I’m told that MERS is doing briefings on Capitol Hill for Congressional staffers. This is usually kind of the first round of a pushback campaign. Though the issues surrounding MERS are well-known and have been litigated in state courts for a while, today they decided to respond to the many assaults on their business model. The CEO of MERS, R.K. Arnold (is that MERSCORP or MERS Inc., which has no employees?), delivered a statement today, meant to “clarify” questions about its operations. Let’s take a look.

MERS is one important component of the complex infrastructure of America’s housing finance system. Billions of dollars of mortgage money flow through the financial system every year. It takes many, often-unseen mechanical processes to properly get those funds into the hands of qualified homebuyers.

Technology designed to reduce paperwork has a very positive effect on families and communities. They may not see it, but these things save money and time, creating reliability and stability in the system. That’s important to keep the mortgage funds flowing to the consumers who need it.

Really, so MERS’ database has a “very positive effect on families and communities.” There’s nothing tangible here, just an assertion. The major effect of MERS’ database is to relieve mortgage servicers and financial institutions from recording fees. Conceivably that could trickle down to the consumer, but somehow I doubt it. This “need for speed” in the mortgage process has actually led to a housing bubble, crash, and record numbers of homes in foreclosure. I don’t think families and communities are feeling the benefit.

With millions of Americans facing foreclosure, every element of the housing finance system is under tremendous strain. What we’re seeing now is that the foreclosure process itself was not designed to withstand the extraordinary volume of foreclosures that the mortgage industry and local governments must now handle.

Can’t argue with that. But I can argue that this process becomes harder when a) servicers neglect their duty to provide meaningful alternatives to foreclosure, and b) the ability to clearly understand who owns a mortgage and who has standing to foreclose becomes confused because of a shell company that hands out Vice President assignments to anyone who wants them.

MERS helps the mortgage finance process work better. The MERS process of tracking mortgages and holding title provides clarity, transparency and efficiency to the housing finance system. We are committed to continually ensuring that everyone who has responsibilities in the mortgage and foreclosure process follows local and state laws, as well as our own training and rules.

As law professor Christopher Peterson said to me, “I wouldn’t call it tracking,” and I certainly wouldn’t say it provides clarity. Efficiency? Maybe, until some lawyers got wise to the corruption in the process.

MERS Communications Manager Karmela Lejarde adds a series of facts about MERS. She says that courts have ruled in favor of MERS’ legal interest as the mortgagee and the right to foreclose, looking past the fact that the state Supreme Courts have ruled against them in Kansas, Arkansas and Maine. They claim “other procedural defects” that swung those cases, not the underlying structure of MERS itself.

I’ll put the entire fact sheet below and you can judge for yourself, against what I’ve previously described. Ultimately, the courts will decide and they have not been nearly as friendly to MERS as they claim. One thing I’ll highlight:

MERS is the only comprehensive, publicly available source of the servicing and ownership of more than 64 million loans in the United States. If a homeowner needs to identify the servicer or investor of their loan, and it is registered in MERS, they can be helped through the MERS website or via toll-free number at 888-679-6377.

I’d say give them a call if you have any questions.


Facts about MERS

MERS does not authorize anyone to represent it in a foreclosure unless both the mortgage and the note are in MERS possession. In some cases where courts have found against MERS, those cases have hinged on other procedural defects or improper presentation of MERS’s legal interests and rights. Citations can be found at the end of this document.*

FACT: MERS does not create a defect in the mortgage or deed of trust

Claims that MERS disrupts or creates a defect in the mortgage or deed of trust are not supported by fact or legal precedents. This is often used as a tactic by lawyers to delay or prevent the foreclosure. The mortgage lien is granted to MERS by the borrower and the seller and that is what makes MERS the mortgagee. The role of mortgagee is legal and binding and confers to MERS certain legal rights and responsibilities.

FACT: The trail of ownership does not change because of MERS

MERS does not remove, omit, or otherwise fail to report land ownership information from public records. Parties are put on notice that MERS is the mortgagee and notifications by third parties can be sent to MERS. Mortgages and deeds of trust still get recorded in the land records.

The MERS System tracks the changes in servicing rights and beneficial ownership. No legal interests are transferred on the MERS System, including servicing and ownership. In fact, MERS is the only publicly available comprehensive source for note ownership.

While this information is tracked through the MERS System, the paperwork still exists to prove actual legal transfers still occurred. No mortgage ownership documents have disappeared because loans were registered on the MERS System. These documents exist now as they have before MERS was created. The only pieces of paper that have been eliminated are assignments between servicing companies because such assignments become unnecessary when MERS holds the mortgage lien for the owner of the note.

FACT: MERS did not cause mortgage securitization

MERS was created as a means to keep better track of the mortgage servicing and beneficial rights as loans were getting bought and sold at a high rate during the late 1990s.

At the height of the housing market, low interest rates prompted some homeowners to refinance once, twice, even three times in the space of months. Banks were originating loans at more than double their usual rate. Assignments – the document that names the holder of the legal title to the lien – primarily between servicing companies, were piling up in county land record offices, awaiting recording. Many times the loans were getting refinanced before the assignments could get recorded on the old loan. The delay prevented lien releases from getting recorded in a timely manner, leaving clouds on title.

MERS was created to provide clarity, transparency and efficiency by tracking the changes in servicing rights and beneficial ownership interests. It was not created to enable faster securitization. MERS is the only publicly available source of comprehensive information for the servicing and ownership of the more than 64 million loans registered on the system. The Mortgage Identification Number (MIN), created by MERS, is similar in function to a motor vehicle VIN, which keeps track of these loans. Without MERS the current mortgage crisis would be even worse.

FACT: Lenders cannot “hide” behind MERS

MERS is the only comprehensive, publicly available source of the servicing and ownership of more than 64 million loans in the United States. If a homeowner needs to identify the servicer or investor of their loan, and it is registered in MERS, they can be helped through the MERS website or via toll-free number at 888-679-6377.

FACT: MERS fully complies with recording statutes

The purpose of recording laws is to show that a lien exists, which protects the mortgagee and any bona fide purchasers. When MERS is the mortgagee, the mortgage or deed of trust is recorded, and all recording fees are paid.

*NOTABLE LEGAL VICTORIES:

a. IN RE Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems (MERS) Litigation, a multi-district litigation case in federal court in Arizona who issued a favorable opinion, stating that “The MERS System is not fraudulent, and MERS has not committed any fraud.”

b. IN RE Tucker (9/20/2010) where a Missouri bankruptcy judge found that the language of the deed of trust clearly authorizes MERS to act on behalf of the lender in serving as the legal title holder.

c. Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. v. Bellistri, 2010 WL 2720802 (E.D. Mo. 2010), where the court held that Bellistri’s failure to provide notice to MERS violated MERS’ constitutional due process rights.