While Congress is mulling how best to deal with the housing crisis, it might want to consider a not-altogether-reassuring outgrowth of that crisis.
According to The New York Times, because of the great number of foreclosures, “a small army of law firms and default-servicing companies, who represent mortgage lenders, have been raking in mounting profits.”
Foreclosures are an unfortunate fact of life, and it’s important that they be done fairly, efficiently and, above all, honestly.
But some of these firms have become little more than foreclosure mills, with the emphasis on speed and volume. The law firms are paid by the number of foreclosure suits they file and the service companies by the fees and charges they can add to the foreclosure, driving the hapless homeowner even deeper into the red.
Said the Times, “These proceedings generate considerable revenue for the firms involved: eviction and appraisal charges, late fees, title-search costs, recording fees, certified-mailing costs, document-retrieval fees and legal fees.”
What is chilling about these proceedings is that through haste, carelessness or maybe simple greed, they are often shot through with errors. The Times found one Georgia couple who were almost forced from their home twice in one month because their lender mistakenly told a foreclosure company they were delinquent. They still had to go to court to get the lender to back off.
A homeowner can challenge these proceedings, assuming he finds out about them in a timely fashion and can afford a lawyer of his own.
The Times says that the same firms repeatedly filing erroneous affidavits and levying improper fees have attracted the attention of an arm of the Justice Department that oversees bankruptcy courts. Judges there have begun to complain about roughshod and abusive foreclosure tactics.
The lending industry is desperate that Congress, in addressing the housing crisis, not allow bankruptcy judges to rewrite mortgage agreements. This kind of reckless profiteering would seem to be an argument for letting them do so.