Tag Archives: Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act

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 Case No. 100907587 (2010) (unpublished) (Herinafter Harvey),  quiet title action resulted in a deed clear of any liens because the trustee, the legal title holder, did not have any idea who the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

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Foreclosure in California

16 Mar

925-957-9797

ISSUE:

Many Californians in default on their mortgage and facing foreclosure have filed quiet title and wrongful foreclosure actions. What is a quiet title action against a lender, and are plaintiffs successful in California?

BRIEF ANSWER:                                                                                                         

            A quiet title action in California to determine the owner of property does not generally allow a mortgage borrower in default on their payments to claim title to the land free of liens. However, the action when combined with a wrongful foreclosure claim is often successful in extending the amount of time a defaulted borrower can remain in the house. While in essence, this is simply prolonging the inevitable, it can give a borrower a temporary feeling of control over their own destiny.

DISCUSSION:

Quiet Title Actions as a Defense to Foreclosure

A cause of action to quiet title seeks to determine adverse claims to real or personal property. (Cal. Code Civ. § 760.020.) The action is commonly commenced by homeowners when a lender wrongfully forecloses on their property. My research has not found a favorable California decision quieting title in a mortgage borrower challenging foreclosure. The filing of quiet title actions only prolongs the amount of time a borrower can remain in a house after defaulting.

Theory behind the current suits

The UCC governs negotiable instruments such as mortgages, and it defines a loan as a transferable, signed document that promises to pay the bearer a sum of money at a future date or on demand. Most mortgages are made by investment banks, who then package many similar loans into a mortgage backed security and sell the securities. To convert the mortgages into stocks, each mortgage note must be destroyed. A mortgage and a stock certificate cannot exist at the same time. This creates a gap in the chain of title, and theoretically making the loan invalid. As a result, homeowners can fight foreclosure through a quiet title action and receive clear title. The current trend to argue a break in chain of title is weak, because a “plaintiff may recover only upon the strength of his or her own title, however, and not upon the weakness of the defendant’s title.” (Ernie v. Trinity Lutheran Church (1959) 51 Cal.2d 702, 706.)

A promissory note is usually secured by a deed of trust in the real property. The trust names the security owner as the beneficiary and a loan servicer as the trustee. A trust is a form of ownership in which the legal title of a property is vested in a trustee, who has equitable duties to hold and manage it for the benefit of the beneficiaries. (Restatement of Trusts, Second, §2 (1959).) The trustee under a valid trust deed has exclusive control over the trust property. Usually, the lender records a deed of trust with the county to secure the loan to the debtor. The deeds identify the trustee, and most often identify Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems (MERS) as the nominal beneficiary.

Challenges to MERS

MERS is a company created by the banking industry to bypass recording statutes and filing fees. MERS records who currently owns the notes on a mortgage. A foreclosure may be brought in the name of MERS, and the trustee may act on behalf of MERS to effectuate a non-judicial foreclosure. MERS may also directly initiate a foreclosure proceeding, and California’s “statutory scheme (§§ 2924–2924k) does not provide for a preemptive suit challenging standing.” (Robinson v. Countrywide Home Loans, Inc., (2011) 199 Cal. App. 4th 42, 46.)

The MERS system of foreclosure has been upheld in California based upon two rationales. First, courts have held that MERS, acting as the agent of the beneficial owner, does not need to prove authorization by the beneficiary to foreclose. (Gomes v. Countrywide Home Loans, Inc. (2011) 192 Cal.App.4th 1149, 55-56.) Second, contract law legitimizes the system, because recent deeds of trust require that the borrower agree that MERS can proceed with foreclosure in the event of default. (Id. at 1157.)

Procedural Requirements for Plaintiffs

California mortgagors must file in the Superior Court, which has the authority to grant the equitable relief of quieting title in an individual. (Cal. Code Civ. §760.040.) Once a party has filed the action, they must file a notice of pendency with the office of the county recorder. (Id. §762.010(b).) This notice puts all other parties who are claiming the party on notice that the plaintiff is claiming the land as his, and stops any transfers of the property during the lawsuit.

To survive a demurer, A plaintiff must file a verified complaint that includes: (1) A legal description and street address of the subject real property; (2) The title of plaintiff as to which determination is sought and the basis of the title; (3) The adverse claims to the title of the plaintiff against which a determination is sought; (4) The date as of which the determination is sought; and (5) A prayer for the determination of the title of the plaintiff against the adverse claims. It is highly likely that a claim merely alleging that the plaintiff has an interest in the land will not make it past a demurer. (See Mangindin v. Washington Mut. Bank, 637 F. Supp. 2d 700, 712 (N.D. Cal. 2009) (Dismissing claim merely alleging plaintiff had an interest in land foreclosed upon by bank).)

Tender Rule

A plaintiff seeking to quiet title in the face of a foreclosure must allege tender, which is “an unconditional offeror an offer of performance of their obligations under the Note, made in good faith, with the ability and willingness to perform.” The “Tender Rule” is derived from several cases involving disputes between junior and senior lienholders. (See Arnolds Mgmt. Corp. v. Eishen (1984) 158 Cal. App. 3d 575, 580; FPCI RE-HAB 01 v. E & G Investments, Ltd. (1989) 207 Cal.App.3d 1018, 1022.)

The policy behind the rule is that it would be a useless act to set aside a foreclosure sale based upon a procedural defect when a mortgage borrower cannot redeem the property in absence of that defect. (Karlsen v. American Sav. & Loan Assn. (1971) 15 Cal.App.3d 112, 118.) Some courts interpret the Tender Rule to only require that the mortgage borrower tender delinquent pre-foreclosure payments prior to any claim of quiet title. (Id. at 117; Ghervescu v. Wells Fargo Home Mortg., Inc., 2005 WL 6559918.)

