H. Right to Sue Mortgage Servicers for Injunctive Relief, Damages, Treble Damages, and Right to Attorney’s Fees
2013 is going to be a good year
One of the most important provisions of the Act from a lender’s perspective is that it provides borrowers with the right to sue mortgage servicers for injunctive relief before the trustee’s deed upon sale has recorded, or if it has already recorded, to sue for actual economic damages, if the mortgage servicer has not corrected any “material” violation of certain enumerated portions of the Act before the trustee’s deed upon sale recorded. (Civil Code §2924.12(a).) In an area that will certainly open up a Pandora’s Box of litigation, the Act does not define what constitutes a “material” violation of the Act. If a court finds that the violation was intentional, reckless or willful, the court can award the borrower the greater of treble (triple) damages or $50,000. (Civil Code §2924.12(b).) Furthermore, a violation of the enumerated provisions of the Act is also deemed to be a violation of the licensing laws if committed by a person licensed as a consumer or commercial finance lender or broker, a residential mortgage lender or servicer, or a licensed real estate broker or salesman. (Civil Code §2924.12(d).) Lastly, in a one-sided attorney’s fee provision that only benefits borrowers, the court may award a borrower who obtains an injunction or receives an award of economic damages as a result of the violation of the Act their reasonable attorney’s fees and costs as the prevailing party. (Civil Code §2924.12(i).) This provides all the more reason for lenders and mortgage servicers to comply with the terms of the Act. This provision for the recovery by only the borrower of their reasonable attorney’s fees makes it more likely that borrowers will file litigation against mortgage lenders or servicers than they otherwise would. Compliance is the lender’s or mortgage servicer’s best defense to litigation under the Act.
Significantly for lenders, as long as the mortgage servicer remedies the material violation of the Act before the trustee’s deed upon sale has recorded, the Act specifically provides that the mortgage servicer shall not be liable under the Act for any violation or damages. (Civil Code §2924.12(b) & (c).) The Act also clarifies that signatories to the National Mortgage Settlement who are in compliance with the terms of that settlement, as they relate to the terms of the Act, will not face liability under the Act. (Civil Code §2924.12(g).