For the past couple of years, it has become a fairly common practice for lenders and servicers to employ forensic loan audits on pools of mortgages, with the goal of uncovering patterns of noncompliance with federal and local regulations, the presence of fraud and/or the testing of high fee violations. Unfortunately, for these same lenders, the practice of forensic loan auditing has slipped over to the consumer side of the market and is now being used against the lenders themselves.
Homeowners, many of whom are facing foreclosures, have begun hiring forensic loan auditors to review their loan documents, and if violations are found, they are hiring attorneys to bring their case against the lenders. What do they hope to gain? At the very least, the homeowners are trying to forestall a foreclosure, push for a loan modification or, at the end of continuum, try to get the loan rescinded.
“The forensic loan review as we know it today came about two years ago, when the mortgage market started to melt down,” explains Jeffrey Taylor, co-founder and managing director for Orlando-based Digital Risk LLC. “The idea of the forensic review was to look for a breach of representations and warranties so the investor or servicer could put the loan back to the originator. This is when you had all the big banks reviewing nonperforming assets to see if there was any fraud material or breaches so as to put them back to the entity that sold the loan.”
Originally, and still today, most forensic loan reviews are done by institutions on nonconforming assets. Starting in about 2008, the concept morphed into a kind of consumer protection program. Forensic loan auditing companies have since sprouted up like weeds, and many advisors are now advocating the program as a best practice and the first step before bringing a lawsuit against the lender to get a “bad” mortgage rescinded or force a loan modification.
“Every constituent along the way is looking for their own get-out-of-jail-free card,” observes Frank Pallotta, a principal with Loan Value Group LLC of Rumson, N.J. “I’ve been seeing this for the last two years. It started with banks that bought loans from small correspondents, and when those loans were going down, they would look for anything in the loan documentss to put it back to the person they bought the loan from. Fannie and Freddie are doing it, too. Now you have borrowers going to the banks to see if they have all their documents in place; they want their own get-out-of-jail-free card.”
In some regards, lenders should be worried, as a swarm of potential lawsuits could fly in their direction. These might not always be hefty lawsuits, considering they mostly represent individual loan amounts, but they are annoying and the fees to defend the institution from these efforts can mount up very quickly. In addition, if homeowners are successful in the bids to rescind a loan, the lender has to pay back all closing costs and finance charges.
The industry should also be concerned because experts in mortgage loan rescissions say it is very hard for a bank to mount an effective defense against people who can prove that their loan contained violations.
“It is extremely difficult for lenders to defend against a lawsuit when they face a bona fide rescission claim,” says Seth Leventhal, an attorney with Fafinski Mark & Johnson PA in Eden Prairie, Minn., who often works with banks.
Additionally, in this age of securitization, many banks don’t own the loans they originated, but, says Leventhal, this is not a defense. “If they don’t own the loan anymore, they are going to have to get in touch with the servicer who does,” he says.
On the other hand, the homeowner’s cost to arrange a loan audit and hire an attorney can be prohibitive, so there is some balance.
Jon Maddux, principal and founder of Carlsbad, Calif.-based You Walk Away LLC, started one of the first companies offering forensic home loan audits for homeowners back in January 2008.
“We found that about 80% of the loans we audited had some type of violation,” he says. “And we thought it was going to be a great new tactic to help the distressed homeowner.”
However, it wasn’t. Homeowners would take the audit findings to their lender or servicer, only to find themselves pretty much as ignored as they were before they made the investment in the audit.
“We found lenders weren’t really reacting to an audit,” says Maddux, adding that lenders and servicers would only react to lawsuits based on audit information.
An audit by itself is not some magical way to make everything go away; it’s just the beginning, adds Dean Mostofi, the founder of National Loan Audits in Rockville, Md.
“Borrowers who contact lenders with an audit don’t get too far,” he says. “It’s in their best interest to go in with an attorney.”
The problem is, Mostofi states, that the first point of contact is the loss mitigation department, and “those people typically have no idea what you are talking about. To get past them sometimes requires lawsuits.”
The forensic loan audit lets the homeowner know if the closing documents contain any violations of the Truth In Lending Act (TILA) and Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA), or if there was any kind of fraud or misrepresentation.
“We go through the important documents – in particular, the applications – TILA disclosure, Department of Housing and Urban Development forms, the note, etc., making sure that everything was disclosed properly to the borrower and that borrowers knew what they were getting into,” says Mostofi. “We also look at the borrower’s income to see if everything was properly disclosed. If the lender didn’t care about the borrower’s income, then we look further for other signs that it might be a predatory loan.”
