Home buyers qualify for FHA loan despite short sale or foreclosure

Eli Younes of Viking Mortgage in Pembroke Pines
Eli Younes of Viking Mortgage in Pembroke Pines

Mortgage borrowers may now qualify for an FHA mortgage under new guidelines established by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), according to Eli Younes of Viking Realty Group in Pembroke Pines on Tuesday.

As a result of the housing collapse, many homeowners experienced a serious reduction in income or lost their jobs due to the crumbling economy.   Some mortgage borrowers were forced to file bankruptcy or short sale their home to avoid foreclosure.  

Others were not so lucky and lost their home on the courthouse steps.

The new HUD rules allow borrowers whose credit was damaged due to a temporary loss of employment or income to qualify for an FHA mortgage if they have substantially recovered from that situation and maintained a positive credit history for at least 12 months.

Borrowers who recently experienced a bankruptcy, foreclosure, short-sale, loan delinquencies, deed-in-lieu, debt collections or other situation negatively impacting their FICO credit score may now be able to qualify for an FHA loan.

Recognizing that any number of events may have impacted a borrowers’ credit rating, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) believes that such catastrophic event does not mean they are not financially stable or unable to make a mortgage payment.  

As such, the previous 3-year waiting period required by the FHA on financing a new home has been revised.

“Referred to as the ‘Back to Work’ initiative, this program is designed for borrowers who lost their home through foreclosure, short sale, bankruptcy or deed in lieu and also suffered a 20% or more loss in household income,” Eli Younes of Viking Mortgage told Examiner.  “As with most FHA loans, this program only requires a 3.5% down payment and is applicable for all purchase loans other than the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage.”

In order to qualify for a mortgage under the “Back to Work” initiative, there are several steps that must be taken to prove an “Economic Event” that was beyond the borrower’s control.

Employment Requirements:

The lender must verify that the borrower lost at least 20% or more in household income – or became unemployed – for a period of six months prior to the foreclosure, short-sale, or deed-in-lieu.  To verify loss of income, the lender must request a written Verification of Employment to show the termination date or loss of income, receipt of unemployment compensation, or signed W-2’s and tax returns detailing the reduction in earnings.

To demonstrate a loss of income for part-time or seasonal employment, the borrower must prove a 2-year history in the same field prior to loss of employment.  Borrowers will also be required to prove that they have fully recovered from their hardship, increased earnings and have maintained other credit obligations for a period of 12 months following foreclosure, short sale, bankruptcy or deed in lieu.

Credit Requirements:

When evaluating a borrower for the “Back to Work” initiative following a foreclosure, the lender may deem the borrower eligible if:

1.)  The borrower’s credit report is free of any late housing payments within the last 12 months;

2.)  All other mortgage accounts must be current for the last 12 months, even if the loan was previously modified to avoid a foreclosure action;

3.)  The borrower’s credit report contains no more than a single 30-day delinquency on payments due other creditors; and

4.)  The borrower’s credit report contains no current collection accounts or public records.  This condition may be waived in instances of identity theft or borrower’s with medical collections.

Bankruptcy Filings:

1.)  Chapter 7 Bankruptcy:  One year must have elapsed since the bankruptcy discharge.  Proof must also be shown that the bankruptcy filing was the result of an “Economic Event” covered within the FHA program guidelines.

2.)  Chapter 13 Bankruptcy: Most lenders will require that the bankruptcy filing be discharged with all payments required under the agreement having been made on time.  For borrowers currently in bankruptcy, written approval from the court allowing them to enter a new mortgage contract is required.

Housing Counseling Requirement:

For purposes of establishing satisfactory credit following an “Economic Event,” mortgage borrowers’ under the “Back to Work” initiative must:

1.)  Receive homeownership counseling or a combination of homeownership education and counseling, at a minimum, one hour of one-on-one counseling from HUD-approved housing counseling agencies, as defined at 24 C.F.R. §214.100; and

2.)  Be completed a minimum of thirty (30) days but no more than six (6) months prior to submitting a loan application to a lender, as application is defined in Regulation X, implementing the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, 24 C.F.R. §3500.2(b).

The housing education may be provided by HUD-approved housing counseling agencies, state housing finance agencies, approved intermediaries or their sub-grantees, or through an online course.  It may be conducted in person, via telephone, via internet, or other methods approved by HUD, and mutually agreed upon by the borrower and housing counseling agency.

Rules for Renters:

Under certain circumstances, renters may qualify under the “Back to Work” initiative.  For purposes of establishing satisfactory credit, mortgage borrowers must:

1.)  The borrower’s credit report is free of any late rental payments within the last 12 months;

2.)  The borrower’s credit report contains no more than a single 30-day delinquency on payments due other creditors; and

3.)  The borrower’s credit report contains no current collection accounts or public records.  This condition may be waived in instances of identity theft or borrower’s with medical collections.

