Imperium Watch: Blowback for Banks

An anti-foreclosure ordinance passed last year by the Springfield City Council has survived a challenge by banks and by the Massachusetts Bankers Association (“Court Lets Anti-Foreclosure Rules Stand,” July 12, 2012).

The passage of the ordinance, which was upheld by a federal court in Springfield two weeks ago, is a tribute to the efforts of grass-roots activists, in particular the group Springfield No One Leaves/Nadie Se Mude.

One part of the measure resembles an ordinance passed in Worcester in 2009 that required banks to notify the city and post a bond of $5,000 whenever they planned to foreclose on a property. But the Springfield ordinance goes farther: it requires a $10,000 bond, and mandates that lenders enter into city-sponsored mediation with homeowners who can afford market-rate mortgages, or were foreclosed on improperly.

That requirement is particularly important because, unlike some other states, Massachusetts requires no court action before a lender can foreclose.

More farreaching anti-foreclosure laws are being passed at the state level in other parts of the country. Since last fall, it’s been a felony in Nevada to use phony signatures or other kinds of falsifications on foreclosure documents; reportedly, the foreclosure machine has been moving much more slowly since that law was passed.

And a new California law gives homeowners unprecedented protections. It makes California the first state to outlaw so-called “dual-tracking,” which places clients in negotiations to make their mortgages more affordable at the very same time their lender is moving to foreclose on their properties. From now on, lenders must assign mortgagors one representative, so they won’t be given conflicting information.

California’s new legislation (which only applies to owner-occupied residential properties with four or fewer units) also outlaws fraudulent practices such as “robo-signing”—the signing of mortgage and foreclosure documents with false names by people who are not officials of the bank or other lender.

And the National Conference of State Legislatures says that half the states in the U.S. are looking to alter their legislation to make foreclosure more difficult. According to the Wall Street Journal, that’s the very thing the nation’s five largest lenders hoped to ward off last February, when they paid $25 billion to settle with the government after it had accused them of lending abuses.

Author: Stephanie Kraft and Patrick Kelley

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