Potential flaws in foreclosure documents are threatening to throw the real estate industry into a full-blown crisis, as Bank of America on Friday became the first bank to stop sales of foreclosed homes in all 50 states.
The move, along with another decision on foreclosures by PNC Financial Services Inc., adds to growing concerns that mortgage lenders have been evicting homeowners using flawed court papers.
Charlotte, N.C.-based Bank of America Corp., the nation’s largest bank, said Friday it would stop sales of foreclosed homes in all 50 states as it reviews documents used to process foreclosures. A week earlier, the company had said it would only stop such sales in the 23 states where foreclosures must be approved by a judge.
“We will stop foreclosure sales until our assessment has been satisfactorily completed,” company spokesman Dan Frahm said in a statement. “Our ongoing assessment shows the basis for our past foreclosure decisions is accurate.”
Bank of America did not disclose how many homeowners would be affected.
State and federal officials have been ramping up pressure on the mortgage industry over worries about potential legal violations amid growing evidence that mortgage company employees or their lawyers signed documents in foreclosure cases without verifying the information in them. Also Friday, Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn, the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, said he would hold a hearing on the issue next month.
“American families should not have to worry about losing their homes to sloppy bureaucratic mismanagement or fraud,” Dodd said. “Regulators at the federal, state, and local levels have a responsibility to uphold the law and protect consumers from unfair foreclosure, and lenders have a duty to not cut corners around the law.”
A document obtained last week by the Associated Press showed a Bank of America official acknowledging in a legal proceeding that she signed thousands of foreclosure documents a month and typically didn’t read them. The official, Renee Hertzler, said in a February deposition that she signed 7,000 to 8,000 foreclosure documents a month.
Earlier in the week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., urged five large mortgage lenders to suspend foreclosures in Nevada until they have set up systems to make sure homeowners aren’t “improperly directed into foreclosure proceedings.” Nevada is not among the states where banks had suspended foreclosures.
Also Friday, PNC Financial Services Group Inc. said it is halting most foreclosures and evictions in 23 states for a month so it can review whether documents it submitted to courts complied with state laws. An official at the Pittsburgh-based bank confirmed the decision on Friday, which was reported earlier by the New York Times. The official requested anonymity because the decision hasn’t been publicly announced.
PNC becomes the fourth major U.S. lender to halt some foreclosures amid evidence that mortgage company employees or their lawyers signed documents in foreclosure cases without verifying the information in them.
In addition to PNC and Bank of America, Ally Financial’s GMAC Mortgage unit and JPMorgan Chase & Co. have announced similar moves in the past two weeks.
In some states, lenders can foreclose quickly on delinquent mortgage borrowers. By contrast, the 23 states use a lengthy court process. They require documents to verify information on the mortgage, including who owns it.
Real estate insider Mark Gillman says the halt is another indication that the foreclosure process is a mess.
“I can’t tell you how many people I know, that have had their homes foreclosed upon, and they’ve lived in them for two years without paying rent before finally someone got around to taking care of the homes. In other cases we’ve got people who are being thrown out of their homes without any review or any documentation, just because it’s been a blanket assessment on a group of homes without individual feelings, thoughts, and financial statements being validated,” he said.
Gillman also worries that Bank of America’s foreclosure halt will lead to bigger problems down the road, because when they inevitably reengage the process, many foreclosed homes could be dumped on the market at once. This would cause further erosion in home values – something that the housing market, especially in Metro Detroit, would hardly be able to handle.
(Copyright 2010 WWJ 950 report contributed to by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)