A foreclosure, short-sale, Chapter 13 bankruptcy or deed-in-lieu will continue to plague a borrower’s credit report at the Equifax, Experian and TransUnion consumer reporting agencies for a period of seven years.  A discharged Chapter 7 bankruptcy will remain on the credit report for a period of ten years.

“With the housing crash, many homeowners experienced unemployment or depreciated home values and for one reason or another were not able to make their mortgage payments,” Carlos J. Reyes, a foreclosure defense attorney with the Reyes Law Group in Fort Lauderdale, told Examiner.  “The recent changes in the FHA guidelines have finally recognized the financial hardship faced by many borrowers and is allowing them to once again reach for the American Dream through homeownership.”

The new guidelines are in effect immediately and will be in force through at least September, 2016.


As a nationally recognized credit repair and ID theft expert, Bill Lewis is principal of William E. Lewis Jr. & Associates, a solutions based professional consulting firm specializing in the discriminating individual, business or governmental entity.

Mortgage foreclosure settlement reached


Ten major mortgage servicers including Bank of AmericaJP Morgan ChaseCitigroup and Wells Fargo entered into a $8.5 billion settlement Monday with federal regulators to settle claims related to mortgage foreclosure abuses.

Under the terms of the settlement with the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), $3.3 billion will be paid by banks directly to eligible mortgage borrowers.  Over $5.2 billion in other assistance – such as loan modifications and forgiveness of deficiency judgments – will also be available.

The agreement covers 3.8 million borrowers whose homes were in foreclosure in 2009 and 2010 with participating servicers.

The other lenders participating in the settlement are AuroraMetLife BankPNCSovereign BankSunTrust and U.S. Bank.

By agreeing to the settlement, participating lenders can cease the Independent Foreclosure Review process mandated under an enforcement action entered in April 2011.

Regulators had determined that the foreclosure review process – which involved a case-by-case review of millions of loan files – was proving too expensive, time consuming and ineffective.

“When we began the Independent Foreclosure Review, the OCC pledged to fix what was broken, identify who was harmed, and compensate them for that injury,” Chief Thomas Curry of the OCC stated in a written release.  “While today’s announcement represents a significant change in direction, it meets those original objectives by ensuring that consumers are the ones who will benefit, and that they will benefit more quickly and in a more direct manner.”

Monday’s deal follows a separate $26 billion mortgage settlement entered early last year in relation to the “robo-signing” scandal.

Only $1.5 billion of that settlement was in the form of direct cash relief to 750,000 borrowers.

Eligible borrowers under the latest settlement will receive compensation whether or not they filed a request for an independent foreclosure review and mortgage borrowers do not need to take further action to be eligible for compensation.

Borrowers are expected to be contacted by the end of March with specific payment details. They will not be required to execute a waiver of any legal claims that may exist against their servicer as a condition for receiving payment.

In addition, the servicers’ internal complaint process will remain available to borrowers.

“We have learned a great deal from the reviews that have been conducted to date. However, it has become clear that carrying the process through to its conclusion would divert money away from the impacted homeowners and also needlessly delay the dispensation of compensation to affected borrowers. Our new course of action will get more money to more people more quickly, and it will speed recovery in the nation’s housing markets,” Curry concluded.

Mortgage foreclosure relief available for distressed homeowners


I recently reported on important relief available to homeowners facing foreclosure, paying more than their house is worth or those who have been foreclosed upon and lost their home.

As crucial deadlines are fast approaching, I am providing an updated summary of assistance available for struggling homeowners and other victims of unfair lending practices — and what you need to do to access it.

Remember, these programs matter but unless you take advantage of them, help is not available. A proactive approach is required.

Thousands of Floridians qualify for help. Below is a list of settlements and reviews that were created to help struggling borrowers. In some cases, application deadlines are coming up. If you miss the deadline, you will not qualify for relief.

Independent Foreclosure Review vs. National Mortgage Settlement:

If you believe your home mortgage foreclosure was conducted unfairly or mistakes were made, relief is available in several forms:

Independent Foreclosure Review

In April 2011, the Federal Reserve Board and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency took action against over 20 large mortgage servicers. If your primary home was involved in a foreclosure between January 1, 2009 and December 31, 2010, you may qualify for a free independent foreclosure review.

Independent fact-checkers will determine whether you were harmed by mortgage foreclosure errors or other problems and should be paid to make up for that harm. Borrowers seeking a review must apply by December 31, 2012.

Help with the form and answers to questions about the process are available on the Independent Foreclosure Review website or by calling 888-952-9105.