According to August Blass, CEO and president of Walnut Creek, Calif.-based National Loan Auditors, a forensic loan audit is a thorough risk assessment audit performed by professionals who have industry and legal qualifications to review loan documents and portfolios for potential compliance or underwriting violations, and provide an informative, accurate loan auditing report detailing errors or misrepresentations.
Some elements of a forensic loan audit, says Blass, should include: a compliance analysis report based on data from the actual file; post-closing underwriting review and analysis; and summary of applicable statutes, prevailing case law and action steps that the attorney or loss mitigation group may chose to act upon.
TILA’s statute of limitations extends back three years, so most people who end up on their lender’s doorsteps are people who financed or refinanced during the boom period of 2005 through early 2007. If serious violations are discovered, the borrower can move to have the mortgage rescinded.
Not everyone appreciates the efforts of the forensic loan auditors working the homeowner side of the business.
“It began with a bunch of entrepreneurial, ex-mortgage brokers who learned how to game the system the first time, then started offering services to consumers to teach them the game,” Digital Risk’s Taylor says.
A year ago, most people didn’t know what a forensic audit was, but “now almost everyone knows,” says Mostofi. “The problem that we are having is that the banks are coming back and telling borrowers that everyone who is offering some kind of service to help them is a crook because they are charging a fee.”
Indeed, fees for a forensic audit often fall into the $2,000 to $5,000 range – but a hefty sum for someone facing foreclosure.
This could all be a desperate attempt to get a loan rescinded, but in regard to loan rescissions, there’s bad news and good news.
“Yes, it’s tough for lenders to defend themselves,” says James Thompson, an attorney in the Chicago office of Jenner & Block LLP who represents banks and finance companies. But, he adds, there is an exception: the plaintiff in this kind of lawsuit has to essentially buy back the loan, which means the plaintive (borrower) has to get new financing.
“The borrower has to be able to repay the amount he borrowed,” explains Thompson. “If the property is underwater, as many of these are, the borrower can’t go out and get a replacement mortgage that would give him the entire amount he would need to repay the lender.”
In some court cases, as part of the initial lawsuit, the plaintiff needs to prove that he or she is capable of getting a refinancing. What happens if the court grants a rescission but the consumer can’t find financing? Oddly, no one knows, because court cases haven’t gotten that far.
“Every one of these cases gets resolved,” says Thompson. “The borrowers are struggling to get the attention of the overworked loan servicers, who are scrambling with as many loan modifications and workouts they can come up with. You can get to the head of the line sometimes if you show up with an attorney and forensic loan examination, saying, ‘Here is a TILA violation; we want to rescind.’”
“I don’t see very many of these litigating,” National Loan Auditors’ Blass concurs. “It brings the settlement offer to the table a little faster. It’s not as if the lender would not have brought an offer to the table without the audit. It just seems to fast-track the process a little bit more.”
Forensic loan audits expose mistakes and unscrupulous lending practices that will assist the borrower in negotiation efforts, Blass adds. “Federal-, state- or county-specific lending violations and the legal guidelines for remedy, can pave the way to successful and expedient modification.”
Perhaps, the bigger nightmare of all is not the lawsuits brought by individual homeowners, but the big law firms finding all these individuals and bringing them together for a class action suit.
“The plaintiff bar is as active as ever. They have these big dragnets, trying to capture all the misdeeds of mortgage bankers, going after them with class-action lawsuits,” says David Lykken, president of Mortgage Banking Solutions in Austin, Texas.
This just aggravates the situation, adds Lykken. “I have not seen one class-action lawsuit bring about any positive change. Punitive damages just drain the cash-out of already cash-strapped companies.”
Steve Bergsman is a freelance writer based in Mesa, Ariz., and author of “After The Fall: Opportunities & Strategies for Real Estate Investing in the Coming Decade,” published by John Wiley & Sons.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Deutsche Bank National Trust Company, AS TRUSTEE FOR THE CERTIFICATE HOLDERS OF CARRINGTON MORTGAGE LOAN TRUST 2005-OPT2, ASSET-BACKED CERTIFICATES, SERIES 2005-OPT2, Plaintiff
Debra Abbate, CARMELA ABBATE, KIM FIORENTINO, BOCCE COURT HOMEOWNERS ASSOCIATION, INC., NEW YORK CITY ENVIRONMENTAL CONTROL BOARD, NEW YORK CITY TRANSIT ADJUDICATION BUREAU, NEW YORK CITY PARKING VIOLATIONS BUREAU, and “JOHN DOE No. 1″ through “JOHN DOE #10,” the last ten names being fictitious and unknown to the plaintiff, the person or parties intended being the person or parties, if any, having or claiming an interest in or lien upon the Mortgaged premises described in the Complaint, Defendants.
