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wrongful forecosure Other Jurisdictions

16 Mar

Other Jurisdictions

Contrary to California’s ruling in Gomes, a MERS has come under fire in Utah. In Harvey v. Garbett Mortgage, Utah 3rd Dist. Case No. 100907587 (2010) (unpublished) (Herinafter Harvey),  quiet title action resulted in a deed clear of any liens because the trustee, the legal title holder, did not have any idea who the beneficiary was, did not have physical possession of the mortgage note, and did not know whether a split of the note and trust deed occurred. The plaintiff quickly sold the property after the ruling, and thus has no interest in the land. The loan is now unsecured, and the plaintiff is still liable to the lender to pay the debt. An interesting procedural note about the Harvey case is that the plaintiff did not name MERS as a defendant in this case, even though MERS was the nominal beneficiary, because MERS did not have any actual interest in the property. However, this strategy would not be successful in California, because MERS has standing to foreclose, has a statutory created interest in the land, and a quiet title proceeding is final and binding only upon named defendants.

CONCLUSION:

In California, a quiet title action brought by a mortgage borrower in default against a lender will not result in free property. Courts quickly dismiss quiet title actions without any allegation of wrongful practice by the lender. However, a quiet title action in conjunction with a claim of wrongful foreclosure can allow a homeowner stay in their house for an extended period. A debtor in receipt of a notice of default must act quickly if they want to stay in their home. The first steps of filing a complaint and applying for an injunction require technical legal knowledge and sharpened persuasive ability; two characteristics that cannot be learned by the homeowner fast enough to prevent eviction. The homeowner should seek counsel from an experienced attorney regarding the possible benefits and costs of offensive legal action

Fannie Mae Policy Now Admits Loan Not Secured

2 Jun

Posted 14 hours ago by Neil Garfield on Livinglies’s Weblog

29248253-Mers-May-Not-Foreclosure-for-Fannie-Mae

Editor’s Note: Their intention was to get MERS and servicers out of the foreclosure business. They now say that prior to foreclosure MERS must assign to the real party in interest.

Here’s their problem: As numerous Judges have pointed out, MERS specifically disclaims any interest in the obligation, note or mortgage. Even the language of the mortgage or Deed of Trust says MERS is mentioned in name only and that the Lender is somebody else.

These Judges who have considered the issue have come up with one conclusion, an assignment from a party with no right, title or interest has nothing to assign. The assignment may look good on its face but there still is the problem that nothing was assigned.

Here’s the other problem. If MERS was there in name only to permit transfers and other transactions off-record (contrary to state law) and if the original party named as “Lender” is no longer around, then what you have is a gap in the chain of custody and chain of title with respect to the creditor’s side of the loan. It is all off record which means, ipso facto that it is a question of fact as to whose loan it is. That means, ipso facto, that the presence of MERS makes it a judicial question which means that the non-judicial election is not available. They can’t do it.

So when you put this all together, you end up with the following inescapable conclusions:

* The naming of MERS as mortgagee in a mortgage deed or as beneficiary in a deed of trust is a nullity.
* MERS has no right, title or interest in any loan and even if it did, it disclaims any such interest on its own website.
* The lender might be the REAL beneficiary, but that is a question of fact so the non-judicial foreclosure option is not available.
* If the lender was not the creditor, it isn’t the lender because it had no right title or interest either, legally or equitably.
* Without a creditor named in the security instrument intended to secure the obligation, the security was never perfected.
* Without a creditor named in the security instrument intended to secure the obligation, the obligation is unsecured as to legal title.
* Since the only real creditor is the one who advanced the funds (the investor(s)), they can enforce the obligation by proxy or directly. Whether the note is actually evidence of the obligation and to what extent the terms of the note are enforceable is a question for the court to determine.
* The creditor only has a claim if they would suffer loss as a result of the indirect transaction with the borrower. If they or their agents have received payments from any source, those payments must be allocated to the loan account. The extent and measure of said allocation is a question of fact to be determined by the Court.
* Once established, the allocation will most likely be applied in the manner set forth in the note, to wit: (a) against payments due (b) against fees and (c) against principal, in that order.
* Once applied against payments, due the default vanishes unless the allocation is less than the amount due in payments.
* Once established, the allocation results in a fatal defect in the notice of default, the statements sent to the borrower, and the representations made in court. Thus at the very least they must vacate all foreclosure proceedings and start over again.
* If the allocation is less than the amount of payments due, then the investor(s) collectively have a claim for acceleration and to enforce the note — but they have no claim on the mortgage deed or deed of trust. By intentionally NOT naming parties who were known at the time of the transaction the security was split from the obligation. The obligation became unsecured.
* The investors MIGHT have a claim for equitable lien based upon the circumstances that BOTH the borrower and the investor were the victims of fraud.

