Posts in Foreclosure Defense
Loan Modification, Loss Mitigation, and Doing Everything You Can To Save Your Home

If you're behind on your mortgage or facing default on your mortgage payments, and want to keep your home, you should speak to a home preservation specialist or an attorney immediately. The loan modification process (part of a suite of potential alternatives to foreclosure your mortgage servicer refers to as "loss mitigation") is fraught with chances to misstep, which despite your best efforts may cost you your home. Many of those missteps may not be your fault, and without the assistance of counsel or a HUD-certified housing counselor you may not recognize them or be able to prove that your servicer is to blame. 

Since January 2014, many servicers have had to follow regulations that demand they meet strict deadlines and disclose a great deal of information about your loss mitigation application, your eligibility and ineligibility for various alternatives to foreclosure, and your right to appeal their determination of eligibility or ineligibility. If they follow these guidelines, their customers are likely to reach an outcome that is beneficial to them. However, if they do not follow these regulations, servicers may be liable for damages, which, in some cases, could pay a portion or all of a homeowner's past-due payments. 

Unfortunately, even with counsel, fault can be difficult to prove, but there are a few things you can do to protect yourself and help your attorney reach a good outcome. 

1. Never trust that your servicer's advice is in your best interest.

We hear it all the time: servicers tell their customers that they need to be in default in order to be considered for a loan modification. Servicers advise homeowners "not to worry" about the foreclosure lawsuits they file against homeowners, explaining that it's "just something our collections department does". They tell homeowners that all they have to do is keep working on a loan modification and not to respond to the lawsuit. 

Despite providing advice and guidance to its customers, if you're in foreclosure, your servicer will flatly deny any advice it gave was meant to be relied upon, since it is a business and is concerned foremost for the interest of its shareholders, not its customers. That does not mean that it cannot be held to account for advice it has given you or promises it has made, but it does mean that you will be in for a fight if you have followed your servicer's advice to your detriment. Don't trust your servicer without verifying the advice you're getting from the servicer by asking a lawyer or housing counselor about the advice. Following this rule will help protect you from some of the worst abuses. 

2. Keep everything your servicer sends you.

Especially when you're in default and applying for some sort of loss mitigation, you should receive a lot of letters from your servicer. All of them are important, and many are governed by the regulations linked above. You should keep all of these letters. Moreover, since you cannot always trust that a letter was sent on the date it claims, you should keep all of the envelopes these letters come in. The envelope will have a postmark date on it, which can be invaluable when trying to prove a required deadline was not met.

3. Keep a copy of everything you send your servicer.

One of the disclosures your servicer must send you is a notice that your application is not complete. It must outline what documents are missing and give you an opportunity to send them. If you do not provide necessary documentation, your servicer can deny you any loss mitigation option. Keeping a copy of what documents you've sent -- and when and how you sent them -- may protect you and assist you on any appeal of a negative determination.

4. Take notes.

When speaking with your servicer on the phone, make a note of when the phone call took place, who you spoke with, and what advice or guidance the servicer provides you. 

Louisville, Don't Miss this Party

The Network Center for Community Change's annual Chill 4 Change fundraiser is this Saturday at 7 p.m.


Louisville's most righteous nonprofit, The Network Center for Community Change, is having its annual "Chill 4 Change" fundraiser this Saturday night. Read more about NC3 and Chill 4 Change. 

If I were to follow convention, I would exhort you to attend or donate by referencing the awesome work NC3 does in Louisville around educational equity, workforce development, and family financial stability. I would explain that NC3 is a client of mine. They pay me to continue encouraging our elected officials to adopt policies to remedy the fallout from the ongoing foreclosure crisis.

But, I'm not conventional and neither is NC3. In an era defined by the contradiction—enormous wealth going to very few, unemployed college graduates, electronic connectedness supplanting connection IRL—NC3 combines an old-school commitment to bringing diverse communities of people together with a new-school approach to community organizing. I don't know of another organization doing work as interesting as NC3.

Am I biased? You bet. Am I wrong? Come to Chill 4 Change and find out for yourself. 

At Chill 4 Change, you'll meet the people behind Louisville's most daring nonprofit. They're not bad dancers, either, so wear comfortable shoes.

If you're ready to buy tickets, this is the link for you


John Stewart Explains and Lampoons MERS, the "Mortgage Electronic Registration System"

I love Jon Stewart (@thedailyshow) for his ability and willingness to explain and lampoon MERS.  

As a foreclosure defense attorney, I have to spend a lot of time explaining to clients, opposing counsel, and courts things like the Uniform Commercial Code, residential mortgage-backed securities, pooling and servicing agreements, and, yes, MERS. I really admire Jon Stewart's ability to cut to the heart of a really (and purposefully) complicated and opaque system for privatizing the responsibility for recording the ownership of mortgages across America and the damage that privatization has done to countless homeowners. 


Increase the Price to File a Foreclosure in Kentucky

I was in Fayette County this to appear for my client, a homeowner facing foreclosure. I counted the number of motions that were foreclosure-related and how many were other civil actions. Of the 32 motions made, only seven were not related to foreclosures. Twenty-seven (84%) were foreclosures.

With foreclosures dominating motion hours and dockets across the state and straining Court resources, it is time to increase filing fees on foreclosures? Increasing foreclosure filing fees would be a great and long-overdue way for Kentucky courts to fund foreclosure mediation and dispute resolution efforts.  The current system was not designed to deal with the volume of foreclosures currently filed each year and each case is fact-specific and requires the Court's attention to ensure banks do not inflict needless foreclosures on our communities. 

Kentucky needs additional systems to deal with foreclosures and increasing the filing fees on foreclosures can help fund the construction of that infrastructure.  

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issues new rules for mortgage servicing

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (thanks, Senator Warren!) issued new rules for mortgage servicers yesterday. The good news: they're good rules. The bad news: they don't kick in until January 10, 2014. [Sad face].

Read more about the rules and the press coverage.

Even though the rules don't apply until 2014, I think that Kentucky attorneys defending homeowners facing foreclosure can consider using the rules (and the abusive, reckless, callous, obnoxious behavior of servicers that made these rules necessary) in briefs sooner rather than later. They establish an industry standard. There's good language in the Background section of the "Summary of the final mortgage servicing rules".

Protecting Renters Facing Foreclosure in Kentucky

I am presenting to a group called "friskies" tomorrow morning. These are people who work at our schools' FRYSCs: Family Resources and Youth Services Centers. FRYSCs are on the front lines of out-of-school problems kids and families are facing that could affect in-school achievement. Tomorrow, they want info on renters' rights in foreclosure because this is an issue they see arise over and over again. FRYSCs report that often children and their families lose housing quickly and without much warning because a landlord and the foreclosing bank fails to tell the renter about the foreclosure. 

Because of the Protecting Tenants in Foreclosure Act, renters have substantial rights regarding their ability to enjoy the property they are renting even though it is going through a foreclosure. Originally scheduled to expire at the end of this year, the protections were extended through 2014 as part of the Dodd–Frank Act. Unfortunately, cuts to funding to Legal Aid organizations means that renters do not often have the representation they need and these rights often go unenforced. 

Renters' rights are pretty straightforward under the Protecting Tenants in Foreclosure Act. Provided you are not related to the landlord, are paying a fair price for the rent, and the rental agreement was an arms-length transaction, you are allowed to stay in the property all the way through the sale of the home in foreclosure. Even after the sale, the new purchaser must ask the court to issue him or her a deed. Only after the court issues a new deed can the new owner send you a Notice to Vacate and even then the new owner must provide you with ninety days (NINETY!) to vacate and find new housing. 

That's the bare minimum. If you have a lease agreement with the old landlord that lost the property in foreclosure that lasts longer than the ninety day minimum notice, you are entitled to enjoy the property for the duration of that lease unless the new owner plans on occupying the property as his or her primary residence.