The following mortgage servicers are participating in the Independent Foreclosure Review process:

“Homeowners who believe they were wrongfully injured by a foreclosure error in 2009 and 2010, should request a review,” stated Bryan Hubbard, an Office of the Comptroller of the Currency spokesman. “They give up no rights by requesting a review.”

In effort to assist with the application process, the Federal Reserve has put together a short “Independent Foreclosure Review PSA” video. The video provides program details in English and in Spanish.

For in-depth information on how to spread the word to your local area, please visit the community partner toolkit.

National Mortgage Settlement

Last February, the U.S. Department of Justice and 49 state attorneys general announced a $25 billion settlement with five major banks over so-called “robo-signing,” in which foreclosure documents were signed without properly verifying their accuracy.

While not a perfect deal, the settlement offers meaningful relief for some homeowners in the form of principal or interest reductions, in addition to other relief.

The National Mortgage Settlement administrator recently mailed Notice Letters and Claim Forms to those borrowers who lost their home due to foreclosure between January 1, 2008 and December 31, 2011 whose loans were serviced by one of the five servicers: Ally/GMACBank of AmericaCitiJPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo.

Impacted homeowners can now submit their claim form online. The deadline to file is January 18, 2013.

If you think you may be eligible, you can contact your bank directly for additional information:

Ally/GMAC: 800-766-4622

Bank of America: 877-488-7814 (Available M-F 7 a.m. – 9 p.m. and Saturdays 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Central Time.)

Citi: 866-272-4749

JPMorgan Chase: 866-372-6901

Wells Fargo: 800-288-3212 (Available M-F 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. Central Time)

For more information, please visit the National Mortgage Settlement website or call them at 888-995-HOPE (4673).

To learn whether your loan is owned by either Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, visit their website and complete the convenient online form for an instant determination.

“Whether it be through the Independent Foreclosure Review or the National Foreclosure Settlement, homeowners faced with a foreclosure should take advantage of this review,” stated Fort Lauderdale foreclosure defense attorney Carlos Reyes. “The process is free and totally without fee. Don’t let someone charge you for completing an application that you can complete yourself online in less than 30 minutes.”

Time running out for a free mortgage foreclosure review


Were you involved in a mortgage foreclosure action in 2009 or 2010? If so, you may be eligible for relief through a widely ignored governmental program targeting homeowners that have lost the place they call home.

According to RealtyTrac, there were 26,412 Florida homes in some stage of foreclosure in May. That included 14,768 new filings, an 83 percent increase over last year.

Last year, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, and the Office of Thrift Supervision announced enforcement action against 14 large residential mortgage servicers and two third-party vendors for unsafe and unsound practices related to residential mortgage servicing and foreclosure processing.

Among the sanctions received by mortgage servicers was an obligation to independently review problematic foreclosures. In an effort to reach as many Americans as possible, the government has extended the “Independent Foreclosure Review” program through September 30.

Homeowners who lost their home to foreclosure are not eligible to have it returned but may be eligible for a cash payment of up to $2,000. Affected homeowners may also be eligible to have most, if not all, of any deficiency balance waived.

There were more that 6.6 million foreclosures nationwide between Jan. 1, 2009, and Dec. 31, 2010, according to RealtyTrac. A consulting firm acting on this information and on behalf of federal bank regulators mailed almost 4.4 million letters to homeowners who may be eligible to have their foreclosures reviewed for mistakes.

Thousands of Floridians have been deemed eligible for an Independent Foreclosure Review, but have yet to make an application for relief under the program. 

The three-month extension provides not only the 14 sanctioned mortgage servicers who may have harmed homeowners more time to notify them of the federal enforcement action, but also the 13 additional mortgage servicers — who joined the program in an effort to identify impacted borrowers — an opportunity for independent foreclosure review as well.

So far, the response has been extremely disappointing.

As of May 31, the independent consultants have received 193,630 requests for review. The servicers themselves, through their own sampling, selected an additional 144,817 cases, for a total of 338,447.

Although the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency believes the number of applications will dramatically increase by the end of July, just 7.7 percent of the estimated 4.4 million homeowners believed eligible have applied for review.

“If a homeowner believes they were wrongfully injured by a foreclosure error in 2009 and 2010, they should request a review,” stated Bryan Hubbard, a spokesman for the OCC. “They give up no rights by requesting a review.”

To be eligible for relief, affected mortgages must have been for a homeowner’s primary residence and in active foreclosure between Jan. 1, 2009, and Dec. 31, 2010.

