Attorneys representing homeowners in all 50 states must undoubtedly feel that their states do not do enough to protect homeowners from preventable foreclosures. In non-judicial states like California, the lack of oversight in the foreclosure process at all levels has led to rampant abuse, fraud and at the very least, negligence. Our courts have done little to diffuse this trend with cases like Chilton v. Federal Nat. Mortg. Ass’n holding: “(n)on-judicial foreclosure under a deed of trust is governed by California Civil Code Section 2924 which relevant section provides that a “trustee, mortgagee or beneficiary or any of their authorized agents” may conduct the foreclosure process.” California courts have held that the Civil Code provisions “cover every aspect” of the foreclosure process, and are “intended to be exhaustive.” There is no requirement that the party initiating foreclosure be in possession of the original note.
Chilton and many other rulings refuse to acknowledge that homeowners have any rights to challenge wrongful foreclosures including Gomes v Countrywide, Fontenot v Wells Fargo, and a long line of tender cases holding that a plaintiff seeking to set aside a foreclosure sale must first allege tender of the amount of the secured indebtedness. Complicating matters further is the conflict between state, federal and bankruptcy cases regarding Civil Code 2932.5 and the requirement of recording an assignment prior to proceeding to foreclosure.
While the specific terms are still evolving, the http://www.nationalmortgagesettlement.com/ information website has released the Servicing Standards Highlights that set forth the basic changes that the banks and servicers have agreed to as part of the settlement. When the AG Settlement is finalized, it will be reduced to a judgment that can be enforced by federal judges, the special independent monitor Joseph Smith, federal agencies and Attorneys General. This judgment can be used by attorneys to define a standard and therefore allow us to fashion a remedy that will improve our chances of obtaining relief for our clients.
Many have opined about the deficiencies in the AG Settlement, from the lack of investigation to inadequacy of the dollars committed to compensate for wrongful foreclosures, principal reduction or refinancing. The reality is, as tainted as it may be, the AG Settlement leaves us better off than were were for future cases. It does not however, address past wrongs in any meaningful way. The terms make it abundantly clear that this is not the settlement for compensation; if there is any remote possibility of compensation it must be sought in the OCC Independent Foreclosure Review and the homeowner must meet the extreme burden of proving financial harm caused by the wrongful foreclosure. For California, the AG Settlement at best, improves our ability to request crucial documents to challenge wrongful foreclosures which previously were difficult if not impossible to obtain. This will allow us to negotiate better loss mitigation options for clients.
Loan Modification 2008-2011
The homeowner submits an application 10 times, pays on 3 different trial plans, speaks to 24 different representatives who give him various inconsistent versions of status. After two years, and thousands of default fees later, he is advised that the investor won’t approve a modification and foreclosure is imminent. Actually, the truth was that the homeowner was in fact qualified for the modification, the data used for the NPV analysis was incorrect and the investor had in fact approved hundreds of modifications according to guidelines that were known to the servicer from the beginning. How could the AG Settlement not improve on this common scenario?
14 days prior to initiating foreclosure, the servicer must provide the homeowner with notice which must include:
facts supporting the bank’s right to foreclose
a copy of the note with endorsements
the identity of the investor
amount of delinquency and terms to bring loan current
summary of loss mitigation efforts
A prompt review of the 14 Day Pre Foreclosure Notice and investigation regarding the securitization aspects of the case can result in the filing of a lawsuit and request for TRO if all terms have not been complied with or the documents provided do not establish the right to foreclose. There will be no issue of tender, prejudice or show me the note that can be raised in opposition by defendants and this is an opportunity that we have not been afforded under current case law. Additionally, a loan level review will reveal improper fees and charges that can be challenged. Deviation from the AG Settlement Servicing Standards should be aggressively pursued through the proper complaint channels.
Loan Modification Guidelines
Notify the homeowner of all loss mitigation options
Servicer shall offer a loan modification if NPV positive
HAMP trial plans shall promptly be converted to permanent modifications
Servicer must review and make determination within 30 days of receipt of complete package
Homeowner must submit package within 120 days of delinquency to receive answer prior to referral to foreclosure (could be problematic since most homeowners are more than 120 days late)
After the loan has been referred to foreclosure, the homeowner must apply for a loan modification within 15 days before sale. Servicer must expedite review.
Servicer must cease all collection efforts while a complete loan modification package is under review or homeowner is making timely trial modification payments
Other significant terms include the requirement that the servicer maintain loan portals where the homeowner can check status which must be updated every ten days, assign a single point of contact to every loan, restriction on default fees and forced placed insurance, modification denials must state reasons and provide document support and the homeowner has 30 days to appeal a negative decision.
Short Sales Will Now Really Be Short
The rules regarding short sales will greatly increase the chances that short sales will be processed in a timely manner and accordingly, will result in more short sales being closed.
Banks/servicers must make short sale requirements public
Banks/servicers must provide a short sale price evaluation upon request by the homeowner prior to listing the property
Receipt of short sale packages must be confirmed and notification of missing documents must be provided within 30 days
Knowledge of all of the new requirements for processing foreclosures, loan modifications and short sales can greatly increase our chances of obtaining successful outcomes for clients. Resolution is the goal, and now, we may have leverage that did not exist before.