustee assigned to your case and, via recording at least, to the U.S. Trustee responsible for rooting out improper bankruptcy case-filings.
You will disclose on the record that you are between residences but that you are a resident of the state in which you are filing the bankruptcy.
In all likelihood, that will be the end of that line of questioning.
You will, however, be required by another Bankruptcy Rule to disclose a change of address, should you find residence during the bankruptcy case.
At the end of the day, the fact that you may lack a fixed, physical address should not preclude your entitlement to relief from debt by way of a bankruptcy discharge so long as you can prove your identity.
The assistance of a good bankruptcy lawyer with a good reputation with the Court and with the Trustees will go a long way, in a situation such as this, to assuring the Court that you are eligible for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection.
Attorney Walter Metzen is a Board Certified Bankruptcy Expert who has assisted thousands of debtors with the bankruptcy process in Detroit and elsewhere in Michigan for over 28 years.
If you need relief from debt, contact us to schedule your free consultation.