The following mortgage servicers are participating in the Independent Foreclosure Review process:

America’s Servicing Company , Aurora Loan Services, BAC Home Loans Servicing, Bank of America, Beneficial, Chase, Citibank, CitiFinancial, CitiMortgage, Countrywide, EMC, EverBank/EverHome Mortgage Company, Financial Freedom, GMAC Mortgage, HFC, HSBC, IndyMac Mortgage Services, MetLife Bank, National City Mortgage, PNC Mortgage, Sovereign Bank, SunTrust Mortgage, U.S. Bank, Wachovia, Washington Mutual, Wells Fargo and Wilshire Credit Corporation.

The Independent Foreclosure Review should not be confused with the $25 billion national mortgage settlement recently negotiated between most of the states’ attorneys general and the big five mortgage servicers: Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase, Citibank, Wells Fargo and Ally Financial (formerly GMAC). Every state in the nation but Oklahoma is participating.

According to the government-mandated oversight website IndependentForeclosureReview.com, some primary examples of mortgage servicer mistakes that may have resulted in financial injury are:

— The mortgage balance was overstated or miscalculated at the time of foreclosure

— Foreclosure proceedings were initiated despite the fact that the homeowner was in bankruptcy, waiting to hear about a request for mortgage modification or abiding by terms of a mortgage modification

— The foreclosure proceedings coincided with active military service.

The Independent Foreclosure Review process is free and can be completed online at www.independentforeclosurereview.com or through the mail. Applications must be processed by September 30 to be eligible for review.

Homeowners in need of assistance should call 888-952-9105. In an effort to assist with the application process, the Federal Reserve has put together a short “Independent Foreclosure Review PSA” video. The video provides program details in English and in Spanish.

Foreclosures nationwide rose to over 200,000 for the first time in two months.  Georgia has the highest rate of foreclosures in the country with one in every 300 housing units, followed by Arizona, Nevada, California, Illinois and Florida.

 “Homeowners faced with a foreclosure in 2009 or 2010 should take advantage of this review,” stated Fort Lauderdale foreclosure defense attorney Carlos Reyes. “The process is free and totally without fee. Don’t let someone charge you for completing an application you can complete online in less than 30 minutes.”

To review Bill Lewis’ entire consumer protection series, visit www.williamlewis.us.

William E. Lewis Jr. & Associates is a solutions based professional consulting firm specializing in the discriminating individual, business or governmental entity. To learn more, tune into “The Credit Report with Bill Lewis,” a daily forum for business and financial news, politics, economic trends, and cutting edge issues on AM 740 WSBR.

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Foreclosure Fraud Case Settled at the Florida Supreme Court

In a matter of “great public importance” that has gone largely ignored this week, the high-profile foreclosure fraud case of Roman Pino versus The Bank of New York has been settled.  According to the Florida Supreme Court, the matter was dismissed upon Pino’s “Notice –Dismiss (Voluntary Stipulation)” on July 25th.

The opportunity for a precedent setting opinion for attorney Thomas Ice, of Ice Legal, whose boutique litigation firm specializes in uncovering forged and fraudulent foreclosure documents, must mean outright success for Pino. 

Although details of the settlement were not provided in the brief stipulation before the high court, one can only speculate whether Pino received a mortgage modification, principal reduction, right to short-sale, waiver of deficiency balance, or his home free and clear. 

One thing is clear, though.  Any settlement agreement between the parties would contain a confidentiality agreement.

Neither Ice, nor Enrique Nieves – Pino’s attorney of record – were available for comment despite several messages left at Ice Legal and on their cell phone voicemail.

An appeals court in February requested that the Florida Supreme Court consider the case of Greenacres homeowner Roman Pino as a matter of “great public importance.” The decision by the 4th District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach was unusual as neither the bank nor the homeowner had requested such a review.

“We conclude that this is a question of great public importance, as many, many mortgage foreclosures appear tainted with suspect documents,” the appeals court wrote in certification to the Supreme Court.

Had the matter been adjudicated on its merits and a decision rendered in favor of Pino, thousands of foreclosure cases could have been impacted as allegations of document fraud and robo-signing run rampant throughout the nation.

According to land records, Pino purchased his Greenacres home in July, 2006 for $203,000 by securing a $162,400 mortgage with Silver State Financial Systems. After falling behind on the mortgage, the Bank of New York moved to foreclose in October, 2008.

In their foreclosure complaint, the Bank of New York alleged that it was the owner of Pino’s mortgage note through an assignment from another lender, but did not include said assignment as part of its original complaint.

Pino retained Ice, who in moving to dismiss the complaint, argued that the bank needed an assignment in order to have standing to foreclose.

Attorneys from the Law Offices of David J. Stern in Plantation filed an amended complaint and attached an unrecorded mortgage assignment “which happened to be dated just before the original pleading was filed,” the appeals court wrote.