MERS and civil code 2932.5 and Bankruptcy code 547 here is how it comes together

26 May

CA Civil Code 2932.5 – Assignment”Where a power to sell real property is
given to a mortgagee, or other encumbrancer, in an instrument intended
to secure the payment of money, the power is part of the security and
vests in any person who by assignment becomes entitled to payment of the
money secured by the instrument. The power of sale may be exercised by
the assignee if the assignment is duly acknowledged and recorded.”

Landmark vs Kesler – While this is a matter of first impression in
Kansas, other jurisdictions have issued opinions on similar and related
issues, and, while we do not consider those opinions binding in the
current litigation, we find them to be useful guideposts in our analysis
of the issues before us.”

“Black’s Law Dictionary defines a nominee as “[a] person designated to
act in place of another, usu. in a very limited way” and as “[a] party
who holds bare legal title for the benefit of others or who receives and
distributes funds for the benefit of others.” Black’s Law Dictionary
1076 (8th ed. 2004). This definition suggests that a nominee possesses
few or no legally enforceable rights beyond those of a principal whom
the nominee serves……..The legal status of a nominee, then, depends
on the context of the relationship of the nominee to its principal.
Various courts have interpreted the relationship of MERS and the lender
as an agency relationship.”

“LaSalle Bank Nat. Ass’n v. Lamy, 2006 WL 2251721, at *2 (N.Y. Sup.
2006) (unpublished opinion) (“A nominee of the owner of a note and
mortgage may not effectively assign the note and mortgage to another for
want of an ownership interest in said note and mortgage by the
nominee.”)”

The law generally understands that a mortgagee is not distinct from a
lender: a mortgagee is “[o]ne to whom property is mortgaged: the
mortgage creditor, or lender.” Black’s Law Dictionary 1034 (8th ed.
2004). By statute, assignment of the mortgage carries with it the
assignment of the debt. K.S.A. 58-2323. Although MERS asserts that,
under some situations, the mortgage document purports to give it the
same rights as the lender, the document consistently refers only to
rights of the lender, including rights to receive notice of litigation,
to collect payments, and to enforce the debt obligation. The document
consistently limits MERS to acting “solely” as the nominee of the
lender.

Indeed, in the event that a mortgage loan somehow separates interests of
the note and the deed of trust, with the deed of trust lying with some
independent entity, the mortgage may become unenforceable.

“The practical effect of splitting the deed of trust from the promissory
note is to make it impossible for the holder of the note to foreclose,
unless the holder of the deed of trust is the agent of the holder of the
note. [Citation omitted.] Without the agency relationship, the person
holding only the note lacks the power to foreclose in the event of
default. The person holding only the deed of trust will never experience
default because only the holder of the note is entitled to payment of
the underlying obligation. [Citation omitted.] The mortgage loan becomes
ineffectual when the note holder did not also hold the deed of trust.”
Bellistri v. Ocwen Loan Servicing, LLC, 284 S.W.3d 619, 623 (Mo. App.
2009).