Recently, defendants have successfully demurred to plaintiff’s complaints for quiet title for failure to allege valid tender. (Vasquez v. OneWest Bank, FSB (Cal. Ct. App., Nov. 4, 2011, B225624) 2011 WL 5248294; Dupree v. Merrill Lynch Mortg. Lending, Inc. (Cal. Ct. App., Oct. 24, 2011, B225150) 2011 WL 5142051 (Affirming demurrer and denial of leave to amend complaint).)

The Kramer opposition to the Attorney General order to show cause

30 Aug

A good read

Opposition of Defendant (AG)

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

The lawyer is not competend to testify

5 Oct

If the lawyer is not a competent witness with personal knowledge, then he should shut up and sit down.

So you sent a QWR and you know the loan is securitized. The orignating lender says talk to the servicer and the servicer declines to answer all the questions because they didn’t originate the loan. Or you are in court and the lawyer is trying to finesse his way past basic rules of evidence and due process by making representations to the Judge as an officer of the court.

He’s lying of course and if you let it go unchallenged, you will lose the case. Basically opposing counsel is saying “trust me Judge I wouldn’t say it if it wasn’t so.” And your answer is that the lawyer is not a witness, that you don’t trust the lawyer or what he has to say, that if he is a witness he should be sworn in and subject to cross examaintion and if he is not a witness you are entitled to be confronted with a real witness with real testimony based upon real knowledge.

First Questions: When did you first learn of this case? What personal knowledge do you have concerning the payments received from the homeowner or third parties? What personal knowledge do you have as to who providing the actual cash from which the subject loan was funded?

Only when pressed relentlessly by the homeowner, the servicer comes up with a more and more restrictive answer as to what role they play. But they always start with don’t worry about a thing we control everything. Not true. Then later after you thought you worked out a modification they tell the deal is off because the investor declined. The investor is and always was the lender. That is the bottom line and any representation to the contrary is a lie and a fraud upon the court.

So whoever you sent the QWR to, always disclaims your right to ask, or tells you the name of the investor (i.e., your lender) is confidential, or that they have authority (but they won’t show it to you). That doesn’t seem to be a lender, does it? In fact they disclaim even knowing enough to answer your questions.

So AFTER THEY SERVE YOU with something file a motion to compel an immediate full answer to your QWR since under TILA service on the servicer is the same as service on the lender. You argue that everyone seems to be claiming rights to be paid under the original obligation, everyone seems to be claiming the right to enforce the note and mortgage, but nobody is willing to state unequivocally that they are the lender.

You are stuck in the position of being unable to seek modification under federal and State rules, unable to sell the property because you don’t know who can sign a satisfaction of mortgage or a release and reconveyance, unable to do a short-sale, and unable to refinance — all because they won’t give a simple answer to a simple question: who is the lender and what is the balance claimed by the real lender on the obligation? At this point you don’t even know that any of the real lenders wish to make a claim.

This is probably because they received TARP funds and insurance proceeds on defaults of pools that they had purchased multiple insurance policies (credit default swaps). But whether they are paid by someone who acquired rights of subrogation or they were not paid, you have a right to a FULL accounting and to know who they are and whether they received any third party money. If they were paid in part or otherwise sold their interest, then you have multiple additional unknown parties.

The reason is simple. They are not the lender and they know it. The lender is a group of investors who funded the transaction with Petitioner/Homeowner and others who purchased similar financial products from the same group of participants in the securitization chain relating to the subject loan.

The people currently in court do not include all the real parties in interest for you to make claims against the lender. Cite to the Massachusetts case where Wells Fargo and its lawyer were subject to an $850,000 sanction for misrepresenting its status to the court.

It is not enough for them to bluff their way by saying that they have already answered the interrogatories. When they lost and it came time to allocate damages and attorneys fees, Wells suddenly said they were NOT the lender, beneficiary or current holder and that therefore the damages and attorneys fees should be assessed against the real lender — who was not a party to the pending litigation and whom they refused to disclose along with their misrepresentation that they were the true lender.

It is not enough that the lawyer makes a representation to the court as an officer of the court. That is not how evidence works. If the lawyer wants to represent facts, then he/she should be sworn in and be subject to (1) voir dire to establish that he/she is opposing counsel that it came from some company.

The witness must be a competent witness who takes an oath, has personal knowledge regarding the content of the document, states that personal knowledge and whose testimony conforms to what is on the document.

There is no such thing as foundation without a witness. There is no such thing as foundation without a competent witness. So if the lawyer tries to finesse the subject by making blanket representations to the court(e.g. the property is “underwater” by $xxx,xxx and we need a lift of stay…yet, there is no certified appraisal entered into evidence with a certified appraiser that can be cross examined…just a statement from opposing counsel) point to Wells, or even point to other inconsistencies between what counsel has represented and what now appears to be the truth, and demand an evidentiary hearing. If the lawyer is not a competent witness with personal knowledge, then he should shut up and sit down.

File a motion to extend time to file adversary proceeding(in BK situation), answer, affirmative defenses and counterclaim UNTIL YOU GET A FULL AND COMPLETE ANSWER TO YOUR QWR so you can determine the real parties in interest and serve them with process. Otherwise, we will have a partial result wherein the real owner of the loan can and will claim damages and injunctive relief probably against all the current parties to this action including the Homeowner.

In short, the opposing counsel cannot just make statements of “fact” and have them accepted by the court as “fact” if they don’t pass the sniff test of real evidence corroborated by a competent witness. …and with every pleading ask for an evidentiary hearing and attorneys fees. Follow rule 11 procedure in Federal Court or the state law counterpart so you can get them later.

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.