Stern’s now defunct law firm is one of several foreclosure mills throughout Florida that are under investigation by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Just as Pino’s attorneys were set to take depositions of Stern employees to determine how the assignment was created, the Bank of New York dismissed its foreclosure action.  Ice had wanted an opportunity to prove that Pino was the victim of fraud but was unable to do so because of the voluntary dismissal. The bank refiled the foreclosure in August 2009, and that case is pending.

In its written opinion, the Fourth District Court of Appeal agreed with the lower court’s ruling about the dismissal but because of its importance on similar foreclosure matters, sent the case to the state’s highest court in Tallahassee. One appellate judge, Gary Farmer, dissented saying he thought the trial judge could have kept the case open to litigate Pino’s claim of fraud.

“I’m not surprised at a settlement of this matter considering the allegations of forged or fraudulent documents and the risk of substantial loss to the bank,” said Carlos J. Reyes, of the Reyes Law Group in Fort Lauderdale.  “As a foreclosure defense attorney, my preference would have been for a written opinion from the Florida Supreme Court, but the client is the ultimate decision maker in any settlement discussions.”

Foreclosure Defense: Dead Man Served with Foreclosure Papers


Foreclosure defense attorneys have long alleged that process servers occasionally file false affidavits in support of personal service in foreclosure matters.  Some homeowners are defending themselves stating that mortgage lenders did not serve them properly.

Contrary to the sworn affidavit of process server Robin Lucas-Peters on one local foreclosure case, the homeowner was not served at all.  Having died on August 4, 2010 “personal service” upon him on April 21, 2011 was simply not possible. 

“It’s equivalent to perjury,” said Andrew Dinnerstein, the Sunrise attorney representing the family of the deceased.  “The system is being abused to such an extent that people aren’t even being served properly.”

The homeowner has not been identified to protect the family’s privacy.

Foreclosure defense attorneys have documented a number of cases where process servers allegedly filed false affidavits.  While investigating the law firms that employed “robo-signers,” state investigators are closely examining the service of process in a number of cases.

The process server in this case said she attempted to serve the homeowner on five separate occasions.   On the fifth attempt, the person answering the door said he was the homeowner being sought and accepted the foreclosure papers.

Several recent foreclosure cases allege homeowners never received foreclosure papers even though they still occupied their home.  Others allege that process servers did not take the required steps to locate them or filed false affidavits about whom or when they delivered papers.   

This is the first reported case of a deceased homeowner being served with foreclosure papers.

Lucas-Peters filed a falsified document, swearing foreclosure papers were properly served when they were not, Dinnerstein said.

When a homeowner is deceased, the mortgage lender must request that the court assign an administrator and then serve foreclosure papers upon them.

Dinnerstein indicates that he will seek sanctions against the lender and ProVest, which is under investigation by the Florida Attorney General for allegations of false returns of service under oath and forged signatures of process servers.

In a number of unrelated foreclosure defense matters, some process servers allegedly violated rules related to the personal delivery of legal papers.  Like robo-signing foreclosure documents without reviewing them for accuracy, a number of homeowners are now alleging they were never served with foreclosure papers.

Once rare, “bad service” of process has become more common as lenders and their attorneys speed thousands of foreclosure cases through “rocket dockets” that are designed to clear an ever growing backlog.

“With the foreclosure debacle, it’s become more complicated,” says Carlos J. Reyes, a foreclosure defense attorney with the Reyes Law Group in Fort Lauderdale. “For the sake of expediency, process servers are being rushed. As they are paid by the piece, they have an interest in earning a higher income.”

Homeowners involved in foreclosures are required to receive a summons and complaint personally delivered by a process server. Repeated attempts at personal service are required before court permission can be obtained to publish a legal notice in the alternative.

In the case of a deceased homeowner, foreclosure papers are served upon an administrator. 

Some process servers have allegedly cut corners.  One recently claimed she could not find a homeowner facing foreclosure on a second home, despite conducting extensive record checks. This held true even though the foreclosure complaint clearly provided a primary home address in Connecticut.

Lenders and attorneys typically contract their summons delivery work to large process serving firms, who sub-contract to private independent servers. In her deposition to state investigators, former Stern paralegal Tammie Lou Kapusta, testified that summons serving procedures were a “complete mess,” with homeowners routinely complaining they never received papers.

She and another former employee, Kelly Scott, said their managers told them move forward with the foreclosures anyway.

Investigators also questioned staff at Stern’s firm regarding billing practices that involved serving multiple parties at an address and billing for each one.

“Good service of process is crucial”, Reyes said. He has heard of homeowners losing their home because they never received a summons and missed filing dates or court hearings.