As I said above, these are substantial rights that are rarely enforced because we do not fund legal aid organizations they way they should be funded and our legal system does not provide the infrastructure to renters that it should. I have created a document I'm calling "Entry of Appearance and Notice of Rights under the Protecting Tenants in Foreclosure Act". Two versions are below. One is blank and can be downloaded and handwritten. The other contains form fields into which you can type the required information.

Before you go using these forms, listen: I am not your lawyer. By using these forms you acknowledge that you are unrepresented by counsel and are seeking to assert your rights yourself, without an attorney. If I were going to be your lawyer, you would have to contact me and we would have to actually, you know, talk and you would probably have to pay me money. I am providing these forms as a community service and do not promise they will be useful or effective in any way. You know what is effective? Having a lawyer. So, you can contact me or contact the Kentucky Lawyer Referral Service to find one to help you with your case. I hate to get a stern tone with you, but seriously: I'm not your lawyer

All that being said and understood, here are the forms. You can "right-click" on these links to download the files to your computer).

Renters are often less financially secure than homeowners and so the disruption of a foreclosure can hit innocent renters even harder than it can the landlord being foreclosed upon. The Protecting Tenants in Foreclosure Act is designed to offer a brief period of stability following a foreclosure sale while the tenant endeavors to secure new housing. It's important to our community and especially our kids that we as a legal community do everything we can to provide them that stability in a time of flux. 

Do you know that sometimes being a lawyer gives me the chills?

The Right to Counsel in Kentucky Evictions and Foreclosures

Yesterday, I presented at the Kentucky Bar Association's Kentucky Law Update on our foreclosure crisis. I wish I could pull the tape from yesterday's presentation to prove to you that this is a direct quote: 

Folks, this crisis [the foreclosure crisis and the imbalance of power of the parties] is the defining legal issue of our time. This is our Gideon v. Wainwright moment and we will be judged by how we respond.

In today's New York Times, professor Matthew Desmond says, seriously, the exact same thing for landlord–tenant cases.

Our legal system extends the right to a state-appointed attorney to someone facing months or years of prison but not to someone facing months or years of homelessness.
— Matthew Desmond in the NYT

The time has come to establish the right to counsel in cases where a family's housing is on the line. 

Foreclosure Law Update and Arguing Equity in Kentucky Foreclosures

I am presenting today in Louisville, Kentucky to a huge room of Kentucky attorneys on our ongoing foreclosure crisis. Many thanks to the Kentucky Bar Association for asking me to speak again this year at the Kentucky Law Update.

Last year, I spoke about the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), the federal program designed to encourage servicers to modify struggling homeowners loans by offering them money for each loan they modify. (Here's the video of that presentation.)

This year, I'm discussing two recent Kentucky Court of Appeals decisions and then pivoting to a novel, but important argument that most advocates ignore: equity. Kentucky courts exist to consider both legal and equitable arguments in each case. My position is that foreclosure cases beg for equitable arguments.

I hope to have a video to post for you at a later date, but for now here is the PowerPoint presentation I will use today. Download the PowerPoint file for the notes section. If you just want the slides (preserved in their original formatting and not screwed up by the fact that you don't have the typeface I used), download the .pdf

If you're reading this because you attended the presentation, thanks again for attending. If you are an attorney or a homeowner with questions about foreclosure, contact me online or give me a call: 502-509-3231. 

If you are interested in foreclosure, justice writ large, and/or if you are an attorney who wants to use your law degree to make Kentucky a better place, sign up for email updates about the Commonwealth Justice conference I'm organizing. It's going to be in Louisville from August 8 to August 10, so sign up and mark your calendar. It's gonna be awesome. 

Why I Support Judge Jim Shake for Kentucky Court of Appeals

The reality of judicial races is that people who work outside our legal system feel ill-equipped to cast an informed ballot. I'm often asked by my non-lawyer friends who they should vote for in judicial races. In the Court of Appeals race in Jefferson County, I suggest a vote for Judge Jim Shake


Judge Shake is a smart, pragmatic judge that works hard and takes risks to ensure that everyone has access to the court system and that the courts are solving problems. I know. In 2009, as the Chief Judge of the Jefferson Circuit Court, Judge Shake worked with advocates for homeowners (I was an attorney for the Legal Aid Society at the time), bank attorneys, community groups, and the court system to create the Foreclosure Conciliation Project. With the FCP, Jefferson County became the first court system in the state to attempt to address the exploding numbers of foreclosures in our community.

As part of the project, Judge Shake ensured that each homeowner facing foreclosure received credible, timely information about alternatives to foreclosure and steps to take to avoid foreclosure. The FCP provided homeowners with outreach, housing counseling, legal representation, and an opportunity to meet with their banks to pursue these alternatives. Hundreds of homeowners saved their home through the process that Judge Shake created and the lessons we learned in Jefferson County have influenced similar programs across the state.

Judge Shake has been a judge for 19 years. He knows the immense impact the courts have on Kentuckian's lives. The courts impact lives not just in individual cases, but also in the processes and procedures they build to solve emerging problems like the foreclosure crisis. I'm supporting Judge Shake because he has shown the willingness and ability to solve problems—big and small—as a judge.

Nerd Alert: Here are the Briefs I Mentioned at the Consumer Bankruptcy Symposium

On March 15, I presented at the University of Kentucky's Consumer Bankruptcy Symposium. I promised certain materials and here they are: 

Here is the brief about the Uniform Commercial Code, Standing, and Securitization

Here is the brief about the Rogan v. Bank One case. 

How to Find and Use PSAs

Here are the presentation slides

Foreclosure Presentation: Loan Modifications and Foreclosure Mediation

The Network Center for Community Change pays me (yes, it is a great job) to train attorneys attorneys to defend homeowners facing foreclosure and work with courts to implement processes that ensure everyone is getting a fair shake during a foreclosure. This is a presentation from last fall at the Kentucky Bar Association's Kentucky Law Update in Covington, Kentucky in which I explain to attorneys how they can profitably incorporate foreclosure defense into their practice, how loan modifications work and don't work, and why the court system needs to change how it handles foreclosure proceedings. Somehow, I also talk about the Sausage of Justice.

Read more about the Network Center for Community Change:

If you would like for me to come to your area to give a talk, I'm available

Open Letter to Kentucky Judges Regarding the Ongoing Foreclosure Crisis

Cross-posted at BlueGrassRoots...

This essay is deeply indebted to two articles: "Defending Mortgage Foreclosures: Seeking a Role for Equity" by law professor David Super and a National Consumer Law Center report: "Servicer's Failure to Engage in Appropriate Loss Mitigation as a Foreclosure Defense. The NCLC article does not appear to be available online, but many other resources from the amazing National Consumer Law Center are available

Dear Judge,

I’m writing today because it is down to you. You are the last, best hope for Kentucky’s homeowners–both those facing foreclosure and their neighbors.

Our neighbors’ homes are on fire. The foreclosure crisis blazes through our neighborhoods and continues to grow. One in four Kentucky homeowners owe more on their house than it is currently worth. One in ten is more than thirty days behind on their home loan.

Foreclosure is too expensive, too extreme, to be granted as a matter of routine—each sale adds fuel to the raging fire. Foreclosure devastates homeowners, destabilizes financial institutions, degrades neighborhoods, and impoverishes communities.

Kentucky faces a situation in which homeowners facing foreclosure are clueless, powerless, and unrepresented by counsel. The federal program designed to encourage banks[1] to modify homeowners’ loans (HAMP) is a colossal failure. Reckless banks pursue foreclosure even to their own (and everyone else’s) detriment. Worse, problems with the banks’ own loan documents abound; their right to foreclose at all is deeply suspect.