“MERS never held the promissory note,thus its assignment of the deed of
trust to Ocwen separate from the note had no force.” 284 S.W.3d at 624;
see also In re Wilhelm, 407 B.R. 392 (Bankr. D. Idaho 2009) (standard
mortgage note language does not expressly or implicitly authorize MERS
to transfer the note); In re Vargas, 396 B.R. 511, 517 (Bankr. C.D. Cal.
2008) (“[I]f FHM has transferred the note, MERS is no longer an
authorized agent of the holder unless it has a separate agency contract
with the new undisclosed principal. MERS presents no evidence as to who
owns the note, or of any authorization to act on behalf of the present
owner.”); Saxon Mortgage Services, Inc. v. Hillery, 2008 WL 5170180
(N.D. Cal. 2008) (unpublished opinion) (“[F]or there to be a valid
assignment, there must be more than just assignment of the deed alone;
the note must also be assigned. . . . MERS purportedly assigned both the
deed of trust and the promissory note. . . . However, there is no
evidence of record that establishes that MERS either held the promissory
note or was given the authority . . . to assign the note.”).

What stake in the outcome of an independent action for foreclosure could
MERS have? It did not lend the money to Kesler or to anyone else
involved in this case. Neither Kesler nor anyone else involved in the
case was required by statute or contract to pay money to MERS on the
mortgage. See Sheridan, ___ B.R. at ___ (“MERS is not an economic
‘beneficiary’ under the Deed of Trust. It is owed and will collect no
money from Debtors under the Note, nor will it realize the value of the
Property through foreclosure of the Deed of Trust in the event the Note
is not paid.”). If MERS is only the mortgagee, without ownership of the
mortgage instrument, it does not have an enforceable right. See Vargas,
396 B.R. 517 (“[w]hile the note is ‘essential,’ the mortgage is only ‘an
incident’ to the note” [quoting Carpenter v. Longan, 16 Wall. 271, 83
U.S. 271, 275, 21 L. Ed 313 (1872)]).

* MERS had no Beneficial Interest in the Note,
* MERS and the limited agency authority it has under the dot does
not continue with the assignment of the mortgage or dot absent a
ratification or a separate agency agreement between mers and the
assignee.
* The Note and the Deed of Trust were separated at or shortly
after origination upon endorsement and negotiation of the note rendering
the dot a nullity
* MERS never has any power or legal authority to transfer the note
to any entity;
* mers never has a beneficial interest in the note and pays
nothing of value for the note.

Bankr. Code 547 provides, among other things, that an unsecured
creditor who had won a race to an interest in the debtor’s property
using the state remedies system within 90 days of the filing of the
bankruptcy petition may have to forfeit its winnings (without
compensation for any expenses it may have incurred in winning the race)
for the benefit of all unsecured creditors. The section therefore
prevents certain creditors from being preferred over others (hence,
section 547 of the Bankruptcy Code is titled “Preferences).” An
additional effect of the section (and one of its stated purposes) may be
to discourage some unsecured creditors from aggressively pursuing the
debtor under the state remedies system, thus affording the debtor more
breathing space outside bankruptcy, for fear that money spent using the
state remedies system will be wasted if the debtor files a bankruptcy
petition.

. Bankr. Code 547(c) provides several important exceptions to the
preference avoidance power.

Bankr. Code 547 permits avoidance of liens obtained within the 90 day
(or one year) period: the creation of a lien on property of the debtor,
whether voluntary, such as through a consensual lien, or involuntary,
such as through a judicial lien, would, absent avoidance, have the same
preferential impact as a transfer of money from a debtor to a creditor
in payment of a debt. If the security interest was created in the
creditor within the 90 day window, and if other requirements of section
547(b) are satisfied, the security interest can be avoided and the real
property sold by the trustee free of the security interest (subject to
homestead exemption). All unsecured creditors of the debtor, including
the creditor whose lien has been avoided, will share, pro rata, in the
distribution of assets of the debtor, including the proceeds of the sale
of the real estate

An individual Chapter 11 bankruptcy may be better for you than Chapter 13

28 Jan

by Chip Parker, Jacksonville Bankruptcy Attorney on October 25, 2009 · Posted in Chapter 11 Bankruptcy

In my 17 years of practicing bankruptcy law, I have never been as excited by anything as the development of the individual Chapter 11 case.

Traditionally, Chapter 13 has been used for personal reorganizations while Chapter 11 has been reserved for more complex corporate reorganizations.� However, a small handful of sophisticated bankruptcy lawyers, like Brett Mearkle of Jacksonville, Florida and BLN contributors Brett Weiss and Kurt O�Keefe, are taking advantage of the debtor-friendly rules of Chapter 11, to provide more meaningful debt restructuring for individual consumers.