While a court summons must be accepted by an adult, state law does not require it to be served upon the property owner. No one has to sign, verifying receipt, “which makes it easier to say the person was served, when they weren’t,” Reyes said.

Laws governing the service of process vary from state to state. In Florida, there is no statewide licensing or regulating body for process servers, and rules vary greatly among the 20 judicial circuits.

While ProVest declined to comment on specific cases, company president James Ward stated they “utilize properly licensed or authorized independent contractors” and require them to “fully comply with state and local guidelines.”

“ProVest is confident the vast majority of notifications are being conducted appropriately and where there are anomalies of inadequate service we strive to learn from those situations,” Ward said.

To learn more about the foreclosure crisis or to file a complaint with the Florida Attorney General, visit their website at http://www.myfloridalegal.com or call (866) 9-NO-SCAM (866-966-7226).

A Slap on the Wrist for Mortgage Servicers

While negotiations continue between mortgage servicers and the Multistate Mortgage Foreclosure Group, enforcement action has been taken by the Office of the Comptroller (OCC), the Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS), and the Federal Reserve Board (FRB) against 14 U.S. bank and two third-party mortgage servicers.

Amid allegations of unsafe and unsound practices in the processing of foreclosures, enforcement action has been taken against bank servicers: Ally Financial, Aurora Bank, Bank of America, Citibank, Citigroup, EverBank, HSBC, JP Morgan Chase, MetLife Bank, OneWest Bank, PNC, Sovereign Bank, SunTrust Bank, U.S. Bank, and Wells Fargo and third-party servicers: Lender Processing Services Inc. (LPS), and MERSCORP also known as Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems Inc. (MERS).

“These comprehensive enforcement actions, coordinated among the federal banking regulators, require major reforms in mortgage servicing operations,” said acting Comptroller of the Currency John Walsh. “These reforms will not only fix the problems we found in foreclosure processing, but will also correct failures in governance and the loan modification process and address financial harm to borrowers. Our enforcement actions are intended to fix what is broken, identify and compensate borrowers who suffered financial harm, and ensure a fair and orderly mortgage servicing process going forward.”

As part of the enforcement action by the OCC, OTS and FRB, servicers must significantly improve residential mortgage loan servicing and foreclosure processing.  This includes borrower communication and “dual-tracking,” which will prohibit foreclosure during the loan modification process. 

Mortgage servicers are also required to promptly correct deficiencies in residential mortgage loan servicing that were identified by examiners in reviews conducted during the fourth quarter of 2010. 

Each mortgage servicer must, among other things, submit plans acceptable to the FRB that:

►Strengthen coordination of communications with borrowers by providing them with the name of the person who is their primary point of contact at the servicer;

►Ensure that foreclosures are not pursued once a mortgage modification has been approved, unless repayments under the modified loan are not made;

►Establish robust controls and oversight over the activities of third-party vendors that provide residential mortgage loan servicing, loss mitigation, or foreclosure-related support, including local counsel in foreclosure or bankruptcy proceedings;

►Provide remediation to borrowers who have suffered financial injury as a result of wrongful foreclosures or other deficiencies identified in their review of the foreclosure process; and

►Strengthen their programs to ensure compliance with state and federal laws regarding mortgage servicing and the processing of foreclosures.

“This settlement provides that if you’re negotiating or in the midst of a trial modification, a lender is prohibited from seizing the property,” says Carlos J. Reyes, a foreclosure defense attorney with the Reyes Law Group in Fort Lauderdale.  “Defense attorneys now have a basis to go forward to try and save a property in litigation with the additional argument that failing to modify or settle is a breach of the lender settlement with federal regulators.”

The enforcement action is based upon an OCC, OTS and FRB review of foreclosure practices that found mortgage servicers “failed to conform to state legal requirements.”  The review stopped short at robo-signing and other forms of document fraud.  It did not investigate the illegal imposition of fees, the failure to comply with loan modification requirements or other alleged servicer abuses.  In fact, federal regulators only reviewed a small sample of loan files containing key information on foreclosure practices.

Many believe that the settlement by federal regulators will undermine the investigation of foreclosure fraud by the Multistate Mortgage Foreclosure Group.  Initially, there were hopes of a “global settlement” covering state and federal regulators, but the agencies, led by the OCC, broke off and delivered their own enforcement action.  

While federal regulators and the various state attorneys general maintain this enforcement action will not affect the AG probe or ongoing negotiations, mortgage servicers can now report they have been punished for alleged violations of law.  Although an independent review is determining damages, they may reject any additional settlement since they have already been punished by their regulators.

To review Bill Lewis’ entire consumer protection series, please visit http://www.williamlewis.us.