The federal government first failed to adequately regulate mortgage lending. Now, it is failing to address the fallout. State and local government’s efforts to mitigate the losses have been similarly watered-down and ineffective. Frankfort lacks the political resources and local governments lack the financial resources to address a crisis of this proportion. Banks can walk all over a local government.

But, they can’t walk over you.

Kentucky, thank God, is a state that requires banks to seek judicial approval before taking a homeowner’s house. Some states don’t. I’m writing today to encourage you to apply much stricter scrutiny–both legal and equitable–on foreclosure proceedings than has traditionally been applied. I’m writing to ask you to incorporate alternative dispute resolution in your foreclosure cases that will ensure that the parties have explored in good faith every alternative to foreclosure before granting judgment in favor of foreclosing Plaintiffs. I’m writing to ask you to ensure that the foreclosures inflicted upon the community are only those that are absolutely necessary.

What is happening is not traditional; it’s extraordinary. It’s time to start treating it extraordinarily.

How We Got Here

Later in this letter, I will urge you to evaluate and question whether equity will permit the foreclosure the bank is asking you to grant. I will encourage you to aggressively apply equitable remedies in Kentucky foreclosure proceedings. To evaluate the equity of the situation, you need to know how all of these loans that are now in default came to exist in the first place.

In the past decade, the system set up by federal regulators, banks, and investors to finance home loans incentivized originating exotic, risky, and unsustainable loan products to Americans unlikely to appreciate the complex terms contained in their loan.[2] Fraud and unconscionable practices pervaded the mortgage lending landscape. Lenders qualified borrowers for unaffordable mortgages by offering initially-low interest rates that obscured the true cost of the loan. Many homebuyers never knew their house payments would increase dramatically a few years into the loan. Borrowers who were savvy enough express concern about these “teaser rates” were told not to worry about the adjustable rate, that they would refinance the homeowner into a fixed rate before the rate adjusted. Banks paid mortgage brokers a “Yield-Spread Premium”—often thousands of dollars—to place homebuyers in loans with higher interest rates than the rate for which the homeowner’s credit history and income actually qualified them.

Not surprisingly, the victims of these lending abuses were often the very people who could least afford it: poor people and minorities.[3] Often, these loans were written at 100% of loan-to-value,[4] leaving homeowners trapped and unable to refinance out of spiraling interest rates once housing prices plummeted in the wake of the subprime mortgage meltdown.

After mortgage brokers and lenders placed homeowners in risky loans, they sold the right to collect payments on those loans to investment firms who then pooled those loans with thousands of other loans. Investors—from school boards in Iowa to the government of Iceland—bought the right to be paid proceeds from the revenue the pooled loans generated. Investment firms who purchased individual mortgages and created residential mortgage-backed securities grossly underestimated the riskiness of the loans they were purchasing and credit rating agencies likewise gave the securities the safest (“triple-A”) rating that many institutional investors required.

Because this system sold not only the right to collect mortgage payments, but also the risk of a defaulting loan, it removed any incentive from the loan originator to exercise due diligence, verify income, ensure sustainability, or prevent appraisal fraud. The system of securitization designed by Wall Street investment firms rewarded lenders who could originate as many loans as quickly as possible.

As is obvious in hindsight, the incentives surrounding this entire scheme of financing loans are exactly backwards. Mortgage brokers are rewarded not for finding homeowners the most affordable loan, but the most expensive. Originating lenders have no interest in the long-term sustainability of the loan, and investment firms only care that there are investors for the securities they’re creating. Credit rating agencies are paid by the very firms that they’re grading.

Before the housing bubble, lenders and the eventual investor (usually FannieMae or Freddie Mac) cared whether an individual homeowner could pay their mortgage payment. Suddenly, no one did. It was a system for financing home loans that did everything wrong. It was destined to collapse.

Foreclosure Hurts Everyone

Now that the collapse has happened, the mortgage meltdown and the broader economic downturn have introduced into the public conscience the ravages of foreclosure on individuals and communities. No one wins when a house is sold at a foreclosure auction.[5]

Homeowners lose their home. They always lose the emotional equity they’ve invested into their home, and often any financial equity, as well. They lose the stability that homeownership provides. Their world suddenly uncertain, homeowners bear the cost of moving and reestablishing housing in another neighborhood, sometimes another city or state.

Lenders lose money along every step of a foreclosure sale. A 2008 paper by the Mortgage Bankers Association acknowledges lenders often lose in excess of $50,000 in each foreclosure, or 30–60% of the outstanding loan balance.[6]

From the moment a homeowner stops paying their mortgage, lenders lose money. While the loan is delinquent, lenders lose principle and interest payments, as well as taxes and insurance payments. They must maintain the property, if necessary, and invest in trying to collect the on the loan. Once the home is in foreclosure, lenders must hire lawyers, pay court costs, and administrative fees. Then, they then must hire a company to maintain the property and secure the property. Finally, after the home is sold in foreclosure, the lender often must restore the property before selling it and hire a realtor.[7] If the lender is lucky, the property will sell at a deeply discounted rate, if it sells at all.[8]

Beyond the parties to the contract—the homeowner and lender—foreclosure hurts innocent neighbors and plagues communities with a vicious cycle of depreciation and degradation.

Because houses sold at a foreclosure auction are eventually sold for a fraction of what they otherwise would have, foreclosures damage the value of neighboring homes. When a neighborhood’s homes begin to depreciate, many innocent homeowners find themselves “upside-down” on their own loans. That is, they suddenly owe more on their homes than they are worth.[9] When a family needs to move or refinance, they find doing so next to impossible. Even for those hoping to remain in the neighborhood, a foreclosure sale on a neighbor’s property, over which they have no control, strips them of equity and reduces the value of their investment.

This collateral damage (literally and figuratively) is exacerbated by the fact that many foreclosed properties are not properly maintained and remain vacant or abandoned for months or years.[10] Researchers in Philadelphia have determined that properties within 150 feet of an abandoned property lose $7,627 in value. Those within 300–450 feet lose $3,542. Properties on a block with an abandoned house sell for $6,715 less than those without a vacant property. Metropolitan Housing Coalition, 2009 State of Metropolitan Housing Report 16 (2009). Louisville currently has between 7000 and 8000 vacant properties—a number that has doubled in the past six years—and the roughly 250 foreclosure sales scheduled each month continue to grow the number of vacant properties. The Center for Responsible Lending anticipates that Kentucky will lose $2.2 billion in home equity due to nearby foreclosures between 2009 and 2012. That’s an average loss of $2,610 per home.

Because of foreclosure sales, deeply discounted REO properties, and the glut of vacant and abandoned properties depress property values, ordering a foreclosure sale will reduce the local government’s property tax revenues–the lifeblood of municipal budgets. Not only will it reduce the money local governments bring in, foreclosures require the government to spend up to $34,000 per foreclosure on “inspections, court actions, police and fire department efforts, potential demolition, unpaid water and sewage, and trash removal.”[11] All told, the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress estimates that each foreclosure costs all parties $80,000.[12]

Kentucky Judges Should Consider Equity and Equitable Remedies

Five hundred years ago, England developed equitable proceedings for cases in which the strict enforcement of rigid legal principles made the attainment of justice unlikely. Our own legal system, descended from the English system, requires courts to exercise both legal and equitable jurisdiction. Modern practice in Kentucky merges the two systems of law and equity. Ford v. Gilbert, 397 S.W.2d 41 (1965). The Kentucky Constitution “imbues the circuit courts with the general power to determine all matters of controversy arising under common law or equity.” Hisle v. Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, 258 S.W.3d 422, 432 (Ky. App. 2008).

In Hisle, the Court notes that “[a]lthough modern partition proceedings generally involve statutory provisions, the jurisdiction of equity courts to partition real property is very ancient and has existed in common law both in England and this country since its founding.” Hisle at 431. Therefore, statutes that govern partition of land “supplement, or are supplemented by, the traditional jurisdiction of equity courts to decree partition.” Hisle at 432 quoting Atkinson v. Kish, 420 S.W.2d 104, 110 (Ky. 1967).