Before 2005, individual Chapter 11 cases were virtually non-existent. However, the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005, which has generally been horrible for individual debtors, changed a critical rule in Chapter 11 that has made it the choice for bankruptcy lawyers seeking the best restructuring options for many middle-class Americans.� That rule, known as the Absolute Priority Rule, no longer applies to individuals filing under Chapter 11.� The result is that, unlike corporate debtors, an individual (or married couple) filing under Chapter 11 does not have to repay 100% of his unsecured debts.� Rather, the individual need only pay his �disposable income� over a 5 year period, just like in Chapter 13 cases.

The challenge for bankruptcy lawyers is streamlining the Chapter 11 case for consumers to bring the overall cost of filing down.� Currently, my firm has managed to bring down the cost of a typical Chapter 11, but even so, the individual Chapter 11 case costs $10,000 to $30,000, depending on the facts.� However, in as many as half of all consumer reorganizations, these increased fees and costs are far outweighed by the savings and convenience of Chapter 11.

These savings, like �cram down� of automobiles and elimination of the trustee�s administrative fee, will be discussed in more detail in my upcoming articles.

The change to the Absolute Priority Rule has gone widely unnoticed by consumer bankruptcy lawyers, largely because so few understand Chapter 11.� However, we are starting to realize the power of Chapter 11 for consumers, and a concerted effort is being made by many to understand this complicated area of bankruptcy law.� I’ll be in Tucson next week, attending a three day seminar conducted by The National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys to learn how to identify which consumers will benefit from Chapter 11 and how to file these types of bankruptcies.� Of course a three-day seminar is really the beginning of an education in Chapter 11, and I predict there will be more advanced seminars to follow.

Be on the lookout for more articles and videos by me and other BLNers on the advantages and nuances of the individual Chapter 11.

Fabrication of Documents: MERS GAP Illuminated

23 Dec

Posted on July 30, 2009 by livinglies

Another example of why a TILA audit is grossly inadequate. A forensic audit is required covering all bases. Although dated, this article picks up on a continuing theme that demonstrates the title defect, the questionable conduct of pretender lenders and the defects in the foreclosure process when you let companies with big brand names bluff the system. The MERS GAP arises whether MERS is actually the nominee on the deed of trust (or mortgage deed) or not. It is an announcement that there will be off record transactions between parties who have no interest in the loan but who will assert such an interest once they have successfullly fabricated documents, had someone without authority sign them, on behalf of an entity with no real beneficial interest or other economic interest in the loan, and then frequently notarized by someone in another state. we have even seen documents notarized in blank and forged signatures of borrowers on loan closing papers.

NYTimes.com
Lender Tells Judge It ‘Recreated’ Letters
Tuesday January 8, 2008 11:38 pm ET
By GRETCHEN MORGENSON
The Countrywide Financial Corporation fabricated documents related to the bankruptcy case of a Pennsylvania homeowner, court records show, raising new questions about the business practices of the giant mortgage lender at the center of the subprime mess.The documents — three letters from Countrywide addressed to the homeowner — claimed that the borrower owed the company $4,700 because of discrepancies in escrow deductions. Countrywide’s local counsel described the letters to the court as “recreated,” raising concern from the federal bankruptcy judge overseeing the case, Thomas P. Agresti.

“These letters are a smoking gun that something is not right in Denmark,” Judge Agresti said in a Dec. 20 hearing in Pittsburgh.

The emergence of the fabricated documents comes as Countrywide confronts a rising tide of complaints from borrowers who claim that the company pushed them into risky loans. The matter in Pittsburgh is one of 300 bankruptcy cases in which Countrywide’s practices have come under scrutiny in western Pennsylvania.

Judge Agresti said that discovery should proceed so that those involved in the case, including the Chapter 13 trustee for the western district of Pennsylvania and the United States trustee, could determine how Countrywide’s systems might generate such documents.

A spokesman for the lender, Rick Simon, said: “It is not Countrywide’s policy to create or ‘fabricate’ any documents as evidence that they were sent if they had not been. We believe it will be shown in further discovery that the Countrywide bankruptcy technician who generated the documents at issue did so as an efficient way to convey the dates the escrow analyses were done and the calculations of the payments as a result of the analyses.”