William E. Lewis Jr. & Associates is a solutions based professional consulting firm specializing in the discriminating individual, business or governmental entity.  To learn more, tune into The Credit Report with Bill Lewis, weekdays at 9 o’clock on AM 1470 WWNN.

Fund to help hardest-hit Floridians

Are you unemployed or underemployed and unable to pay your mortgage on time? The Florida Housing Finance Corporation announced last week that Floridians having difficulties making their mortgage can apply for financial assistance from the Hardest-Hit Fund (HHF) beginning next Monday. On April 18 at 9 a.m., the program will become available to troubled homeowners in all 67 Florida counties.

“We’re now in the position to offer this financial assistance statewide to the people out there who are desperately struggling to stay in their homes,” said Steve Auger, executive director of Florida Housing. “For the homeowners who qualify, this temporary relief from their mortgage payments will provide some ‘breathing room’ so they can focus on becoming re-employed at a level that will allow them to resume making payments on their own.”

Following a pilot project in Lee County, and in consultation with Gov. Rick Scott’s office, some changes were made to the HHF program. For instance:

•The Unemployment Mortgage Assistance Program, or UMAP, will provide up to $12,000 to pay monthly mortgage and escrowed mortgage-related expenses for up to six months, or until the homeowner can resume making mortgage payments, whichever comes first. Homeowners in the UMAP will be required to pay 25 percent of their monthly income toward their mortgage payment, with a minimum payment of $70 per month.

•The Mortgage Loan Reinstatement Payment Program, or MLRP, will provide up to $6,000 to bring a homeowner’s past-due first mortgage current if they can demonstrate an ability to resume making payments on their own. For a homeowner who received funding under the UMAP program, any remaining funds can be used in addition to MLRP funds to bring a first mortgage current.

Minimum qualifications a homeowner must meet to be considered under either HHF program are unchanged. UMAP and MLRP program funds will be in the form of a 0 percent, deferred-payment loan; a loan that can be forgiven over a five-year period, at a rate of 20 percent each year.

“There are several reasons for these changes to the program,” said David Westcott, director of Homeownership Programs at Florida Housing. “Most importantly, the need for this program continues to grow and we want to assist as many homeowners as possible. These changes could allow Florida Housing to provide financial assistance to nearly 40,000 homeowners statewide-twice as many as we previously estimated could be helped,” he said.

First announced in February 2010, the “Housing Finance Agency Innovation Fund for the Hardest-Hit Housing Markets” provides federal funding to those states hardest hit by the real estate market collapse.

To date, $7.6 billion has been infused into the HFA Hardest-Hit Fund for 18 states and the District of Columbia. Florida’s total allocation currently stands at more than $1 billion.

Homeowners throughout Florida may apply for financial assistance from the fund by using the official HHF website: http://www.FLHardestHitHelp.org. The site contains information on the application process, including a program fact sheet, answers to frequently asked questions and links to resources that may be helpful to those experiencing challenges in tough economic times.

Floridians should be aware that several “imposter” or “copycat” websites posing as Hardest-Hit Fund sites have been identified.

Applicants are strongly encouraged to verify that the website they are using is, in fact, the official Florida HHF website before providing personal information. The Florida HHF application process is free-of-charge and applicants under the program are not asked to pay for an eligibility determination service in conjunction with applying for relief.

If applicants are suspicious about a website, they can submit an anonymous report on the official HHF website by clicking the “Report Fraud” link on the homepage. They can also call the Florida HHF Information Line at 1-877-863-5244 to ensure they are using the correct website address.

To review Bill Lewis’ entire consumer protection series, visit http://www.williamlewis.us.

William E. Lewis Jr. & Associates is a solutions based professional consulting firm specializing in the discriminating individual, business or governmental entity. To learn more, tune into The Credit Report with Bill Lewis, weekdays at 9 o’clock on AM 1470 WWNN.

Orininal source – The Credit Report with Bill Lewis, as printed in The Highlands Today, an edition of the Tampa Tribune.  http://www2.highlandstoday.com/content/2011/apr/10/fund-to-help-hardest-hit-floridians/news-newbusiness/

Foreclosure Mill Settles With Florida Attorney General

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi announced today a first-of-its-kind settlement against attorney Marshall C. Watson and his law firm – the Law Offices of Marshall C. Watson – for alleged improprieties in the prosecution of foreclosure cases throughout Florida.  

This settlement calls for a $2 million payment and imposition of certain requirements to conduct business and is the first stemming from numerous investigations into Florida foreclosure law firms.

“We are aggressively investigating these law firms in order to protect the interests of everyone involved in foreclosure proceedings. Homeowners, lending institutions and the courts deserve to know that the law is being followed and all documentation is true and accurate,” stated Attorney General Pam Bondi. “Anything short of total assurance of complete accuracy during such serious situations is unacceptable.”

