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Faster foreclosures bill zooms toward House floor

A bill to speed up Florida’s groggy foreclosure process is headed to the House floor after a largely partyline vote in the House budget committee.

HB 87 creates new options for expedited foreclosures and tightens up filing standards for banks.

Opponents claimed it would harm homeowners and favor banks.

“The bill appears to diminish the rights of homeowners and consumers, while attempting to streamline the process,” said Rep. Cynthia Stafford, D-Miami. “I don’t see how this bill protects homeowners who have been victims of fraud and other unscrupulous activities.”

Bill sponsor Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, said the bill was a consumer-friendly attempt to clean up the foreclosure process, which has been plagued by fraud.

“The Florida Legislature…does not support fraud,” she said. “This bill is so fair, it’s so consumer friendly.”

It was Passidomo’s third attempt in three years to address the foreclosure issue, with previous attempts failing after heavy protests. A Senate companion bill is moving through the committee process.

This year’s bill offers a much more modest approach than previous years. Passidomo pointed out that the bill requires banks to certify they have the correct documents and shortens the period of statute of limitations for post-foreclosure lawsuits against homeowners.

But consumer advocates pointed to other provisions in the bill that are more controversial. For example, the bill states that homeowners who lose their home in a fraudulent foreclosure cannot get it back if another party bought the property from the bank. Another provision would allow condominium associations to speed up the foreclosure process on homeowners who have not paid their condo dues.

Florida has the largest share of foreclosure inventory of any state in the nation, with more than 300,000 homes in foreclosure. With hundreds of thousands of additional homes are at risk of falling into foreclosure, one in five mortgages in Florida are currently distressed.

According to RealtyTrac, Florida ranks as the top state in the nation for foreclosures and seven of the top 10 cities in the U.S. are in Florida.

Part of the reason for the high foreclosure rate is the lengthy judicial foreclosure process in Florida, where banks must go to court to repossess a delinquent property.

Florida’s average foreclosure process takes 853 days, ranking only behind New York and New Jersey. The national average is 414 days.