The documents were generated in a case involving Sharon Diane Hill, a homeowner in Monroeville, Pa. Ms. Hill filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection in March 2001 to try to save her home from foreclosure.

After meeting her mortgage obligations under the 60-month bankruptcy plan, Ms. Hill’s case was discharged and officially closed on March 9, 2007. Countrywide, the servicer on her loan, did not object to the discharge; court records from that date show she was current on her mortgage.

But one month later, Ms. Hill received a notice of intention to foreclose from Countrywide, stating that she was in default and owed the company $4,166.

Court records show that the amount claimed by Countrywide was from the period during which Ms. Hill was making regular payments under the auspices of the bankruptcy court. They included “monthly charges” totaling $3,840 from November 2006 to April 2007, late charges of $128 and other charges of almost $200.

A lawyer representing Ms. Hill in her bankruptcy case, Kenneth Steidl, of Steidl and Steinberg in Pittsburgh, wrote Countrywide a few weeks later stating that Ms. Hill had been deemed current on her mortgage during the period in question. But in May, Countrywide sent Ms. Hill another notice stating that her loan was delinquent and demanding that she pay $4,715.58. Neither Mr. Steidl nor Julia Steidl, who has also represented Ms. Hill, returned phone calls seeking comment.

Justifying Ms. Hill’s arrears, Countrywide sent her lawyer copies of three letters on company letterhead addressed to the homeowner, as well as to Mr. Steidl and Ronda J. Winnecour, the Chapter 13 trustee for the western district of Pennsylvania.

The Countrywide letters were dated September 2003, October 2004 and March 2007 and showed changes in escrow requirements on Ms. Hill’s loan. “This letter is to advise you that the escrow requirement has changed per the escrow analysis completed today,” each letter began.

But Mr. Steidl told the court he had never received the letters. Furthermore, he noticed that his address on the first Countrywide letter was not the location of his office at the time, but an address he moved to later. Neither did the Chapter 13 trustee’s office have any record of receiving the letters, court records show.

When Mr. Steidl discussed this with Leslie E. Puida, Countrywide’s outside counsel on the case, he said Ms. Puida told him that the letters had been “recreated” by Countrywide to reflect the escrow discrepancies, the court transcript shows. During these discussions, Ms. Puida reduced the amount that Countrywide claimed Ms. Hill owed to $1,500 from $4,700.

Under questioning by the judge, Ms. Puida said that “a processor” at Countrywide had generated the letters to show how the escrow discrepancies arose. “They were not offered to prove that they had been sent,” Ms. Puida said. But she also said, under questioning from the court, that the letters did not carry a disclaimer indicating that they were not actual correspondence or that they had never been sent.

A Countrywide spokesman said that in bankruptcy cases, Countrywide’s automated systems are sometimes overridden, with technicians making manual adjustments “to comply with bankruptcy laws and the requirements in the jurisdiction in which a bankruptcy is pending.” Asked by Judge Agresti why Countrywide would go to the trouble of “creating a letter that was never sent,” Ms. Puida, its lawyer, said she did not know.

“I just, I can’t get over what I’m being told here about these recreations,” Judge Agresti said, “and what the purpose is or was and what was intended by them.”

Ms. Hill’s matter is one of 300 bankruptcy cases involving Countrywide that have come under scrutiny by Ms. Winnecour, the Chapter 13 trustee in Pittsburgh. On Oct. 9, she asked the court to sanction Countrywide, contending that the company had lost or destroyed more than $500,000 in checks paid by homeowners in bankruptcy from December 2005 to April 2007.

Ms. Winnecour said in court filings that she was concerned that even as Countrywide had misplaced or destroyed the checks, it levied charges on the borrowers, including late fees and legal costs. A spokesman in her office said she would not comment on the Hill case.

O. Max Gardner III, a lawyer in North Carolina who represents troubled borrowers, says that he routinely sees lenders pursue borrowers for additional money after their bankruptcies have been discharged and the courts have determined that the default has been cured and borrowers are current. Regarding the Hill matter, Mr. Gardner said: “The real problem in my mind when reading the transcript is that Countrywide’s lawyer could not explain how this happened.”