Similarly, in a foreclosure proceeding, the statutory provisions intersect with equitable considerations. Equitable relief is available in states, like Kentucky, where foreclosure is a statutory action. Union National Bank of Little Rock v. Cobbs, 509 A.2d 719, 721 (Pa.Super. 1989). “Foreclosure is peculiarly an equitable action, and the court may entertain such questions as are necessary to be determined in order that complete justice may be done.” Morgera v. Chiappardi, 813 A.2d 89, 98 (Conn. App. 2003) quoting Hartford Federal Savings & Loan Assn. v. Lenczyk, 217 A.2d 694 (1966). Emphasis in original. “The determination of what equity requires in a particular case, the balancing of the equities, is a matter for the discretion of the trial court.” LaSalle National Bank v. Freshfield Meadows, LLC., 798 A.2d 445 (Conn.,2002).

Today, Kentucky courts [13] have the ancient opportunity and duty to weigh the equities present in each foreclosure case. To evaluate the equity of the situation, the Court should ask itself two questions:

  1. Does the bank deserve the right to foreclose on this particular homeowner?
  2. Should the Court allow the bank to inflict a foreclosure on the community?

Does the Bank Deserve the Right to Foreclose on This Particular Homeowner?

As an initial matter, the court should examine the Plaintiff’s own conduct and its relationship to the homeowner. “Equitable defenses invite the court to consider only the plaintiff’s ethical standing and to deny all remedies if the plaintiff does not meet equity’s standards.” Dan B. Dobbs, Dobbs Law of Remedies § 2.3(3) at 80 (2d ed. 1993). Courts can examine the behavior of the parties over the life of the loan: from the origination of both the note and mortgage, to their validity, to their enforcement. Bank of New York v. Conway, 916 A.2d 130 (Conn. Supp. 2006).

For example, when a “mortgagor is prevented by accident, mistake or fraud, from fulfilling a condition of the mortgage, foreclosure cannot be had.” New Haven Sav. Bank v. LaPlace, 783 A.2d 1174, 1180 (Conn. App., 2001). Courts have also recognized other equitable defenses to foreclosure: unconscionability, abandonment of security, usury, accident, fraud, equitable estoppel, laches, breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, tender of deed in lieu of foreclosure, a refusal to agree to a favorable sale to a third party, and violations of state consumer protection laws. Id.

What is the Plaintiff and What Has It Done to Avoid Foreclosure?

In the context of a foreclosure on a person’s home, a constellation of considerations often undermines the Plaintiff’s equitable standing to pursue a forfeiture of that home. From the origination of home loans, to their securitization, to their servicing, and finally to the treatment of defaulting homeowners, the mortgage brokers, appraisers, realtors, banks, investment firms, and investors purposefully and profitably participated in a tremendously flawed lending system. These flaws erode the Plaintiff’s equitable standing to now insist on the drastic remedy that requires a family to forfeit their home.

Failing to consider origination abuses would encourage the kind of schemes constructed within the last decade in which each party to the loan, from origination to securitization, sought and profited from plausible deniability of such abuses. The Plaintiff in most cases will not have originated the loan. It may not have been there when the appraisal was massaged. It may not have paid the broker for placing the homeowner in a more expensive loan than was justified by the homeowner’s credit score. It may not have written risky loans to people who didn’t understand the loan’s terms. But, it intentionally chose to participate in the system by purchasing those loans from the originating lender. It sought to profit from the fraud and unconscionable actions perpetrated by mortgage brokers, realtors, appraisers, and lenders. The Plaintiff’s hands became unclean when it shook the dirty hands of the loan’s originators.

Plaintiff’s willingness to participate in a reckless lending environment fraught with fraud, unconscionable lending practices, and bad faith impacts its equitable standing to now seek the extreme remedy of foreclosure. But the inquiry into equitable standing does not end there. The Court must inquire into any servicing abuses, as well as whether and how diligently the Plaintiff has pursued other, less drastic, loss mitigation options in the face of the homeowner’s alleged default.

  • When the homeowner began struggling with the mortgage payments, did the Plaintiff consider a forbearance agreement in cases of temporary hardship? 
  • Did it offer to modify the homeowner’s interest rate as it was spiraling out of control? 
  • Did it structure its loss mitigation and loan modification departments in ways that encouraged participation by homeowners? [14]
  • Did it consider accepting a deed in lieu of foreclosure or the sale of the property to a third party?
  • Did the Plaintiff insist on pursuing foreclosure even while telling the homeowner it was considering him or her for a loan modification?

Failure to provide meaningful loss mitigation options to struggling homeowners damages the Plaintiff’s equitable standing to now seek a forfeiture of the Defendant’s home.

Has the Servicer Participated in HAMP in Good Faith?

The existence of a federal program that is designed to encourage services to modify struggling homeowners’ loans adds an additional layer to the Court’s analysis of the Plaintiff’s equitable standing.[15]

After creating an incredibly risky and ultimately disastrous system for financing home purchases, banks and investment firms received $700 billion of taxpayer money as part of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). As part of that program, lenders and servicers of home loans could opt in to the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), allowing them to access $50 billion in taxpayer money. The federal government intended HAMP to “help up to 7 to 9 million families restructure or refinance their mortgages to avoid foreclosure. Home Affordable Modification Program, Supplemental Directive 09–01 1 (April 6, 2009). Under HAMP, a lender or servicer receives cash payments for modifying loans in its portfolio according to the requirements of the program. Once it has opted in to the program, a lender or servicer is obliged to review all of its loans for eligibility under HAMP.

Participation in this program is optional, compliance with its regulations is not. Numerous state and federal courts have found that a lender’s violation of a federal law designed to prevent foreclosure should be raised by the borrower in state court as an equitable defense in a foreclosure proceeding, instead of as a private cause of action.[16] Similarly, state courts also have found that a lender’s non-compliance with federal FHA, HUD, or VA guidelines designed to prevent foreclosure may be raised by the borrower as an equitable defense in a foreclosure proceeding.[17]

Resolving how and whether a servicer has complied with the HAMP regulations require courts to both enforce legal rights and weigh equitable considerations. Like the facts surrounding the origination and servicing of the loan, a servicer’s compliance with HAMP will affect their equitable standing to pursue a foreclosure action.

How HAMP Works

Broadly speaking, HAMP requires the lender or servicer to ask itself, “Would modifying this loan under the terms of HAMP yield a loan that is more or less profitable than foreclosing on the property?” If modification is more profitable, the participating entity must offer the homeowner a conforming loan modification. If foreclosure is more profitable, the lender can proceed with foreclosure.[18] This analysis is called a “Net Present Value” (NPV) calculation. Many courts have held that a servicer’s failure to comply with similar loss mitigation requirements in the FHA loan program was a defense to foreclosure.

To appreciate the importance and difficulty of doing a proper NPV analysis, it is critical to understand what variables go into a Net Present Value calculation. To properly perform an NPV, banks must compare the value of the income from a foreclosure sale to the value to the investors of a modified loan. Many variables go into calculating the potential loss from a foreclosure sale. Unfortunately, the participating lenders claim their NPV models are “proprietary,” so we cannot be entirely certain what variables lenders consider. However, the FDIC provides their “Mod in a Box” calculator to the public and it provides the masses an idea of what the calculation involves.[19]

To calculate the value of the income from a foreclosure sale, the bank must consider variables like the likelihood that the homeowner will “cure” the deficiency, making foreclosure unnecessary. Further, the lender must anticipate the amount for which the property can be resold in a post-foreclosure sale, how long such a sale would take, and what costs would be involved (including maintenance, taxes, legal fees, court costs, inspections, etc.).

