Foreclosure has oft-unforeseen risk: Lawsuits from Lenders

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – June 3, 2010 – Before Larry Thomas unloaded his Pompano Beach, Fla., home last fall for a fraction of what he paid, he cut a deal that will keep him from worrying about a huge debt hanging over his head.

Thomas insisted that his lender, American Home Mortgage Servicing, agree not to come after him for the estimated $174,000 he still owed on his two mortgages. “I feel incredible relief,” the 32-year-old restaurant manager said last week. DinSFLA: (Note) The name of the “LENDER”… is actually the “SERVICER”. This is not good as they are NOT the “OWNER or the HOLDER” of this loan!!

Others may not be as fortunate.

Lenders will file a tidal wave of lawsuits against homeowners in the next few years as a way to recoup losses when home sales or foreclosure auctions don’t result in enough money to pay the mortgages in full, real estate and legal analysts say.

“It will be a dramatic problem because the borrowers will not know it’s coming,” said Frank Alexander, a law professor at Emory University in Atlanta.

Laws vary from state to state. In Florida, banks have five years from the date of the sale to file for so-called deficiency judgments and up to 20 years to collect. Lenders can garnish wages or make claims on borrowers’ assets.

Before the housing meltdown, few lenders filed these lawsuits. Foreclosures and short sales – selling for less than the mortgage amount – were relatively rare at the time, and many of the homeowners didn’t have sufficient assets to make it worth the banks’ time and expense.

But following the heady days of the housing boom that spawned millionaire investors seemingly overnight, it’s not uncommon for borrowers to default on mortgages while still holding lucrative investments.

As the next wave of the housing crisis plays out, those most in danger of getting slapped with lawsuits include angry homeowners who ransack properties they’re losing in foreclosure and borrowers who walk away from “underwater” mortgages. In both cases, analysts say, banks will want to discourage other people from such behavior.

More than four in 10 homeowners said they would consider abandoning properties that are underwater, or worth less than the mortgages, according to a national online survey released last week by real estate firms Trulia and RealtyTrac.

Mortgage companies typically won’t sue homeowners who negotiate in good faith or those who default on their loans because of job losses or other unforeseen circumstances, said Anthony Manno, an executive with Steelbridge Real Estate Services. The Miami-based company works with lenders on the resale of foreclosed homes.

Still, borrowers shouldn’t rely on a lender’s verbal commitment, Manno said. “Get something in writing.”

Critics insist that spite will play a role in some of these lawsuits. Lenders deny it.

“We certainly would not do that,” said Russell Greene, president of Grand Bank & Trust of Florida in West Palm Beach. “It’s a business decision – not an emotional decision. It’s very time-consuming to take someone to court.”

Even if lenders don’t pursue the judgments, they could sell mortgage debt to collection agencies at deep discounts. And it will be those debt collectors that will hound borrowers, said Shari Olefson, a Fort Lauderdale real estate lawyer.

“They paid money to be able to hassle you,” she said.

Thomas, the former Pompano Beach homeowner, said he didn’t have money for a downpayment but was approved for 100 percent financing on two loans in spring 2006. He bought a three-bedroom home for $245,000.

Thomas said he soon became responsible for the entire mortgage after his roommate lost his job. That became even more difficult after Thomas took a pay cut.

So he attempted a short sale, eventually finding plenty of prospective buyers interested in a property that had plummeted nearly 70 percent in value. He and American Home Mortgage accepted one offer for $80,000. After closing costs, the lender netted about $71,000, said his Fort Lauderdale lawyer, Joe Kohn.

But before the sale closed, Kohn had American Home Mortgage waive its right to collect on the remaining mortgage debt.

Christine Sullivan, a spokeswoman for the lender, wrote in an e-mail that she can’t discuss Thomas’ case because of privacy issues. But when homeowners seeking short sales demonstrate legitimate hardship, “we provide a full release of liability, and we do not pursue deficiency judgments.”

Some banks say they won’t file a lawsuit, though they aren’t willing to put that in writing, Kohn said.

“I have no choice but to accept that,” he said. “Even when you play by the rules, banks don’t always do what we’d like.”

Under new government guidelines for short sales that took effect this spring, lenders aren’t supposed to hold homeowners responsible for any remaining mortgage debt. But not all short sales fall under the guidelines, while some lenders choose not to implement them, Kohn said.

A forgiven mortgage balance through 2012 is not considered taxable income on a primary residence as long as the debt was used to buy or improve the house. But borrowers who walk away from investment properties risk having to pay federal income taxes on the forgiven amount.

