Attorney General steps in to ensure homeowners can contact foreclosure trustees
SEATTLE – Six months into its investigation into unlawful business practices by foreclosure trustees, the Washington Attorney General’s Office announced that it has uncovered an additional widespread problem that jeopardizes homeowners’ chances of stopping a foreclosure.
“Foreclosures run on strict timelines and homeowners need a human who they can talk with face to face when there’s a problem,” Attorney General Rob McKenna said. “They need an office where they can make last-minute payments or show documents that may prove reasons for stopping forced sales.”
“Washington law requires that foreclosure trustees maintain actual offices in our state and local phone numbers for this reason,” he continued. “But our investigation shows that some of the largest trustees are not in compliance and borrowers who have a legitimate reason to stop a foreclosure are having trouble reaching trustees.”
McKenna said his office’s Consumer Protection Division is contacting a handful of trustees believed to be violating the law. The office isn’t naming those trustees at this time, but said they are processing large volumes of foreclosures in Washington. In addition, the office sent a letter today to all trustees operating in the state that notifies them of their obligations.
The state’s Deed of Trust statute was amended in 2008 to ensure that trustees are knowledgeable about Washington law and that they are available for last-minute payoffs when homeowners are trying to catch up on their mortgages or have a legitimate reason to stop a sale. Having an agent in Washington State isn’t sufficient; the law also requires that the trustee itself maintain an office with a phone where homeowners can go to resolve their foreclosure issues.
The investigation is being conducted solely by the Washington Attorney General’s Office, which is also a participant in the multistate investigation by attorneys general into abuses in the mortgage servicing industry.
McKenna sent a letter to 52 trustees in October 2010, announcing its concerns about inaccurate documents, conflicts-of-interest, faulty chains of title and failure to provide disclosures and conduct mediations. The letter called on trustees to suspend any questionable foreclosures.
Since then, the office has requested and received documents from several trustees. Attorneys are reviewing the information they have received so far and are waiting for documents from other companies.
McKenna said homeowners who believe they have a legitimate reason to stop a foreclosure should contact their trustee immediately, preferably with the advice of a housing counselor or an attorney. Foreclosure trustees have the power to postpone a foreclosure sale whenever they think it is advantageous. Some possible reasons for stopping a foreclosure include: a mortgage servicer failed to credit payments, the homeowner never received notice of the foreclosure, one division of the mortgage servicer promised a loan modification while the other started the foreclosure process, the homeowner has a genuine contract to sell his home but the servicer will not respond to the sales offer.
A homeowner who is unable to find a local address or phone number for their trustee should file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office online at http://atg.wa.gov/FileAComplaint.aspx. However, this will not stop a foreclosure sale. Homeowners should also contact a housing counselor or an attorney.
Washington is a “non-judicial foreclosure” state, which means that a lender can proceed directly to selling a home at public auction without first filing a lawsuit. This process was created by the state Legislature. Although lenders may foreclose in court in Washington, they almost always choose non-judicial foreclosures.
If a trustee is unwilling to stop a foreclosure, then the homeowner must file a lawsuit under the Deed of Trust Act and obtain a court order before the sale. Bankruptcy may stop or delay a foreclosure but it may also put the homeowner in a worse position. Legal representation is essential to a successful case, McKenna said.
- If you believe unlawful activity has occurred in regard to your mortgage, you should speak with an attorney. A homeowner may file a suit to challenge a foreclosure, but they must do so prior to the foreclosure sale.
- If you are unable to afford a lawyer, you should contact the Washington State Homeownership Information Hotline at 1-877-894-4663 (HOME) for referral to the Washington State Bar Association's Home Foreclosure Legal Aid Project. The hotline can also refer to you to a free, state-approved housing counselor.
- Te Attorney General’s Office cannot stop a foreclosure or provide individuals with legal advice, as the office is barred by law from representing private citizens.
- Homeowners should read the Washington Foreclosure Prevention Resources Guide, provided by the Seattle-King County Asset Building Collaborative Foreclosure Prevention Team and recommended by the Attorney General's Office and the Washington State Department of Financial Institutions.
- Additional resources can be found at www.atg.wa.gov/foreclosure.aspx.
Media Contact: Kristin Alexander, Media Relations Manager, (206) 464-6432