With so many variables to consider, participating servicers can make mistakes in their Net Present Value analyses. Sometimes, the value of the property (a consideration in its potential resale value) has declined without the servicer’s knowledge. Sometimes, the homeowner has significant defenses to the foreclosure that need to be litigated prior to foreclosure, increasing both the time and cost of foreclosure.

Without production of the NPV analyses, the court and homeowners have no way of verifying the accuracy or veracity of the foreclosing parties’ analyses. Without a court order, homeowners have no assurances that the servicer or bank has done the math properly and according to the HAMP’s requirements. This math will determine the homeowner’s fate and whether or not the homeowner will, in fact, remain a homeowner. This lack of transparency violates public policy and is especially disturbing in light of the recent economic crisis. The banks and servicers entrusted to perform the NPV analyses are the same banks whose math counseled for the origination of risky adjustable rate mortgages written at 100% loan-to-value. Their math assured investors that securitizing subprime loan products was a safe bet, that housing prices would continue to climb. That banks and servicers now expect homeowners, courts, and communities to trust them to do the math correctly behind closed doors strains credulity and demonstrates, still, the height of hubris.

To ensure participating lenders are complying with their obligation to accurately perform a Net Present Value analysis and to ensure taxpayers are getting value for their investment in the HAMP program, this Court, operating in equity, should order participating lenders to produce their NPV analyses prior to ordering a foreclosure sale. The stakes are too high for everyone—banks, homeowners, neighbors, and communities—to not get this right.

How HAMP Doesn’t Work

A homeowner is extremely lucky if the only shortcoming in the process of applying to HAMP is their bank’s failure to “show their work” on their Net Present Value analysis. So much pain exists in the process before the bank ever has the chance to do the math wrong. As has been well-documented elsewhere, servicers routinely

  • lose homeowners’ paperwork 
  • ask for additional paperwork 
  • ask for duplicative paperwork 
  • encourage homeowners to miss a payment “in order to be eligible” for a loan modification 
  • say one thing on the phone and another in paperwork 
  • misapply payments 
  • extend three-month trial modifications for 8, 10, 12, 15 months 
  • deny modifications they had previously accepted

Plaintiffs will characterize their actions in court—filing foreclosures and pursuing judgments and sales—as innocent and harmless steps designed to protect its legal rights. They are not. Plaintiff’s actions actually damage the homeowners’ ability to get a loan modification, contrary to the goals of HAMP, the purpose of servicers’ voluntary participation in the program, and the requirement to participate in good faith.

One of the variables banks and servicers include in their NPV analysis is the cost of successfully taking a piece of property through a foreclosure sale; these costs include legal fees and court costs. Typically, banks pass along these costs to the homeowner in a modification, adjusting the unpaid balance upwards by thousands of dollars. By increasing the unpaid balance of the loan, modifying that loan so that the monthly payment is 31% of the homeowner’s gross monthly income (a requirement under HAMP) appears less palatable. The higher those foreclosure fees (and ultimately the unpaid balance of the loan) are, the less likely a homeowner is to receive a modification.

Similarly, another variable banks estimate when deciding whether to modify a homeowner’s loan is the months to a foreclosure sale. The more months before achieving a foreclosure sale, the more expensive the foreclosure becomes and the longer it will be before the house is ultimately resold by the bank to recoup its investment. As the months to a foreclosure sale rise, modification becomes an increasingly profitable alternative under a NPV analysis. By aggressively pursuing legal claims, banks are taking affirmative actions to keep the months to a foreclosure sale low and decreasing the homeowner’s likelihood of receiving a loan modification. Thus, by pursuing foreclosure even while considering a homeowner for modification, banks and servicers are undermining the taxpayer-funded program in which they chose to participate and that program’s stated goals.

Even if the Plaintiff’s own equitable standing is impeccable, the Court’s inquiry into the equities of the case does not end there. Given taxpayers’ significant investment into this program and its goal of drastically reducing the number of foreclosures, the community has a broader equitable interest in ensuring its success.

Should the Court Allow the Bank to Inflict a Foreclosure on the Community?

While courts will inquire into the behavior of the Plaintiff and the circumstances surrounding the origination, servicing, and enforcement of the note and mortgage, a foreclosure involves broader equitable considerations. Courts not only consider strict equitable defenses, but also “balance hardships that the parties, other affected persons, and the public would face under various possible outcomes.” Handbook of Modern Equity, de Funiak, William Q., 42–46 (2d ed. 1956). Again, trial courts “may examine all relevant factors to ensure that complete justice is done.” Johnnycake Mountain Associates v. Ochs, 932 A.2d 472 (Conn. App. 2007). Here, this examination requires inquiry into the devastating impact of foreclosures on the parties and the community. Furthermore, courts must consider the hardships caused by securitized loans, as well as Plaintiff’s compliance with federal efforts to stabilize the housing market and end the foreclosure crisis.

Kentucky courts have long-recognized the doctrine of equitable waste to prevent parties from abusing their own rights to the detriment of others. The Kentucky Court of Appeals, then the Commonwealth’s highest court, held in 1912 that:

[E]quity will sometimes restrain equitable waste. Equitable waste is defined by Mr. Justice Story to consist of ‘such acts as at law would not be esteemed to be waste under the circumstances of the case, but which, in the view of a court of equity, are so esteemed from their manifest injury to the inheritance, although they are not inconsistent with the legal rights of the party committing them.’ The same author further says: ‘In all such cases the party is deemed guilty of a wanton and unconscientious abuse of his rights, ruinous to the interests of other parties.’ Lord Chancellor Campbell defines equitable waste to be ‘that which a prudent man would not do with his own property.’ Landers v. Landers, 151 S.W. 386, 391 (Ky.App. 1912). Internal citations omitted.

When operating in equity, then, courts will intervene to avert financial ruin, even if a party may be legally entitled to ruin either itself or others.

In foreclosure cases, courts should undertake a complete inventory of the cost of the foreclosure to both the parties and the larger community. “Balancing … public interest and third person rights … admits a modicum of economic analysis into the equity case.” Dobbs at § 2.4(6) at 112. When the court weighs the equities in a foreclosure proceeding, it must consider the effect a foreclosure sale will have on innocent homeowners in the neighboring area.[20]

As discussed above, lost equity, maintaining and reselling foreclosed property, lost investment, depreciation of nearby properties, and lost tax revenue add up quickly to make foreclosure an exceptionally costly remedy. Unfortunately, due to perverse incentives for servicers in Pooling and Servicing Agreements, lenders cannot be relied upon to manage their interest in the property “as a prudent man would” as required by the Court in Landry. Instead, lenders pursue foreclosure to their own detriment and the detriment of the homeowner, neighbors, and the larger community. In these cases, the court is required to consider the public interest and third party rights in an economic analysis of the equities in a foreclosure case. The high cost of foreclosure to all involved make it a remedy that should only be granted when all other options have been exhausted and other equities compel it.

Beyond the barrier posed by the servicers’ warped incentives, securitization creates another barrier to a mutually beneficial settlement. Stock, called "certificates, in residential mortgage-backed securities are divided into tranches; investors in various tranches can have very different financial incentives. Investors in a RMBS receive different returns on their investment and receive payment in different orders of seniority. So, even when these notes were effectively securitized, the certificateholders of the security have very different interests. Some (those with the most seniority) will prefer pursuing foreclosure, while investors in more junior tranches will profit by a mortgage reformation. In this situation, many servicers will decline to act to modify a home loan, citing either the constraints of the Pooling and Servicing Agreement or exposure to potential liability to one investor or another.

This situation is inequitable. Foreclosures devastate homeowners, neighborhoods, and communities while servicers and their investors fail to pursue alternatives to foreclosure. Kentucky courts, operating in equity, should require both parties to a note secured by real estate to negotiate in good faith before pursuing the drastic and costly remedy of forfeiture through a foreclosure sale.