Filed under: CDO, CORRUPTION, Eviction, GTC | Honor, Investor, Mortgage, bubble, currency, foreclosure, securities fraud | Tagged: borrower, countrywide, disclosure, foreclosure defense, foreclosure offense, fraud, rescission, RESPA, TILA audit, trustee
« Lucrative Fees May Deter Efforts to Alter Loans

SB 94 and its interferance with the practice

5 Sep

CA SB 94 on Lawyers & Loan Modifications Passes Assembly… 62-10

The California Assembly has passed Senate Bill 94, a bill that seeks to protect homeowners from loan modification scammers, but could end up having the unintended consequence of eliminating a homeowner’s ability to retain an attorney to help them save their home from foreclosure.

The bill, which has an “urgency clause” attached to it, now must pass the State Senate, and if passed, could be signed by the Governor on October 11th, and go into effect immediately thereafter.

SB 94’s author is California State Senator Ron Calderon, the Chair of the Senate Banking Committee, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone familiar with the bigger picture. Sen. Calderon, while acknowledging that fee-for-service providers can provide valuable services to homeowners at risk of foreclosure, authored SB 94 to ensure that providers of these services are not compensated until the contracted services have been performed.

SB 94 prevents companies, individuals… and even attorneys… from receiving fees or any other form of compensation until after the contracted services have been rendered. The bill will now go to the Democratic controlled Senate where it is expected to pass.

Supporters of the bill say that the state is literally teeming with con artists who take advantage of homeowners desperate to save their homes from foreclosure by charging hefty fees up front and then failing to deliver anything of value in return. They say that by making it illegal to charge up front fees, they will be protecting consumers from being scammed.

While there’s no question that there have been some unscrupulous people that have taken advantage of homeowners in distress, the number of these scammers is unclear. Now that we’ve learned that lenders and servicers have only modified an average of 9% of qualified mortgages under the Obama plan, it’s hard to tell which companies were scamming and which were made to look like scams by the servicers and lenders who failed to live up to their agreement with the federal government.

In fact, ever since it’s come to light that mortgage servicers have been sued hundreds of times, that they continue to violate the HAMP provisions, that they foreclose when they’re not supposed to, charge up front fees for modifications, require homeowners to sign waivers, and so much more, who can be sure who the scammers really are. Bank of America, for example, got the worst grade of any bank on the President’s report card listing, modifying only 4% of the eligible mortgages since the plan began. We’ve given B of A something like $200 billion and they still claim that they’re having a hard time answering the phones over there, so who’s scamming who?

To make matters worse, and in the spirit of Y2K, the media has fanned the flames of irrationality with stories of people losing their homes as a result of someone failing to get their loan modified. The stories go something like this:

We gave them 1,000. They told us to stop making our mortgage payment. They promised us a principal reduction. We didn’t hear from them for months. And then we lost our house.

I am so sure. Can that even happen? I own a house or two. Walk me through how that happened again, because I absolutely guarantee you… no way could those things happen to me and I end up losing my house over it. Not a chance in the world. I’m not saying I couldn’t lose a house, but it sure as heck would take a damn sight more than that to make it happen.

Depending on how you read the language in the bill, it may prevent licensed California attorneys from requiring a retainer in advance of services being rendered, and this could essentially eliminate a homeowner’s ability to hire a lawyer to help save their home.

Supporters, on the other hand, respond that homeowners will still be able to hire attorneys, but that the attorneys will now have to wait until after services have been rendered before being paid for their services. They say that attorneys, just like real estate agents and mortgage brokers, will now only be able to receive compensation after services have been rendered.

But, assuming they’re talking about at the end of the transaction, there are key differences. Real estate agents and mortgage brokers are paid OUT OF ESCROW at the end of a transaction. They don’t send clients a bill for their services after the property is sold.

