June 04, 2013

Scott signs mortgage relief bill, but are banks cooperating?

Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill Tuesday that will distribute $200 million in mortgage relief and vowed the new law would hold banks accountable so homeowners are better shielded from foreclosure abuses.

“Banks will now be held accountable and Florida families will be protected with new protections for homeowners,’” Scott said while flanked by Attorney General Pam Bondi and state housing officials.

Yet as Scott signed SB 1852 into law, questions are emerging about whether the banks who signed the deal are complying with the agreement, the latest setback in a relief package already delayed by months of negotiations.

“I’ve had issues with the banks,” Bondi told reporters. “I was on the phone Friday or Saturday with (Shaun Donovan, the secretary of U.S. Department of Housing Development) telling him personal stories of people I’ve had contact with, who have had problems ... I’m telling him first-hand stories that I’m hearing with various banks.”

Attorneys general in North Carolina, Illinois and New York have said that the banks aren’t complying with the agreement. Bondi’s office said that it has received 293 complaints of possible violations of the agreement and is reviewing each one. But unlike attorneys general in other states, particularly New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Bondi stopped short of threatening more legal action.

Schneiderman has threatened to sue Wells Fargo and Bank of America because he’s concerned they are purposely delaying processing homeowner requests for lower mortgage payments.

“Eric Schneiderman can say he’ll sue all day long, but there’s a process that you go through first,” Bondi said. “There are stringent provisions under this settlement process, and we’re doing everything to hold the banks accountable.”

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February 27, 2013

Orlando Senator files four foreclosure bills, calling Florida's No. 1 ranking 'shameful'

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:

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January 03, 2013

New ‘faster foreclosure’ bill filed

A “faster foreclosures” proposal that faced sharp consumer outcry and protest last year has resurfaced in a more moderate form this year, with a new bill filed by Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, Thursday.

The bill, HB 87, offers a slew of changes to the civil procedure governing foreclosures in Florida—the state with the highest foreclosure rate in the country.

Most of the provisions appear to be aimed at speeding up and cleaning the foreclosure process, which currently take  more 600 days to run its course in Florida.

The bill would require mortgage lenders to certify that they have the correct paperwork proving they have the right to foreclose. Paperwork problems gummed up the foreclosure system in Florida and across the nation in 2010 and 2011, leading to a massive $25 billion mortgage settlement with banks accused of using faulty documents to foreclose on homeowners.

The bill also gives condominium associations the ability to speed up the foreclosure process when a bank is moving too slowly. Condo associations have been forced to shoulder significant maintenance costs while banks carry out foreclosures. Banks have been accused of purposefully slowing down the process in order to limit their costs.

For their part, banks get a bit of a gift in the bill as well. If a lender forecloses on a home and later is sued for doing so wrongfully, the lender can only be forced to pay monetary damages. That means the homeowner can’t get his or her house back—a proposition that could be especially difficult if the bank has sold the home to an unsuspecting third party. Passidomo’s bill would theoretically eliminate that awkward hypothetical scenario, and free the bank from having to recoup a house it sold to another party after a faulty foreclosure.

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August 07, 2012

Bondi and Legislature both claim authority over $300 million in foreclosure money

Florida attorney general Pam Bondi clarified Tuesday that she was not feuding with the Legislature over how to spend $300 million in cash earmarked for Florida as part of a $25 billion national foreclosure settlement.

But it’s abundantly clear that Bondi’s office and the Legislature have two very different views on what the law says about how the money should be processed.

The Associated Press reported Monday that Bondi has not been able move forward on the funds because the Legislature wants to have a say in how the money is spent. An official in the Florida House said Bondi has two options for how to appropriate the money, and both options involve getting approval from state lawmakers (which might not happen until next spring).

Asked if she believed she had to get legislative approval to spend the cash, Bondi said: “My opinion? No. I have the authority to distribute it.”

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May 09, 2012

More groups lobbying Bondi with ideas for $300 million in foreclosure settlement cash

Attorney General Pam Bondi is being flooded with advice after she asked members of the public for their thoughts on how she should spend more than $300 million in unallocated cash from a $25 billion mortgage settlement over foreclosures

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Tampa-area Democrat, sent Bondi suggestions on how to spend the cash this week, urging her not to allow it to be used for plugging Florida's budget hole. She wants the money to go directly to housing initiatives.

The Florida Housing Coalition is the latest group to ask Bondi to spend the money on affordable housing initiatives like the State Housing Initiative Program (SHIP) and the State Apartment Incentive Loan (SAIL). State funds that normally go to those programs have been redirected in recent budget years. 

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February 26, 2012

A fugitive couple and South Florida's Russia-linked mortgage fraud machine

For fugitives Victor and Natalia Wolf, the police poster tells the story: hundreds of victims from land fraud swindles across Florida totaling millions in losses.

But the couple’s lasting legacy may be found in their most prized possession: their home.

In their final desperate days, the Wolfs managed to get a spate of sham mortgages slapped on their North Miami Beach house — creating 21 fake transactions — to squeeze millions from lenders before vanishing.