Plaintiff was represented by the law firm of Frenkel Lambert Weiss & Weisman.
Defendant was represented by Robert E. Brown, Esq.
Joseph J. Maltese, J.
The defendants Kim Fiorentino, Debra Abbate, and Carmella Abbate’s motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s complaint is granted in its entirety.
This is an action to foreclose a mortgage dated February 24, 2005, upon the property located at 25 Bocce Court, Staten Island, New York. The mortgage was originated by Suntrust Mortgage Inc. (”Suntrust”) and was recorded in the Office of the Clerk of Richmond County on April 26, 2005. The plaintiff filed the Summons, Complaint, and Notice of Pendency on March [*2]1, 2007.[FN1] However, Suntrust assigned the first mortgage on this property to Option One Mortgage Corporation, which was executed on July 6, 2007. Another assignment to plaintiff Deutsche Bank National Trust Company (”Deutsche Bank”) was executed on March 7, 2007. Both assignments, which were recorded on July 23, 2007, contained a clause expressing their intention to be retroactively effective: the first one to date back to February 24, 2005, and the second one to February 28, 2007.[FN2] On November 19, 2007, this court issued an order of foreclosure and sale on the subject property. This court also granted two orders to show cause to stay the foreclosure on January 9, 2008 and April 8, 2008.[FN3]
The Appellate Division, Second Department ruled and reiterated in Kluge v. Kugazy the well established law that “foreclosure of a mortgage may not be brought by one who has no title to it . . . .”[FN4] The Appellate Division, Third Department has similarly ruled that an assignee of a mortgage does not have a right or standing to foreclose a mortgage unless the assignment is complete at the time of commencing the action.[FN5] An assignment takes the form of a writing or occurs through the physical delivery of the mortgage.[FN6] Absent such transfer, the assignment of the mortgage is a nullity.[FN7]
Retroactive Assignments of a Mortgage are Invalid
The first issue this court must resolve is whether the clauses in the July 6, 2007 and March 7, 2007 assignments setting the effective date of the assignment to February 24, 2005 and February 28, 2007 respectively are permissible. This court rules that, absent a physical or written transfer before the filing of a complaint, retroactive assignments are invalid.
Recently, trial courts have been faced with the situation where the plaintiff commenced a [*3]foreclosure action before the assignment of the mortgage.[FN8] In those cases the trial courts have held,
. . . where there is no evidence that plaintiff, prior to commencing the foreclosure action, was the holder of the mortgage and note, took physical delivery of the mortgage and note, or was conveyed the mortgage and note by written assignment, an assignment’s language purporting to give it retroactive effect prior to the date of the commencement of the action is insufficient to establish the plaintiff’s requisite standing. . .[FN9]
In this case, the plaintiff failed to offer any admissible evidence demonstrating that they became assignees to the mortgage on or before March 1, 2007; as such, this court agrees with its sister courts and finds that the retroactive language contained in the July 26, 2007 and March 7, 2007 assignments are ineffective. This court therefore rules that it lacks jurisdiction over the subject matter when the plaintiff has no title to the mortgage at the time that it commenced the action.
The next issue this court must resolve is whether the defendants waived subject matter jurisdiction because they did not raise that issue in their prior applications to this court.