Homeowners at risk of foreclosure are having trouble paying their bills and for the most part, their credit ratings have suffered as a result. If an attorney were to represent a homeowner seeking a loan modification, and then bill for his or her services after the loan was modified, the attorney would be nothing more than an unsecured creditor of a homeowner who’s only marginally credit worthy at best. If the homeowner didn’t pay the bill, the attorney would have no recourse other than to sue the homeowner in Small Claims Court where they would likely receive small payments over time if lucky.

Extending unsecured credit to homeowners that are already struggling to pay their bills, and then having to sue them in order to collect simply isn’t a business model that attorneys, or anyone else for that matter, are likely to embrace. In fact, the more than 50 California attorneys involved in loan modifications that I contacted to ask about this issue all confirmed that they would not represent homeowners on that basis.

One attorney, who asked not to be identified, said: “Getting a lender or servicer to agree to a loan modification takes months, sometimes six or nine months. If I worked on behalf of homeowners for six or nine months and then didn’t get paid by a number of them, it wouldn’t be very long before I’d have to close my doors. No lawyer is going to do that kind of work without any security and anyone who thinks they will, simply isn’t familiar with what’s involved.”

“I don’t think there’s any question that SB 94 will make it almost impossible for a homeowner to obtain legal representation related to loan modifications,” explained another attorney who also asked not to be identified. ”The banks have fought lawyers helping clients through the loan modification process every step of the way, so I’m not surprised they’ve pushed for this legislation to pass.”

Proponents of the legislation recite the all too familiar mantra about there being so many scammers out there that the state has no choice but to move to shut down any one offering to help homeowners secure loan modifications that charges a fee for the services. They point out that consumers can just call their banks directly, or that there are nonprofit organizations throughout the state that can help homeowners with loan modifications.

While the latter is certainly true, it’s only further evidence that there exists a group of people in positions of influence that are unfamiliar , or at the very least not adequately familiar with obtaining a loan modification through a nonprofit organization, and they’ve certainly never tried calling a bank directly.

The fact that there are nonprofit housing counselors available, and the degree to which they may or may not be able to assist a given homeowner, is irrelevant. Homeowners are well aware of the nonprofit options available. They are also aware that they can call their banks directly. From the President of the United States and and U.S. Attorney General to the community newspapers found in every small town in America, homeowners have heard the fairy tales about about these options, and they’ve tried them… over and over again, often times for many months. When they didn’t get the desired results, they hired a firm to help them.

Yet, even the State Bar of California is supporting SB 94, and even AB 764, a California Assembly variation on the theme, and one even more draconian because of its requirement that attorneys only be allowed to bill a client after a successful loan modification has been obtained. That means that an attorney would have to guarantee a homeowner that he or she would obtain a modification agreement from a lender or servicer or not get paid for trying. Absurd on so many levels. Frankly, if AB 764 passes, would the last one out of California please turn off the lights and bring the flag.

As of late July, the California State Bar said it was investigating 391 complaints against 141 attorneys, as opposed to nine investigations related to loan modifications in 2008. The Bar hasn’t read anywhere all of the complaints its received, but you don’t have to be a statistician to figure out that there’s more to the complaints that meets the eye. So far the State Bar has taken action against three attorneys and the Attorney General another four… so, let’s see… carry the 3… that’s 7 lawyers. Two or three more and they could have a softball team.

At the federal level they’re still reporting the same numbers they were last spring. Closed 11… sent 71 letters… blah, blah, blah… we’ve got a country of 300 million and at least 5 million are in trouble on their mortgage. The simple fact is, they’re going to have to come up with some serious numbers before I’m going to be scared of bumping into a scammer on every corner.

Looking Ahead…

California’s ALT-A and Option ARM mortgages are just beginning to re-set, causing payments to rise, and with almost half of the mortgages in California already underwater, these homeowners will be unable to refinance and foreclosures will increase as a result. Prime jumbo foreclosure rates are already up a mind blowing 634% as compared with January 2008 levels, according to LPS Applied Analytics.

Clearly, if SB 94 ends up reducing the number of legitimate firms available for homeowners to turn to, everyone involved in its passage is going to be retiring. While many sub-prime borrowers have suffered silently through this horror show of a housing crisis, the ALT-A and Option ARM borrowers are highly unlikely to slip quietly into the night.

