The Attorneys General of Nevada and Arizona last week slapped Bank of America with lawsuits alleging widespread fraud occurrs in the bank’s mortgage modification programs. BofA, the nation’s biggest bank, has consistently lagged behind the other big mortgage servicers in successfully modifying mortgages for troubled borrowers. Andrew Jakabovics and I also caught the bank violating the contract it signed with Treasury to participate in the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) by siphoning borrowers into its own private modification program without determining their HAMP eligibility.
But these lawsuits allege an even bigger mess, with BofA accused of giving deceptive and inaccurate reasons for rejecting modifications, and stringing borrowers along in the modification process for months, allowing them to continue making futile mortgage payments before ultimately foreclosing on them:
As a result of Bank of America’s misrepresentations, many Arizona consumers stopped making mortgage payments in a perilous attempt to qualify for help. Others waited for months for — or never received — answers on their modification requests, all while fearing that they would lose their homes; many actually lost their homes. Some consumers were misled to continue making payments in the belief that they would be able to obtain modifications and keep their homes.
Had they known they would lose their homes despite making payments, some consumers might have sough short sales or other foreclosure alternatives or simply allowed their homes to be foreclosed, saving the money from the additional payments for other necessary expenses. Other consumers lose willing buyers who could have mitigated their own (and Bank of America’s) financial losses by stepping in to purchase their homes.
Nevada’s attorney general told a very similar tale, accusing BofA of “misleading consumers with false assurances that their homes would not be foreclosed while their requests for modifications were pending, but sending foreclosure notices, scheduling auction dates, and even selling consumers’ homes while they waited for decisions.” The Upshot describes the “Boschian hell” that one Arizona family went through before having its home sold out from under it while waiting to see if it qualified for a modification.
Unfortunately, this story is all too common for homeowners seeking modifications. As Shahien Nasiripour noted today, 29,000 borrowers participating in HAMP have been stuck in the “trial modification” phase of the program for a year or more, unsure of whether they will ultimately keep their home, when that phase is only supposed to last three months. If those families are foreclosed upon in the end, they will have wasted months and months of payments that could have been used for something else.
HAMP, at this point, badly needs to fixed, and other foreclosure prevention efforts need to be undertaken. If they aren’t, the sorts of horror stories outlined above won’t stop, and the economy will continue to be weighed down by preventable foreclosures.
New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner has ordered six mortgage lenders, including Bank of America, “to file to the court by Jan. 19 documents proving their internal foreclosure application processes are up to standards, or the applications will be suspended.”