92% of Foreclosures in New York Lack Proper Documents: Banks Booting People Without Proof?

Sarah Jaffe

That’s how many of the foreclosures on bankrupt families in and around New York City had no proof the creditors had the right to foreclose.

In a three-month investigation, the New York Post—a tabloid owned by Rupert Murdoch and usually better known for its salacious headlines than its investigative journalism—found that in nearly all of the foreclosure proceedings, “banks have attempted to steamroll their way over sometimes-outgunned homeowners,” booting them out of their homes even if they didn’t have proper documentation that gave them the right to do so.

The Post went through more than 150 Chapter 13 bankruptcy filings from June of last year, pulled a random sample, and:

…unearthed claims riddled with robosigners, suspicious documents and outrageous fees. And in a stunning 37 out of 40 cases, The Post discovered a broken chain of title from the original lender to the company now making claim against a local family for its home and thousands of dollars in questionable fees. 

In other words, the bank or mortgage servicer filing the claim failed to prove it has any right at all to make a claim it was owed the debt or that it could seize the home in question.

And it’s not just New Yorkers who are still struggling.

Eighty-seven-year-old Margery Gunter, of Immokalee, Florida, who has lived in her home for 40 years, is on the verge of losing it to foreclosure by OneWest Bank, Reuters reported last month in an investigation into the continuing problems with mortgage documents. “If they take the house,” she told Reuters reporter Scot J. Paltrow, “they’ll take me, too.”

Paltrow reviewed records in five states — Florida, Massachusetts, New York, and North and South Carolina — and pointed out that despite a settlement in March with 14 major loan servicers (banks or other companies that perform the tasks such as collecting payments from borrowers or filing foreclosures even if the loan itself has been repackaged and sold), at least five of those servicers have filed “questionable” paperwork in recent months. Those five, OneWest, Bank of America, HSBC Bank USA, Wells Fargo and GMAC Mortgage, denied wrongdoing to Reuters, and said they have “revised” their practices since 2010’s robo-signing scandal.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s intervention into Bank of America and Bank Of New York Mellon’s settlement is the biggest move yet by a U.S. politician toward holding banks accountable for their unethical dealings. David Dayen at FireDogLake noted:

Rather than let the banks off the hook and tell them to do right next time, Schneiderman’s order details how the banks committed widespread fraud (that’s actually his term in this case) against investors and homeowners. Down the road, maybe this leads to a settlement. But it would be an informed settlement, which has done the work and documented the fraud, one that would extract the proper amounts and penalties from the offender. And Schneiderman is using state statutes that could easily carry criminal penalties as well.

Among those criminal penalties: the Sarbanes-Oxley Act considers filing false documents in a bankruptcy case, including foreclosures, a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Preparing fraudulent documents, Reuters pointed out, can be prosecuted under federal mail fraud statutes.

The housing crisis has been at the heart of the U.S.’s economic problems for the last five years; the Los Angeles Times noted this weekend that more than three million Americans had lost their homes and millions more continue to be at risk.

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