There are a couple of things about the latest version of SB 94 that I found interesting:

1. It says that a lawyer can’t collect a fee or any other compensation before serivces have been delivered, but it doesn’t make clear whether attorneys can ask the client to deposit funds in the law firm’s trust account and then bill against thsoe funds as amounts are earned. Funds deposited in a law firm trust account remain the client’s funds, so they’re not a lawyer’s “fees or other compensation”. Those funds are there so that when the fees have been earned, the lawyer doesn’t have to hope his or her bill gets paid. Of course, it also says that an attorney can’t hold any security interest, but money in a trust account a client’s money, the attorney has no lien against it. All of this is a matter of interpretation, of course, so who knows.

2. While there used to be language in both the real estate and lawyer sections that prohibited breaking up services related to a loan modification, in the latest version all of the language related to breaking up services as applied to attorneys has been eliminated. It still applies to real estate licensed firms, but not to attorneys. This may be a good thing, as at least a lawyer could complete sections of the work involved as opposed to having to wait until the very end, which the way the banks have been handling things, could be nine months away.

3. The bill says nothing about the amounts that may be charged for services in connection with a loan modification. So, in the case of an attorney, that would seem to mean that… well, you can put one, two and three together from there.

4. Lawyers are not included in definition of foreclosure consultant. And there is a requirement that new language be inserted in contracts, along the lines of “You don’t have to pay anyone to get a loan modification… blah, blah, blah.” Like that will be news to any homeowner in America. I’ve spoken with hundreds and never ran across one who didn’t try it themselves before calling a lawyer. I realize the Attorney General doesn’t seem to know that, but look… he’s been busy.

Conclusion…

Will SB 94 actually stop con artists from taking advantage of homeowners in distress? Or will it end up only stopping reputable lawyers from helping homeowners, while foreclosures increase and our economy continues its deflationary free fall? Will the California State Bar ever finishing reading the complaints being received, and if they ever do, will they understand what they’ve read. Or is our destiny that the masses won’t understand what’s happening around them until it sucks them under as well.

I surely hope not. But for now, I’m just hoping people can still a hire an attorney next week to help save their homes, because if they can’t… the Bar is going to get a lot more letters from unhappy homeowners.

Don't get HAMP ED out of your home!

5 Sep

By Walter Hackett, Esq.
The federal government has trumpeted its Home Affordable Modification Program or “HAMP” solution as THE solution to runaway foreclosures – few things could be further from the truth. Under HAMP a homeowner will be offered a “workout” that can result in the homeowner being “worked out” of his or her home. Here’s how it works. A participating lender or servicer will send a distressed homeowner a HAMP workout agreement. The agreement consists of an “offer” pursuant to which the homeowner is permitted to remit partial or half of their regular monthly payments for 3 or more months. The required payments are NOT reduced, instead the partial payments are placed into a suspense account. In many cases once enough is gathered to pay the oldest payment due the funds are removed from the suspense account and applied to the mortgage loan. At the end of the trial period the homeowner will be further behind than when they started the “workout” plan.
In California, the agreements clearly specify the acceptance of partial payments by the lender or servicer does NOT cure any default. Further, the fact a homeowner is in the workout program does NOT require the lender or servicer to suspend or postpone any non-judicial foreclosure activity with the possible exception of an actual trustee’s sale. A homeowner could complete the workout plan and be faced with an imminent trustee’s sale. Worse, if a homeowner performs EXACTLY as required by the workout agreement, they are NOT assured a loan modification. Instead the agreement will include vague statements that the homeowner MAY receive an offer to modify his or her loan however there is NO duty on the part of the servicer or lender to modify a loan regardless of the homeowner’s compliance with the agreement.

A homeowner who fully performs under a HAMP workout is all but guaranteed to have given away thousands of dollars with NO assurance of keeping his or her home or ever seeing anything resembling an offer to modify a mortgage loan.
While it may well be the case the government was making an honest effort to help, the reality is the HAMP program is only guaranteed to help those who need help least – lenders and servicers. If you receive ANY written offer to modify your loan meet with a REAL licensed attorney and ask them to review the agreement to determine what you are REALLY agreeing to, the home you save might be your own.