Homeowners who hand their properties back to the bank through so-called deeds in lieu of foreclosure also should make sure they won’t be on the hook for any mortgage debt.

With friends facing deficiency judgments, Thomas said he’s grateful he sought legal advice on how to avoid a lawsuit. He now rents a home west of Boca Raton, but he just found out the owner is in foreclosure.

“I’ve escaped my own problem, only to inherit someone else’s,” Thomas said. “But this is nothing. It’s just a matter of picking up the pieces and moving on to the next rental.”

© 2010 Sun Sentinel, Paul Owers. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune News Service.

Produce the Note and Deficiency Judgments

Some Magically Produce Some Not!

Via: Foreclosure Industry

May 6, 2010 by christine

In speaking with Michael Hirschtick yesterday, he raised a very interesting point that I don’t think a lot of people realize: that enforcement of the Note and foreclosing on the Mortgage are two separate things.

I’ll say that again.

There are two parts to a home loan: the Mortgage and the Note. They are two separate and distinct things. A Mortgage (or Deed of Trust) is basically the instructions on what to do if a borrower defaults on a loan; the Note gives them the right to collect money.

The lender can foreclose on the Mortgage or Deed of Trust and take the home, but pursuing a deficiency judgment is a separate issue entirely. It requires them to demonstrate they are entitled to enforce the Note to collect the deficiency. This means that the Note must have the chain of assignment or an allonge showing how it got to them.

Another example is in a bankruptcy case where the debt is discharged but the lien remains. If you get through a bankruptcy and are no longer responsible for the debt, that doesn’t mean the lien is gone. The bank can still foreclose on the property or repossess the car.

As a side note, this is why bankruptcy is so effective at beating the bank. The bank tries to get a Motion to Lift Stay, you or your lawyer objects. You raise all the issues relating to standing, real party in interest, etc. The bank can’t take the house unless the court says it’s OK, and bankruptcy judges are increasingly siding with homeowners.

Last week I read Neil Garfield’s post about the Bellistri v. Ocwen Loan Servicing case in Missouri.

It took me awhile to figure out what he was getting at, but I think he was making the same point as Michael. The Bellistri case is here if you want to read it. The light finally went on for me and I got it, and my guess is that a lot of other people will get it when they read this post.

Bellistri wasn’t a homeowner, but I agree with Garfield in saying that the case may help homeowners. Bellistri’s lawyer successfully argued that the Note and Mortgage were split because MERS’ name appeared on the Note but not the Deed of Trust at the time of origination, and therefore, MERS doesn’t have any right to assign the Deed of Trust to Ocwen.

As Garfield says, “factually, the note and DOT are split and according to the Restatement 3rd (of the UCC,) they can never be put back together again.

Thus, this argument would seem to apply to deficiencies as well. If a bank wants to enforce the Note and collect a deficiency judgment, they have to demonstrate that they have the right to enforce the Note. Awhile ago I wrote a post about deficiency judgments, and while I still think they are going to be a problem for some people (especially if you don’t fight back), I doubt as many people will be responsible for deficiencies if the bank can’t prove it has the right to enforce the Note.

Additionally, I think a good short sale negotiator would realize this with respect to getting a bank to waive a deficiency as part of the deal. As a homeowner, I personally wouldn’t agree to pay a deficiency as part of a short sale deal unless the bank proves it has the right to collect one.

If you’re in a judicial foreclosure state that allows deficiencies, such as in Jane’s case, and all of the sudden, the bank’s lawyers are waiving the deficiency, it could be because they cannot produce the Note. Look at the clues…did they attach an assignment and not the Note to the original complaint? This could be a signal that they don’t have the Note. In some states the bank isn’t required to be in possession of the Note to begin foreclosure proceedings, but if you defend yourself and they are all of the sudden waiving the deficiency, it could mean they don’t have the original Note.

Here’s another reason to fight back: let’s say you don’t care about the house for whatever reason, but you’re concerned about the deficiency. If you fight long enough, the bank may just agree to waive the deficiency if you let them foreclose on it. For example, in Jane’s case, the bank originally requested a deficiency judgment but mysteriously agreed to waive the deficiency in a later pleading. This was AFTER she raised the issue of the enforcement of the Note. So, in some cases, it makes sense to fight back because of the deficiency, even when you don’t care about the property.

Look closely….are there similar clues in your situation? If you’re not sure, get a loan audit from someone who can help you figure it out.

Related Story: new-mers-standing-case-splits-note-and-mortgage-bellistri-v-ocwen-loan-servicing-mo-app-20100309