Calling Florida’s position as the No. 1 state for foreclosures “shameful,” Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, has filed four bills aimed at helping struggling homeowners.
The bills would provide taxpayer support for people who are on the verge of foreclosure, make it more difficult for banks to sue homeowners for additional debt after a foreclosure and crack down on lenders who use false documents in court.
They stand in contrast to another bill that seeks to speed up the foreclosure process, which can take an average of more than two years in Florida. The bill, filed by Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, is a rehash of a 2012 proposal that led to protests by consumer groups. Passidomo said the long, drawn out foreclosure process is hurting the market and slowing down the housing recovery.
Soto, who led the protests against Passidomo’s 2012 bill, said his proposals are aimed at taking the state in the opposite direction when it comes to foreclosures.
“These bills represent a vision for resolving the foreclosure crisis where we work with families to save their homes and make them more affordable as well as provide meaningful debt relief,” he said in a statement. “This vision stands in stark contrast to the numerous bills filed over the past few years with the sole intention of kicking thousands of Florida’s working families out of their homes for the sake of expediency.”
Florida lawmakers also have about $200 million in funding available from a national mortgage settlement last year. That money is not included in Soto’s proposal and lawmakers have not decided how to use it yet. Some fear that the money could be swept away into non-housing-related issues, though legislative leaders have promised not to allow that to happen. Florida's foreclosure rate is the highest in the nation and foreclosure filings increased significantly last year.
Soto’s full statement is below:
Soto Continues to Fight for Florida’s Families in Foreclosure
Tallahassee – As Florida continues to maintain its shameful distinction as first in the nation for housing foreclosures, state Senator Darren Soto (D-Orlando) announced Wednesday his filing of four bills intended to better help Floridians save their homes and protect them from unscrupulous foreclosure practices.
“These bills represent a vision for resolving the foreclosure crisis where we work with families to save their homes and make them more affordable as well as provide meaningful debt relief,” said Senator Soto, who last year spearheaded efforts to crack down on foreclosure mills. “This vision stands in stark contrast to the numerous bills filed over the past few years with the sole intention of kicking thousands of Florida’s working families out of their homes for the sake of expediency. We can and must do better,”
Soto filed Senate Bill 1236, the “Mortgage Principal Reduction Act,” which would require the Florida Housing Finance Corporation to apply for $100 million of the federal government’s Hardest-Hit Fund program in order to begin a mortgage principal reduction program for Floridians whose homestead properties are in foreclosure.
Senator Soto and Representative Joe Saunders (D-Orlando) also filed Senate Bill 1226 and House Bill 371 aimed at giving homeowners relief after having their homestead property foreclosed upon. Currently, lenders are able to file a deficiency judgment – additional debts assessed by creditors against homeowners to make up for any loss in property value from the original mortgage amount - up to 5 years after the final judgment of foreclosure. Senator Soto proposes to change that length of time to only one year. Additionally, lenders would have only two years to collect the outstanding debt, sparing homeowners from collectors’ current license to haunt them for up to two decades.
Soto will also be introducing the “Short Sale Debt Relief Act” (SB 1228), along with Representative Fullwood (D-Jacksonville). This bill will make deficiency judgments unenforceable for short sales where the original mortgagee’s debt is greater than 20% of the fair market value.
Finally, Senator Soto and Representative Jose Rodriguez (D-Miami) are working on the “Florida Mortgage Collection Fairness Act” (SB 1218), which would prohibit mortgage collection firms from falsifying evidence in foreclosure proceedings.