Banks Restart Foreclosures
Original Post Date: October 19, 2010
By: Jessica Silver-Greenberg, Robbie Whelan, and Dan Fitzpatrick
Two major lenders at the center of the foreclosure crisis took steps Monday to put the mess behind them by restarting home seizures that were frozen by documentation concerns.
Bank of America Corp. reopened more than 100,000 foreclosure actions, declaring that it had found no significant problems in its procedures for seizing homes. GMAC Mortgage, a lender and loan servicer, said that it also is pushing ahead with an unspecified number of foreclosures that came under intense pressure.
Bank of America prepared to restart 102,000 pending foreclosure actions where court approval is required, applying new signatures to documents in 23 states. Rick Brooks discusses. Also, Elizabeth Bernstein discusses the various ways men, women, strangers and family members apologize.
Monday’s moves are part of a growing counterattack by lenders scrambling to stem a financial and political threat over allegations that certain employees signed hundreds of documents a day without carefully reviewing their contents when foreclosing on homes.
Bank of America, the nation’s largest bank in assets, which imposed on Oct. 8 a nationwide moratorium on the sale of foreclosed homes, said it has begun preparing new affidavits for pending foreclosures in 23 states where a judge’s approval is required. The paperwork will be submitted to courts by next Monday, and foreclosure sales will resume in those states starting in November, according to the bank.
“This is an important first step in debunking speculation that the mortgage market is severely flawed,” said Bank of America spokesman James Mahoney. More details will be disclosed when the company reports quarterly results Tuesday.
Citigroup Inc. Chief Financial Officer John Gerspach said the bank has found no reason to halt foreclosures, calling its internal procedures “sound.” “We have not identified any system issues,” he said Monday.
Restarting the nation’s foreclosure machine puts the lenders on a collision course with state attorneys general, who announced last week a nationwide investigation of foreclosure practices. Some state officials have been pushing for a wider halt to foreclosure sales, but Bank of America’s moves show determination by at least some lenders to get back to business while the investigation proceeds.
A Bank of America spokesman said the bank has found “no cases” thus far of foreclosures that should not have “gone through.” Last week, James Dimon, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. chairman and chief executive, said that no one has been “evicted out of a home who shouldn’t have been.”
Some attorneys general said they have little confidence that problems with foreclosures have been fixed. “We’ve been in discussions with some of the major servicers, and as part of that they’ve assured us that they are fixing this problem, but we’re not just going to take their word for it,” said Patrick Madigan, a spokesman for Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller.
It will be hard for lenders to declare the foreclosure crisis over and get back to business as usual. Bondholders are escalating efforts to recover losses on soured mortgage-bond deals containing loans with flawed paperwork. Meanwhile, federal banking regulators are assigning additional employees to an ongoing review of large mortgage-servicing operations, according to people familiar with the situation. Officials want to make sure that documentation procedures are being followed and companies are meeting all legal foreclosure requirements.
Bank stocks surged Monday as investors reassessed last week’s outlook for the cost of the foreclosure mess. Citigroup shares jumped 23 cents, or 5.8%, to $4.18 a share in New York Stock Exchange composite trading at 4 p.m., on better-than-expected earnings. Bank of America rose 36 cents, or 3%, to $12.34, while J.P. Morgan was up $1.05, or 2.8%, to $38.20.
Bank of America is the only major U.S. bank that announced a halt to all foreclosure sales while it reviewed documents for errors. Bank officials say they’re readying new affidavits for 102,000 pending foreclosure actions.
A company spokesman said the largest investors in mortgages serviced by Bank of America have signed off on the new timetable. The bank will continue delaying foreclosure sales in the 27 states where court approval isn’t required until a review is completed “on a state by state basis.” The bank expects delays on fewer than 30,000 foreclosure sales nationwide.
“Now it may be legal, but I am not sure it’s ethical,” said Robert Quigley, a 68-year-old retired commercial fisherman, who received a legal notice last week that Bank of America is proceeding with foreclosure on his home in Lake City, Fla. A bank spokesman said the bank never said it would stop all foreclosure proceedings, just final sales.
GMAC, a unit of Ally Financial Inc., declined to comment on the number of foreclosures it has reviewed so far, but said they included loans with affidavits signed by employee Jeffrey Stephan. His testimony in a deposition that he signed 10,000 foreclosure affidavits a month without reviewing the underlying documentation led GMAC to halt evictions in 23 states last month while it scrutinized its procedures.
Several lawyers representing borrowers facing foreclosure by GMAC said affidavits signed by Mr. Stephan were replaced by similar filings with the signature of a different employee.
Michael Holmes, an antiques dealer in Belfast, Maine, thought he would get a chance to save his home because the affidavit used by GMAC to substantiate his loan amount was signed by Mr. Stephan. Instead, GMAC replaced Mr. Stephan’s document in the courthouse file for the foreclosure proceeding with an affidavit signed by employee Davida Harriott. Her name also appears on substitute paperwork in pending foreclosure cases in Florida, according to court documents and lawyers representing the borrowers.
Gina Proia, a spokeswoman for Ally, said on Monday: “As each case is reviewed and remediated, it moves on.” None of the revised foreclosure documents being filed by the company will bear the signature of Mr. Stephan, though he still works for GMAC, she said. Mr. Stephan and Ms. Harriott couldn’t be reached for comment.
Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray, who last week filed a lawsuit against GMAC alleging hundreds of counts of fraud related to foreclosure documents, said he is suspicious of efforts to replace paperwork. “Substituting new evidence in [cases] where there’s been fraud won’t help prevent the court from sanctioning them for the fraud that has already been committed,” he said. “It doesn’t unring the bell.”