When a homeowner has applied for a HAMP modification, the securitization of the homeowners loan can prevent modification. Under HAMP, if a loan has been securitized (and 85% of outstanding home loans have), the servicer must get approval from the trustee of the residential mortgage-backed security–approval the investor is not obligated to give. Many homeowners go through months of heartache and hassle trying to get their loan modified only to be told, simply, “the investor is not participating.” When this occurs, Courts must be deeply skeptical of the Plaintiff’s equitable standing to pursue foreclosure. If a servicer has asked an investor’s permission to modify a loan, it’s because the servicer has already calculated that EVERYONE, including the investors, will lose less money modifying a homeowner’s loan than by foreclosing on the home. The investor’s non-participation in this situation is profoundly inequitable.

Kentucky courts already recognize that when the state seeks to condemn property under its power of eminent domain cases that the condemning authority has the “additional duty … to negotiate in good faith for the acquisition of property prior to initiating condemnation proceedings.” Golden Foods, LLC v. Louisville & Jefferson County Metropolitan Sewer Dist., 2005 WL 1049388, 3 (Ky. App., 2005). The two situations—eminent domain and foreclosure—are similar. Both involve parties with radically different levels of bargaining power. Both involve the forfeiture of real estate to the party of greater power. In foreclosure suits, courts should exercise their equitable jurisdiction and withhold foreclosure until the party seeking to foreclose can offer convincing evidence of having negotiated in good faith and can demonstrate that no other alternative to foreclosure exists.

Remedies Available in Equity

Sitting in equity, the Court has broad discretion to fashion a remedy that does justice in a particular case. It can refuse to grant a foreclosure sale: “[w]here the Plaintiff’s conduct is inequitable, a court may withhold foreclosure on equitable considerations and principles.” Morgera v. Chiappardi, 813 A.2d 89, 91 (Conn. App. 2003).[21] In cases in which the alleged delinquency is caused by unemployment, disability, or other loss of income, the Court may stay a foreclosure to provide the Defendant time to find employment, apply for benefits, or otherwise remedy the loss of income. When a homeowner has applied for a loan modification, the Court may dismiss premature suits for foreclosure when the Plaintiff has not finished evaluating that homeowner for a loan modification. Similarly, the Court may stay a foreclosure proceeding until a servicer or bank gives convincing evidence of having negotiated in good faith with a homeowner. Negotiating in good faith will include exploring less-costly alternatives to foreclosure like short sales, deeds-in-lieu of foreclosure, reasonable payment plans to erase the arrearage. Courts may modify mortgage payments as required by the demands of equity.[22]

A bank’s failure to explore all options to avoid inflicting a foreclosure will impact their standing to pursue a foreclosure. Courts do not need to wait on homeowners attorneys to make these arguments or question the bank’s equitable standing. As a judge in Kentucky, you can inquire sua sponte into the parties’ standing, as standing impacts the court’s subject matter jurisdiction. Kentucky Employers Mutual Insurance v. Coleman, 236 S.W.3d 9, 15 (2007). If a bank is behaving recklessly, the Court may dismiss the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because the bank’s bad acts rob it of the equitable standing it needs to pursue foreclosure in our courts.

Alternative Dispute Resolution in Foreclosure Cases

Courts across the country are changing their judicial processes to ensure that the parties have exhausted all alternatives to foreclosure, bargained in good faith, and deserve to proceed with a foreclosure sale.

Right now, we have a situation in which clueless homeowners lack information about the civil process and the resources available in the community to assist them in responding to the complaint and exploring alternatives to foreclosure. More than 80% of all homeowners facing foreclosure will lack the benefit of legal counsel. In an adversarial system of justice, this virtually guarantees that the homeowner will be steamrolled in a proceeding in which our system of justice has broken down.

The failure of our system to efficiently assist clueless homeowners in finding legal counsel should concern each member of the bar. Combine vulnerable homeowners with a failed federal loan modification program and lack of legal counsel and you have a situation that is most easily defined simply as “pain.”

If timely information delivered credibly is combined with the counsel and advocacy of an attorney and a judicial program with teeth, we can enter world that involves less pain, that avoids unnecessary foreclosures, and helps our community recover from the housing crisis as quickly as possible.

The first thing we did in Jefferson County (and, frankly, the most important thing you can do) is attach a Notice to each foreclosure complaint before the Sheriff delivers the complaint and service of summons. The Notice should be full-color (or a least printed on colored paper) and should contain a phone number homeowners can call to receive a referral to an attorney or housing counselor.

You will need to work with your local bar association and legal aid offices to develop a referral system that works for your jurisdiction.

National best practices for these foreclosure mediation programs are emerging and include:

  1. An automatic stay of the foreclosure proceedings until the servicer has established its good faith compliance with its obligations
  2. Transparency from all parties that includes production of net present value calculations and loan documents
  3. Active, neutral oversight from an official with the power to impose sanctions on parties
  4. Requirement to pursue alternatives to foreclosure in good faith
  5. Sustainable funding mechanisms that allow program administrators to be paid
  6. Oversight of attorney’s fees and foreclosure costs

The Franklin County Circuit Court has implemented a program that incorporates many of the emerging national best practices. A copy of the Court’s order is available here.

In Franklin County, the Court issues an automatic stay in every foreclosure case. If the homeowner takes no action within 20 days, that stay is lifted. However if the homeowner is participating in Franklin County’s foreclosure mediation process, the stay will remain in place until the parties agree on an alternative to foreclosure or the servicer can demonstrate that they have analyzed and pursued every other alternative to foreclosure and they are both legally and equitably entitled to the extreme remedy of foreclosure. A mediator oversees this entire process and can report to the Court regarding the efforts both sides are making to avoid a foreclosure.

It’s Down to You

The foreclosure crisis rages across our state. Banks add fuel to the fire with each foreclosure they pursue. with each foreclosure sale, surrounding homes lose value.[23] Despite profiting from their subprime lending spree, the TARP bailout, and the Home Affordable Modification Program, banks are actively seeking to foreclose, adding unnecessary costs to the loan and diminishing homeowners’ chances to qualify for loan modifications. Banks chose to play with fire in the risk-filled world of residential mortgage-backed securities; they now expect the Court to stand aside and watch as our neighborhoods burn.

The Court does not have to stand aside. Rather, the Court has the obligation to weigh the equities in each foreclosure case and decide whether the Plaintiff has the legal and equitable standing to impose the costs of foreclosure on innocent neighbors and the city’s strained coffers. You have the authority to evaluate the equity of the situation and craft equitable solutions unique to each case. Or, you have the authority to order a mediation at which each alternative to foreclosure will be considered and eliminated prior to allowing the Plaintiff the extreme remedy of foreclosure.

Federal and state officials have failed to adopt policies that would reduce the foreclosure crisis and the unemployment crisis. It’s down to you.

It’s up to you.

