One in every 119 Connecticut homes is in foreclosure. Another 21,462 homeowners are 90 days behind on their mortgage payments. But neither of those statistics includes the countless number of homeowners seeking loan modifications to help them get through an economic rough patch.
Unable to refinance because she and her husband were unemployed at the time, Janet Driscoll of Bristol called her mortgage lender in 2009 and asked to apply to the home modification program.
The program would allow her to make reduced monthly mortgage payments until she and her husband were able to get back on their feet.
As the application was processed, the Driscoll’s were offered an opportunity to pay the reduced amount, but decided against it in case they were denied. In the end the bank denied them, Driscoll said Monday at a Capitol press conference.
In 2010, the Driscoll’s applied for the program again. However, they were unaware that by applying to the program the bank required them to escrow their homeowners insurance and taxes, two things they had always paid separately.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, whose office helped Driscoll navigate the process, said the addition of the insurance and taxes to mortgage brought the Driscoll’s monthly payments from $1,700 to $4,600. He said that “in a sense, it invited foreclosure.”
“It was kind of a bait and switch. First she went into loan modification. She was rejected unjustifiably, given a run around through this rigamarole process, then overcharged for her mortgage, and then penalized through fees and the foreclosure process, which itself is costly,” Blumenthal said at a Capitol press conference Monday.
Driscoll was never foreclosed upon, but was charged late fees and penalties.
“There’s no formal review of the current mortgage and they don’t talk with the customers,“ Driscoll said. “They didn’t tell me about opting out options.”
Driscoll’s situation is not an aberration. Blumenthal said his office has handled 140 situations similar to Driscoll’s during his short six-month tenure in the U.S. Senate.
“The problem is systemic,“ Blumenthal said.
Jeff Gentes, an attorney with the CT Fair Housing Center, said that of the 154 of 655 homeowners his organization has helped get permanent loan modifications, most still had problems with their mortgage servicer. He said those servicers were still continuing to charge fees and even foreclosing on people making their payments on time.
There are people back in foreclosure despite making all their payments, Gentes said.
The servicers figure if they continue to charge the fees and the foreclosure goes through then they will get their money one way or another, but for them there is no penalty for improperly charging homeowners, Gentes said.
Blumenthal said penalizing mortgage servicers that act in this manner is one of the things the Senate Judiciary Committee will be looking at when it conducts its investigation later this summer.
“There are a series of abuses and malfunctions in this process that make it truly broken. Our system of mortgage foreclosure is broken. The mortgage servicers are abusing it and we need to stop it,” Blumenthal said.
This past June, Blumenthal joined other senators and wrote the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, urging it to work with state attorneys general and other federal agencies to look into lapses in foreclosure procedures.
“It is clear that we need to stabilize our housing market, and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) has a pivotal role to play in utilizing the full scope of its authority to correct the weaknesses of servicers in terms of foreclosure governance and foreclosure document preparation and in their ability to vigorously oversee and monitor third-party vendors, including foreclosure attorneys,” the letter signed by Blumenthal and 11 other lawmakers says.
Recently, mortgage servicing firms were accused of robo-signing legal documents, improper home seizures, lapses in tracking paperwork, and reliance on inexperienced workers.