Affirmative Defense of Standing
At the outset of any litigation, the court must ascertain that the proper party requests an adjudication of a dispute.[FN10] As the first step of justiciability, “standing to sue is critical to the proper functioning of the judicial system.”[FN11] Standing is a threshold issue; if it is denied, “the pathway to the courthouse is blocked.” [FN12]
The doctrine of standing is designed to “ensure that a party seeking relief has a sufficiently cognizable stake in the outcome so as to present a court with a dispute that is capable [*4]of judicial resolution.”[FN13] “Standing to sue requires an interest in the claim at issue in the lawsuit that the law will recognize as a sufficient predicate for determining the issue at the litigant’s request.”[FN14] Where the plaintiff has no legal or equitable interest in a mortgage, the plaintiff has no foundation in law or in fact.[FN15]
A plaintiff who has no standing in an action is subject to a jurisdictional dismissal since (1) courts have jurisdiction only over controversies that involve the plaintiff, (2) a plaintiff found to lack “standing is not involved in a controversy, and (3) the courts therefore have no jurisdiction of the case when such plaintiff purports to bring it.”[FN16]
On November 7, 2005, in the case of Wells Fargo Bank Minn. N.A. v. Mastropaolo ["Mastropaolo"], this court found that “Insofar as the plaintiff was not the legal titleholder to the mortgage at the time the action was commenced, [the Bank] had no standing to bring the action and it must be dismissed.”[FN17] Erroneously, this court “[o]rdered, that the plaintiff’s summary judgment motion is denied in its entirety and that this action is dismissed with prejudice.”[FN18]
This Court should have ordered that this matter was dismissed without prejudice, which would have given the plaintiff the right to start the action again after it had acquired title to the note and mortgage. Unfortunately, the plaintiff, did not seek a motion to reargue that error, which would have been corrected promptly. Instead, the plaintiff appealed the decision to the Appellate Division, Second Department, which rightfully reversed the decision 18 months later on May 29, 2007 based upon the dismissal with prejudice as opposed to a dismissal without prejudice to refile the action. However, in what appears to be dicta, the court went on to discuss whether lack of standing is tantamount to lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The court further stated that the failure of the initial pro se defendant to make a pre-answer motion or a motion to dismiss, the defense of lack of standing would be waived. But the Appellate Division did not address the issue of subject matter jurisdiction, which may not be waived. [*5]
In the instant case, this court is again faced with similar facts, which raise the issue that the Bank must have title to the mortgage before it can sue the defendant. Clearly, having title to the subject matter (the mortgage) is a condition precedent to the right to sue on that mortgage. This has always been the case, but since the Appellate Division, Second Department’s comments in Mastropaolo, that issue has been clouded.
At the time that the plaintiff improperly commenced the action, the pathway to the Courthouse should have been blocked. Deutsche Bank had no legal foundation to foreclose a mortgage in which it had no interest at the time of filing the summons and complaint. Lack of a plaintiff’s interest at the beginning of the action strips the court’s power to adjudicate over the action.[FN19] Lack of interest and controversy is protected by the umbrella of subject matter jurisdiction. Whenever a court lacks jurisdiction, a defense can be raised at any time and is not waivable.[FN20] In other words, for there to be a cause of action, there needs to be an injury. At the time that the action was commenced, the instant plaintiff suffered no injury and had no interest in the controversy. Since the plaintiff filed this action to foreclose the mortgage before it had title to it, there was no controversy between the existing parties when the action commenced. Therefore, the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate the present case. The defendants are consequently entitled to a dismissal without prejudice because the court lacked jurisdiction over a non-existent controversy.
Accordingly, it is hereby:
ORDERED, that the defendants Kim Fiorentino, Debra Abbate, and Carmella Abbate’s motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s complaint is granted, without prejudice to the plaintiff having the right to refile within the time provided by the Statute of Limitations; and it is further
ORDERED, that the parties and counsel shall appear before this court to further conference this matter on November 20, 2009 at 11:00AM.
DATED: October 6, 2009
Joseph J. Maltese
Justice of the Supreme CourtRead Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
While the U.S is currently in the midst of the largest bout of home foreclosures in at least 30 years, at least one economist says two more ‘waves’ are likely on the way.
Patrick Newport, a housing economist at Global Insight, said the next round of foreclosures could come over the next several months as a result of continued job losses in the U.S.
In addition to the nearly 660,000 U.S. jobs lost since December, Global Insight is currently forecasting another 600,000 jobs lost over the rest of 2008 and into the first quarter of 2009.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Homeowners fearful of losing their homes because of looming defaults and foreclosures could get help through a new state initiative.
Called Homeowners Preserving Equity, the HOPE program offers a commitment of $100 million in private capital to help about 500 homeowners to refinance and switch adjustable-rate mortgages to fixed-rate mortgages.
The state also plans to use $10 million from the state’s mortgage insurance program as an incentive to encourage lenders to provide another $200 million to refinance another 1,000 homeowners.
The goal is to prevent an expected wave of foreclosures due to the recent proliferation of “exotic” loans which include adjustable rate, balloon payment and negative amortization loans.
“The HOPE initiative is an innovative package of foreclosure prevention measures, combining refinancing, mortgage insurance, incentives and homeownership counseling to make sure Maryland families can preserve the equity they have built up in their homes,” said Ray Skinner, secretary of the state Department of Housing and Community Development, in a statement after a June 13 press conference in Dundalk.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
In the mortgage industry, they are called “liar loans” — mortgages approved without requiring proof of the borrower’s income or assets. The worst of them earn the nickname “ninja loans,” short for “no income, no job, and (no) assets.”
The nation’s struggling housing market, already awash in subprime foreclosures, is now getting hit with a second wave of losses as homeowners with liar loans default in record numbers. In some parts of the country, the loans are threatening to drag out the mortgage crisis for another two years.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )