Thankfully, most people got the RealtyTrac data on foreclosures in the first quarter of 2012, which showed the lowest amount of filings since the beginning of the recession, mostly right. We had a settlement on foreclosure fraud that just got approved by a federal judge last Friday, after the end of the first quarter. So we won’t know the impact of that yet. What the foreclosure data in the first quarter show is that the backlog in many states, mostly due to document issues, continued. With the government clearly signaling that they will not meaningfully sanction banks for their conduct, banks can feel free to start to push out more foreclosure filings. And they are. This same RealtyTrac data shows that judicial foreclosure states, where the integrity of the documents is most acute, experienced a spike in foreclosure filings over these three months. The non-judicial foreclosure states have seen falling filings, perhaps correlated to the falling unemployment rate, perhaps correlated to not much. The full effect of the settlement has yet to be seen.
To the extent that the foreclosure flood will be stopped, it will be due to a few intelligent policymakers in the states making it harder to foreclose without a legal process in place. We’ve seen foreclosure filings vanish in New York and Nevada simply because of laws and ordinances that make the entity foreclosing have to prove ownership or face criminal sanction for false documents. Now other states and cities are catching on. In San Francisco, where Recorder-Assessor Phil Ting found widespread document fraud among foreclosure filings, the City Council unanimously passed a resolution for a foreclosure moratorium:
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday calling on banks to halt foreclosure activities.
Supervisor John Avalos introduced the resolution last month calling for a moratorium on home foreclosures and related evictions and auctions.
“The foreclosure crisis has already devastated so many lives,” Avalos said in a statement issued after the resolution’s victory. “This resolution is an important step to support solutions to prevent millions of Americans from losing their homes.”
The resolution aims to protect homeowners from unlawful foreclosures until state and federal protections are developed.
Avalos himself is $100,000 underwater on his mortgage. California is trying to pass some of those aforementioned protections at the state level, and the Courage Campaign is doing some great work spotlighting those bank-friendly legislators who are trying to block them.
In Oregon, Governor John Kitzhaber signed an anti-foreclosure bill into law, which mandates a mediation program and also forces banks to end dual track:
Senate Bill 1552 creates a foreclosure mediation program and requires banks to meet with borrowers who elect to participate. It also outlaws lenders’ practice of initiating foreclosure proceedings while simultaneously negotiating for a possible loan modification.
This doesn’t criminalize foreclosure fraud, but it does create an additional step before banks can move to foreclosure. Properly created mediation programs have had decent success across the country.
In Florida, citizens are taking action against the lawyers ripping them off in state courts:
The Florida Bar has fielded nearly 1,400 complaints against attorneys relating to the housing crisis, an unprecedented amount that has buried investigators and forced the group to rethink how it will handle widespread grievances in the future.
Beginning in the fall of 2010, as foreclosures receded because of robo-signing revelations, a wave of consumer complaints alleging attorney misconduct began to hit the Bar.
The complaint categories – mortgage fraud, foreclosure fraud, loan modification misconduct – didn’t even exist three years ago, said Ken Marvin, director of lawyer regulation for the Florida Bar.
His first recorded loan modification complaint was in November 2010. Today, 793 cases have been opened.
Sadly, most of these actions are pending and punitive action has not yet been taken. But that clearly hasn’t stopped the flood of complaints. And citizens in Florida are also challenging power for positions in public office, where they would take the lead in enforcement.
None of these activities represent a silver bullet. But they do represent a far better chance to restore integrity and accountability to the land recording system and private property rights in America than waiting on the feds to fix it.