Florida led the nation in the investigation of law firms and foreclosure mills engaged in the improper production and filing of foreclosure documents. The Law Offices of Marshall C. Watson fully cooperated with the investigation since its inception.

Half of the $2 million payment from Marshall Watson’s law firm to the Attorney General’s Office will be contributed to the Florida Bar Foundation to continue the Florida Attorney General Mortgage Foreclosure Grant Program. This grant program provides for the funding of Legal Aid attorney positions throughout Florida specifically devoted to the representation of low-income individuals facing foreclosure actions.

The investigation of the Florida Attorney General into the practices of several other Florida law firms is continuing.

To access the Assurance of Voluntary Compliance, please click here: http://myfloridalegal.com/webfiles.nsf/WF/SKNS-8FAHED/$file/WatsonAVC.pdf

FTC Sues Florida Loan Modification Firm

Continuing their crackdown on scam artists that prey upon delinquent homeowners facing foreclosure, the Federal Trade Commission has charged a national operation with marketing bogus loan modification services. The FTC has sought to stop their illegal practices and force payment of restitution to victims.

Based in Palm Beach County, U.S. Mortgage Funding Inc., Debt Remedy Partners Inc., LowerMyDebts.com LLC, David Mahler, Jamen Lachs, and John Incandela, Jr., also known as Jonathan Incandela, Jr., allegedly violated the FTC Act and the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule by falsely claiming they could obtain loan modifications that would drastically reduce mortgage payments for distressed homeowners.  

They also allegedly misrepresented approval and affiliation with mortgage lenders and falsely claimed they would fully refund homeowners money if they failed to receive a loan modification.

According to the FTC’s complaint, distressed homeowners were targeted using direct mail, the Internet, and telemarketing.  Homeowners were falsely promised a loan modification that would reduce their monthly mortgage payments, while being promised a full refund if they failed.  Promises were also made to homeowners whose lenders had previously denied them loan modifications or who had been sent foreclosure notices.  Claiming a success rate of almost 100%, homeowners were charged up to $2,600 and typically requested for half of the fee upfront.

The defendants claimed expertise that enabled them to prevent foreclosure and often mislead homeowners that they were affiliated with or approved by lenders.  They advised homeowners not to contact their lenders and to stop making mortgage payments, claiming that falling behind on payments would demonstrate a hardship to lenders.

In addition, the defendants allegedly violated the FTC Rule by calling numbers listed on the National Do Not Call Registry, and for not paying the required annual fee for accessing numbers within the Registry.

In 2009, the Florida legislature passed Senate Bill SB 2226, making significant changes to Florida’s mortgage brokerage law.  The law – Chapter 494, Florida Statutes – specifically covered negotiation of existing loans as being the duty of a licensed mortgage broker.  As of January 1, 2010, any individual or business attempting to negotiate a loan or mortgage modification must be licensed through the Florida Office of Financial Regulation.  Additionally, new disclosures are required such as large-type print on contracts and a three-day rescission period.

“The days of simply opening up shop and starting a loan modification business have come to an end in Florida,” says Carlos J. Reyes, a foreclosure defense attorney with the Reyes Law Group in Fort Lauderdale.  “Individuals or businesses providing loan modification services must be licensed as a mortgage broker by the OFR in order to conduct business and cannot charge advance fees.”

The FTC recently issued the Mortgage Assistance Relief Services Rule, that prohibits mortgage foreclosure and loan modification services from collecting fees until homeowners have a written offer from their lender that they personally find acceptable. As the defendants’ advertisements predated this new Rule, the FTC did not allege violations in this case.

To learn more about the action taken against U.S. Mortgage Funding Inc., Debt Remedy Partners Inc., Lower My Debts.com LLC, or to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, visit www.ftc.gov or call (877) FTC-HELP (877-382-4357).

To learn more about mortgage fraud or the loan modification process in Florida or to file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office, visit www.myfloridalegal.com or call (866) 9-NO-SCAM (866-966-7226). 

To review Bill Lewis’ entire consumer protection series, visit www.williamlewis.us.

William E. Lewis Jr. & Associates is a solutions based professional consulting firm specializing in the discriminating individual, business or governmental entity.  To learn more, tune into “The Credit Report with Bill Lewis,” a daily forum for business and financial news, politics, economic trends, and cutting edge issues on AM 1470 WWNN.

Original Source:  The Credit Report with Bill Lewis – Highlands Today, an edition of the Tampa Tribune – Media General Group:  http://www2.highlandstoday.com/content/2011/mar/13/ftc-sues-florida-loan-modification-firm/columns-welewisjr/