  1. Throughout this letter, I will use the word “bank” and “servicer” interchangeably. There is a difference. But, when I’m referring to a “bank” pursuing foreclosure, I mean “the entity charged with servicing the loan and exploring loss mitigation options.” This will often, in fact, be a servicer. About 85% of all home loans have been bundled into residential mortgage-backed securities; those lines are usually managed by a “servicer,” not a “bank.” That servicer would often be the entity responsible for collecting and accounting for payments, determining default, initiating and prosecuting the foreclosure, and exploring alternatives to foreclosure.  ↩

  2. For a general overview of the risks of adjustable rate, interest-only, and payment-option mortgages, see Mark Zandi, Financial Shock: A 360° Look at the Subprime Mortgage Implosion and How to Avoid the Next Financial Crisis 35–38 (FT Press 2009). Zandi reports that the lending industry regarded payments scheduled to “rise substantially” as “a problem for another day.” He also notes that because ARMs “shift substantial risk to borrowers when rates fluctuate…the delinquency rate on ARM loans is 50% greater than on fixed-rate loans.”   ↩

  3. While some unqualified borrowers received loans, other borrowers received high-cost loans when the borrower’s income and credit history qualified them for more traditional, affordable loans. The National Community Reinvestment Coalition issued a report, “Income is No Shield” in 2008 describing in detail the disparate impact the lending environment had on minorities, regardless of income or credit score. In Louisville, specifically, the report found that low-to-middle income African-Americans were 2.3 times more likely to receive a high-cost home loan than their low-to-middle income white counterparts. Even middle-to-upper income African-Americans were 1.3 times more likely to receive high-cost home loans than their white counterparts. Again, this report is adjusted for traditional lending risk factors such as income and credit score and reflects the likelihood of receiving high-cost (and therefore high-risk) loan products by race. The report suggests that, reprehensibly, in recent years lending institutions have regarded race as a risk factor when originating loans.   ↩

  4. Often the true loan-to-value was even greater than 100% when one considers that many of the loans were justified based on inflated appraisals.   ↩

  5. To say that “no one wins” is not entirely accurate when a loan is serviced by a company that is not the owner of the note. A third party often services the loan when the loan has been securitized into a REMIC (Real Estate Mortgage Investment Conduit). In these cases, the trust will hire a third party to collect payments from the thousands of loans pooled in the security and divide the proceeds according to various investors’ rights under the Pooling and Servicing Agreement (PSA). In many PSAs, the loan servicer is paid a nominal fee for collecting the monthly checks, but gets to keep the proceeds of fees that flow from a homeowner’s default and resulting foreclosure. Thus, PSAs create in servicers the perverse financial incentive to foreclose even when both their investors and the homeowner would benefit from a negotiated settlement or loan modification that kept the homeowner in the home and monthly checks flowing to the investor. Many of the provisions of the President’s Home Affordable Modification Program aim to overcome these misaligned incentives.   ↩

  6. Mortgage Bankers Ass’n, “Lenders’ Cost of Foreclosure” p. 2 (May 2008), available at ↩

  7. Id. at 4–5 (May 2008).   ↩

  8. It is worth noting that the MBA acknowledged in 2008 that the current “softness” of the housing market could push the losses investors experience in an REO sale “even higher.” Since that statement, the housing market has not stabilized and remains soft.   ↩

  9. In 2008, “ten million American homeowners, a fifth of all mortgage holders, are now in this untenable financial situation.” Mark Zandi, Financial Shock: A 360° Look at the Subprime Mortgage Implosion and How to Avoid the Next Financial Crisis 44 (FT Press 2009). In Kentucky, 1 in 4 homeowners are underwater.   ↩

  10. Another report from the Metropolitan Housing Coalition notes that “[T]he best defense to a home becoming vacant and abandoned due to foreclosure is quick action by the homeowner to seek assistance from a reliable nonprofit housing counseling program in seeking a loan modification from the creditor. The chance of a property becoming vacant and abandoned is greatly diminished by the owner negotiating new loan arrangements and remaining in the home as long as possible.” Metropolitan Housing Coalition, *Vacant Properties: A Tool to Turn Neighborhood Liabilities into Assets*. Plaintiff’s are far less likely to be guilty of equitable waste if they engage in rigorous good-faith negotiations with homeowners in default.   ↩

  11. David Newton, “Widespread Panic: Why the Mortgage Lending Industry Can Calm Down About Amending Cramdown” 98 Ky. L.J. 155, 159 (2009) quoting NeighborWorks America, Foreclosure Statistics, ↩

  12. U.S. Congress, Senate Joint Economic Committee, Sheltering Neighborhoods from the Subprime Foreclosure Storm, Special report by the Joint Economic Committee, 1, 110th Cong., 1st sess. (Washington: GPO 2007) available for download at  ↩

  13. Master Commissioners may also consider arguments based in equity. CR 53.04 notes that courts may “specify or limit [a commissioner’s] powers and may direct [the commissioner] to report only upon particular issues or to do or perform particular acts.” However, the rule is clear that absent such limitations, the commissioner “has and shall exercise the power…to do all acts and take all measures necessary or proper for the efficient performance of his duties.” Without a referral that specifically directs the commissioner to consider only issues of law, the commissioner has the duty to consider issues of equity, as well.   ↩

  14. Consider, for example, the successful loss mitigation efforts of Shiela Bair and the FDIC in their administration of the failed California bank, IndyMac. The FDIC created a loss mitigation program that automatically qualified homeowners for a loan modification rather than placing onerous, opaque, and frustrating requirements on the borrower.   ↩

  15. All of the servicer’s obligations under the Home Affordable Modification Program are outlined in the Handbook for Servicer’s of Non-GSE Mortgages ↩

  16. Lillard v. Farm Credit Services of Mid-America, ACA, 831 S.W.2d 626 (Ky. Ct. App. 1992). See also, e.g., Farm Credit Bank of Spokane v. Debuf, 757 F.Supp. 1106 (D. Mont. 1990); Federal Land Bank of St. Paul v. Overboe, 404 N.W.2d 445 (N.D. 1987); Burgmeier v. Farm Credit Bank of St. Paul, 499 N.W.2d 43 (Minn. App. 1993); Western Farm Credit Bank v. Pratt, 860 P.2d 376 (Utah Ct. App. 1993).   ↩

  17. See, e.g., Williams v. Nat’l Sch. Of Health Tech., Inc., 836 F.Supp. 273, 283 (E.D. Pa. 1993), aff’d, 37 F.3d 1491 (3d Cir. 1994); Fed. Nat’l Mortg. Ass’n v. Moore, 609 F.Supp. 194, 196 (N.D. Ill. 1985); Wells Fargo Home Mortg., Inc. v. Neal, 922 A.2d 538 (Md. 2007); Union National Bank of Little Rock v. Cobbs, 567 A.2d 719 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1989); Fleet Real Estate Funding Corp. v. Smith, 530 A.2d 919 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1987); Hayes v. M & T Mortg. Corp., 906 N.E.2d 638 (Ill. App. Ct. 2009); Countrywide Home Loans, Inc. v. Wilkerson, 2004 WL 539983 (N.D. Ill.); ABN AMRO Mortg. Group, Inc., 2009 WL 1066511 (Iowa Ct. App.); Ghervescu v. Wells Fargo Home Mortg., 2008 WL 660248 (Cal. Ct. App.).  ↩

  18. There will be instances in which even when the NPV calculation demonstrates that foreclosure is more profitable that equity will demand some alternative other than foreclosure. Under HAMP, homeowners who have significant equity in their homes will be the least likely to qualify for a loan modification. The cruel irony of the program is that homeowners who have invested most in their homes and made payments most regularly and over the longest period of time will be the most likely to lose their homes because lenders are more likely to recoup the full Note value of the loan in foreclosure. Equity will require some solution other than foreclosure in these cases.   ↩

  19. Maine has established the FDIC’s program as the NPV analysis standard at court-ordered mediations. “Mediations conducted pursuant to the program must use the calculations, assumptions and forms that are established by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and published in the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Loan Modification Program Guide as set out on the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s publicly accessible website.” 14 M.R.S.A. § 6321-A . An overview of the program and how the Excel spreadsheet operates is available here. The Net Present Value test is available as an Excel spreadsheet.  ↩

  20. This abandonment of property becomes even more inequitable when one considers the bank’s active contribution to neighborhood disintegration. Judge Boyko notes that while “financial institutions or successors/assignees rush to foreclose [and] obtain a default judgment,” the bank will then “sit on the deed, avoiding responsibility for maintaining the property while reaping the financial benefits of interest running on a judgment. The financial institutions know the law charges the one with title (still the homeowner) with maintaining the property.”   ↩