The wheeling and dealing — phony deeds, forged signatures and a straw buyer — has left investors fighting over who owns the stately waterfront house at the center of the couple’s real-estate empire.

“It is mind boggling,” said Fort Lauderdale attorney Roman Groysman, representing a burned lender in a battle over the home. “They did everything imaginable in the realm of fraud.” Amazing story by Mike Sallah here.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/02/25/2661489/the-south-florida-house-that-became.html#storylink=cpy

February 10, 2012

Florida gets $8.4 billion chunk of $25 billion mortgage settlement

A landmark mortgage settlement over the mishandling of millions of foreclosures nationwide could bring in billions of dollars in new housing aid for Florida homeowners, but critics of the long-awaited deal say the money isn’t nearly enough to help the millions of homeowners in hard-hit markets like South Florida.

“We’re looking at over 1 million [troubled] properties in Florida, and how many of them are going to be saved with these principal write-downs?” said Jack McCabe, CEO of McCabe Research and Consulting in Deerfield Beach, shortly after the national deal was announced Thursday. “I think that’s a precious few, maybe 20 percent.”

The $25 billion agreement was reached following 16 months of complex negotiations between 50 attorneys general and five major banks amid allegations of robo-signing and other abuses during the foreclosure crisis. Florida’s share: $8.4 billion, second only behind California.

Under terms of the settlement, Floridians who have lost their homes or have fallen underwater on their loans could receive a $2,000 check, a $20,000 mortgage reduction or a lower interest rate.

Read the rest of the story here.


August 01, 2011

Ex-Rep. Tom Grady to be state's new bank regulator

Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet Tuesday are expected to appoint former Republican state Rep. Tom Grady of Naples to be the state's chief banking regulator. Grady, 53, will head the Office of Financial Regulation (OFR) and will take the place of Tom Cardwell, an Orlando lawyer. Grady is a good friend of Scott's, and the two men live on the same street in Naples.

The job of running OFR is obscure but important -- and not without political peril. Cardwell's predecessor, Don Saxon, was forced out in 2009 by then-Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and Gov. Charlie Crist following a Miami Herald expose that revealed ineffective oversight of the mortgage broker industry.

Grady, an attorney, served one term in the House, from 2008 to 2010. He most recently made headlines for filing a class-action lawsuit against Crist, demanding refunds of campaign contributions after Crist switched his party affiliation from Republican to independent as a candidate for U.S. Senate.

-- Steve Bousquet

August 07, 2010

By signing blank deeds, did Jeff Greene enable mortgage fraud in desert Calif. town?

RIDGECREST, Calif. — Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jeff Greene says he had nothing to do with creating the sub-prime mortgage mess that made him fabulously wealthy.

He was simply a savvy investor who “could see that the housing market was imploding” and lucky enough to make more than $500 million by betting against it.

But he wasn’t just a spectator to the housing collapse. Four years ago, Greene was party to precisely the kind of deal that decimated the market. 

Greene insists he did nothing wrong. Yet the way he handled the deal left an opening for massive fraud and put him uncomfortably close to a man now under federal indictment.

Read the story from St. Petersburg Times staff writers Kris Hundley and Caryn Baird here.

November 17, 2009

McCollum tells banks to improve home loan modification response

Attorney General Bill McCollum, miffed at the red tape and unresponsiveness that homeowners have reported in dealing with their mortgage banks, just sent a letter to the Florida execs of several major banks calling on them to create a "fair and efficient" process for recession-weary homeowners to modify and renegotiate their loans.

McCollum spokeswoman Sandi Copes said McCollum's office has been getting complaints for many weeks from homeowners who are trying to tweak their loans -- only to be put on hold for hours or directed through a frustrating maze of phone calls and bank reps. McCollum heard an echo of those complaints during a Nov. 7 housing forum in Broward County, and a deputy attorney general from his office saw the problems firsthand while recently sitting with a frustrated homeowner at a bank for two hours, said McCollum spokeswoman Ryan Wiggins.

"Homeowners who experienced excellent customer service from their banks at the time they originated their loans are now frustrated and disillusioned by the lack of response and cooperation they have received from their banks," McCollum said.

Helping homeowners can no doubt build good will among potential voters, of course, so McCllum isn't alone among elected officials seeking higher office. Gov. Charlie Crist in 2008 created the HOPE task force to seek remedies for the state mortgage crisis. Democrat gubernatorial candidate CFO Alex Sink has helped some 750 homeowners renegotiate and pay their loans through initiatives such as the Florida Housing Help program, said her spokeswoman Kyra Jennings.

And McCollum critics (who tend to be Sink supporters, big shocker) point out that he was a member of Congress when much of the legislation faulted with contributing to the national mortgage crisis was passed. McCollum voted for the Financial Services Act of 1999 and the Commodity Futures Modernization Act in 2000, which have been credited for allowing banks to become more aggressive mortgage lenders.

Read the letter McCollum sent to Bank of America, JP Morgan/Chase, Wells Fargo, and Wachovia here.