Elizabeth Warren was asked about the foreclosure fraud scandal, and she agrees with me – the 50 state AGs have the best path to getting a legitimate solution to the problem for their constituents.
Do you support a nationwide foreclosure moratorium?
Right now my money is on the attorneys general [who have launched a joint investigation in all 50 states]. Foreclosure rules differ from state to state, and they are in the best position to determine who has and who has not followed the law.
Do you think some consumers might be surprised that you are not advocating a broader pause on foreclosures while bank paperwork problems are being worked out?
This agency will not veer from its support of American families, whether it’s in the foreclosure crisis or elsewhere. But no one would want this agency … to act before it had collected all of the necessary data and thought through the options. The attorneys general are moving fast, and at this moment, I think that’s the right response …with emphasis on “at this moment.”
Some may be disappointed in Warren not affirmatively calling for a moratorium. Actually, I am too. But I think there’s a sense in a consumer advocacy community that the AGs just have a better handle on this “at this moment.” You have a CFPB in its embryonic stages, and it’s questionable whether they have the capability to shut down foreclosures right now. Maybe in the future. But the Attorneys General certainly have the jurisdiction, and their investigation into servicer practices is simply the best chance we have right now.
Which is why I continue to think it’s so important who wins those Attorneys General races across the country next week. The emphasis and the goals of the investigation will change depending on who leads it. You can have someone more concerned with higher office who wants to hold a press conference about this, or you can have someone concerned with getting results for consumers, lasting results in the form of mass loan modifications with principal reductions. Look at what’s going on in Massachusetts right now, as an example:
A law firm with connections to the attorney at the center of a Florida foreclosure scandal is under investigation by the Massachusetts attorney general’s office for unlawfully evicting tenants of bank-owned properties.
The investigation came to light on Monday, when Harmon Law Offices in Newton, Mass. responded in state court to a demand by investigators in Martha Coakley’s office to produce documents related to several foreclosures.
The firm, led by Mark P. Harmon, represents banks in foreclosure proceedings against homeowners. That includes serving eviction notices to tenants living in foreclosed homes. A Massachusetts law that makes it more difficult for a bank to evict a tenant for the purposes of marketing and selling a home took effect on August 7, 2010. The Dodd-Frank law also extends additional protections to tenants of foreclosed homes.
There’s a real difference here. Contrast that with how Republican Bill McCollum is slow-walking the investigation into foreclosure mills in Florida. He launched the investigation when he was in the middle of his GOP primary for Governor, and after he lost, the foreclosure mills seem to be on the verge of slipping away.
It’s all well and good for Warren to say that the AG investigation is the biggest challenge to the banks right now – I agree – but the identity of those AGs makes a difference, and this time next week they could be radically different. AGs can absolutely get serious judgments if they choose to – they can also create nothing but PR. Warren also asserts that this problem would not be where it is with a consumer agency in place. That’s true too – the subprime mortgage products would have been disallowed. But you have to deal with the world as it is. The CFPB is ramping up – eventually it has to get into this game.