  21. See also Bank of New York v. Conway, 916 A.2d 130 (Conn. Supp. 2006).   ↩

  22. In times of economic crisis, the state has the power to alter the terms of contracts between private parties to protect the vital public interests. “The reservation of state power appropriate to such extraordinary conditions may be deemed to be as much a part of all contracts as is the reservation of state power to protect the public interest in the other situations to which we have referred. And, if state power exists to give temporary relief from the enforcement of contracts in the presence of disasters due to physical causes such as fire, flood, or earthquake, that power cannot be said to be nonexistent when the urgent public need demanding such relief is produced by other and economic causes.” Home Bldg. & Loan Ass’n v. Blaisdell, 290 U.S. 398, 439–40 (1934).  ↩

  23. The Center for Responsible Lending [estimates] that over 800,000 Kentucky homes will lose an average of $1,800 in equity due to nearby foreclosures between 2009 and 2012. That’s $2.2 billion in lost equity statewide.   ↩

Vacant Properties in the LEO
Here's a great article by Jonathan Meador in the LEO about vacant properties in Louisville. Jonathan is doing more and better work on foreclosure and vacant properties than any other journalist in Louisville. And I'd say that even if he didn't quote me from time to time. Because he writes for a weekly, he's able to tell the stories of homeowners facing foreclosure and dive deeply into the complicated issues that drive homes into foreclosure and turn foreclosed properties into vacant properties.
How Louisville’s Foreclosure Process Contributes to the Problem of Vacant Properties

Here's a quick breakdown of how the foreclosure crisis exacerbates the River City's growing problem with vacant properties and how banks avoid responsibility for maintaining their vacant property stock.

Homeowners and Tenants Leave Properties Threatened by Foreclosure, Often Months Earlier than Necessary

  • Knowing they cannot pay, homeowners seek to avoid the embarrassment and uncertainty of a Sheriff’s “eviction” by moving out. Because the foreclosure process takes months, vacating during the foreclosure process creates a vacant, unmaintained property for at least a few months, if not much longer.

Bank Walkaways Create Long-Term Vacancies and Few Barriers Exist to Discourage this Practice

  • Banks can decide to “walk away” from properties at three points: during foreclosure, following a foreclosure auction (but before the deed is transferred), and following the transfer of the deed.
  • A bank will decide to “walk away” from a property when the cost of foreclosing and/or owning the property outweighs the benefit to the bank. Louisville’s enforcement mechanisms make the costs of walking away relatively minor.

The Bank’s Avoid Financial Responsibility for their Property in at least Two Ways 

1. Banks Avoid Accountability Through Lax Record-Keeping Requirements

  • After the deed is in the bank’s name, the bank can avoid responsibility for maintenance and code violation on a property it owns through the widespread practice of not recording the deed at the County Clerk’s office.


  • Many banks will not record their deed until they have found a third-party purchaser for the property.  This creates difficulty for Inspections, Permits, and Licensing to cite the right party for code violations because the bank has not recorded the transfer of ownership.

2. Banks Avoid Accountability Because Building Liens are Virtually Meaningless

  • Even if IPL is able to levy fines against the proper party, the bank has no incentive to pay the fines. Should the city attempt to foreclose to collect its money, the bank that owes the money will be paid before the city in from the proceeds of the foreclosure action.

The Mandated Sale of Tax Liens Undermines Louisville’s Ability to Control Housing Stock

  • Kentucky passed one of the first land banking statutes in the nation. This statute was intended to give cities the ability to foreclose on tax-delinquent property, scrub the taxes hindering its marketability, and return the property to productive use.
  • Since the creation of the Louisville Land Bank Authority, the state has begun mandating the sale of delinquent taxes (“Certificates of Delinquency”) to private, third-party purchasers. The sale of these Certificates is also the sale of the right to foreclose on those properties. Now, out-of-state investors are in control of vacant properties rather than the city.
The Number of Vacant Properties and Frustration with their Owners Grows in Louisville

Louisville's foreclosure crisis has swollen the number of vacant properties in the city to between six- and eight-thousand (no one can say for sure). Three things are for sure, though. Vacant properties drive down the value of surrounding homes, erode neighborhoods, and contribute mightily to the diminution of property tax revenues in the River City. Louisville's response, both in the past and today, has been and promises to be ineffective to prevent banks from unnecessarily wasting our housing stock.

A recent C-J article described howout-of-state banks owe the city more than $200,000 in fines. I have to admit: when I read that article I thought, "Is that all?"

The house's owner owes Louisville Metro Government hundreds of dollars in fines and fees, along with $56,000 for 16 other properties around town to which it holds title. That owner is New York-based Citibank, one of nine financial institutions that owe Louisville Metro Government $242,000 in fines and fees for property maintenance violations at vacant houses –— money that the city likely will never collect.

Citibank owns 17 vacant properties that they continue to fail to maintain. The cost of this should be much greater than $56, 000 in unenforceable fines. Indeed, until the cost is greater, out of state banks will have few incentives not to foreclose and decide not to invest in "unprofitable" properties here in Louisville.

recent report from the National Housing Institute articulated a multi-pronged approach that hard-hit areas like Cleveland are taking to avoid the blight of vacant properties. The key first step was to "change the economics of owning vacant property." This involved demolishing five times (200 to 1000) as many lots in 2007 as Cleveland did in 2006 along with levying stiff (read: high six figures) fines against irresponsible corporate investors for failure to maintain their property. The report's conclusion lays out the steps Louisville must take to avoid the loss of entire neighborhoods to blight imposed by out-of-state banks.

First, ramp up code enforcement to control the ownership and irresponsible transfer of post-foreclosure vacant property. In other words, change the economics of owning vacant property. Second, while fighting the immediate battle, be forward-thinking and start planning ahead for the sustainable reuse of accumulating vacant property. Third, and critically important, establish an entity, such as a land bank, that can receive and responsibly hold vacant property. It should be noted that any land bank can only be useful if it has the proper financial resources to undertake this task. Linking land banks to excess spin-off property tax revenue, as first developed by the Genesse County Land Bank, may be the single most important innovation in urban redevelopment in recent years.

One thing not recommended by the National Housing Institute report: shaming banks into paying their fines. This is the approach recently proposed by some our Louisville's most well-intentioned lawmakers. The lawmakers assembled a list of the banks who owe the city fines on their vacant and abandoned properties and sought to publish it in the Louisville Courier-Journal.

The idea is quaint. It is based on the old paradigm of mortgage lending: a belief that your banker is someone who lives in your community and cares about what happens here. For the most part, he (or she) does not. Jamie Dimon will not be in the congregation on Sunday.

A house sits vacant in Louisville

Citibank is not Stockyards Bank and Trust. Wells Fargo is not King Southern Bank.

Wall Street firms have securitized over eighty percent of all home loans in America, collecting them into massive trusts in which global investors can then buy shares. The creators of securitized trusts, the investors in securitized trusts, they do not care about a vacant property in Louisville. They care about their bottom line.

As corporations (out-of-state corporations), they cannot be shamed--they have no conscience. The only way they will take responsibility for their properties in Louisville is if Louisville makes it in the banks' financial interest to take responsibility.

For the last two years, I have been working on the front-end of the vacant property problem: defending homeowners from foreclosure and trying to prevent properties from being vacant in the first place. One of the things on which I want to focus next is what to do about the fallout from the foreclosure crisis: the thousands of vacant properties that continue to plague our city. I will write about solutions other cities are trying and ways to make Louisville's land bank more effective. (Hint: the NHI recommended "proper financial resources.")

Louisville's inadequate response to its foreclosure crisis has created a second, more enduring crisis: a growing number of vacant and abandoned properties. The crisis of abandoned properties harms blameless neighbors by devaluing their homes and inviting crime into their communities. Without bold action, this second crisis threatens to undermine the integrity and livability of entire neighborhoods. A quick look at the location of these vacant properties reveals that this issue, like so many, is not just an economic issue, but a civil rights issue, as well.