Massachusetts foreclosure title defect

Update (2/6/14):  Legislation to Fix Ibanez Defects Much Closer to Passage

Update (8/3/12): Foreclosure Prevention Act Signed, But Fails To Address Ibanez Title Problems

Massachusetts Senate Bill 830 Addresses Toxic Foreclosure Titles

Finally, Massachusetts lawmakers have taken action to help innocent purchasers of foreclosed properties in the aftermath of the U.S. Bank v. Ibanez and Bevilacqua v. Rodriguez decisions, which resulted in widespread title defects for previously foreclosed properties. The legislation, Senate Bill 830, An Act Clearing Titles To Foreclosed Properties, is sponsored by Shrewsbury State Senator Michael Moore and the Massachusetts Land Title Association. Full text is embedded below.

The bill, if approved, will amend the state foreclosure laws to validate a foreclosure, even if it’s technically deficient under the Ibanez ruling, so long as the previously foreclosed owner does not file a legal challenge to the validity of the foreclosure within 90 days of the foreclosure auction.

The bill has support from both the community/housing sector and the real estate industry. Indeed, the left-leaning Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association (CHAPA), non-profit umbrella organization for affordable housing and community development activities in Massachusetts, has filed written testimony in support of the bill.

Properties afflicted with Ibanez title defects, in worst cases, cannot be sold or refinanced. Homeowners without title insurance are compelled to spend thousands in legal fees to clear their titles. Allowing such foreclosed properties to sit and languish in title purgatory is a huge drain on individual, innocent home purchasers and the housing market itself.

A recent case in point:  I was recently contacted by a nice couple who bought a Metrowest condominium in 2008 after it had been foreclosed. Little did they know that the foreclosure suffered from an “Ibanez” title defect. Unfortunately, the lawyer who handled the closing did not recommend they buy owner’s title insurance. They have been unable to track down the prior owner who went back to his home country of Brazil, and now they are stuck without many options, unable to refinance or sell their unit. This bill will help people like this who have helped the housing market by purchasing foreclosed properties, and improving them.

The bill is now before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary. Please email them to show your support of Senate Bill 830.
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Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is a Massachusetts real estate and title defect attorney. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or 508-620-5352.

Massachusetts Senate Bill 830

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In yet another move evidencing the Supreme Judicial Court’s ongoing concern over the impact of the foreclosure crisis in Massachusetts, the SJC is soliciting friend-of-the-court briefs in the next important foreclosure case, HSBC Bank v. Jodi Matt.

As we wrote about in our prior post here, the SJC is considering whether a lender holding a securitized mortgage has standing to even begin a foreclosure action in the Land Court under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act–one of the first steps in the Massachusetts foreclosure process. The SJC will ostensibly decide whether lenders holding mortgages held in a securitized pool, with questions whether they in fact were validly assigned those mortgages, can start foreclosures in Massachusetts. The lower court Land Court opinion can be read here.

The text of the Court’s announcement is as follows:

February 17, 2012 – ANNOUNCEMENT: The Justices are soliciting amicus briefs. Whether the Land Court judge correctly concluded that a bank had standing to commence an action to determine whether the defendant (alleged to be in breach of her mortgage obligations) was entitled to the benefits of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, on the ground that the bank had a contractual right to become the holder of the note and mortgage. The case is tentatively scheduled for argument in May.

For more information about how to submit a friend of the court brief, go to the SJC Website.

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Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is an experienced Massachusetts real estate litigator and attorney. Please contact him if you are dealing with a Massachusetts foreclosure title dispute.

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Last night, 60 Minutes did a compelling segment — Mortgage Paperwork Mess: Next Housing Shock? — on an important issue we’ve been covering here on the Blog . The segment details rampant forgeries by $10/hour bank “vice-presidents” and the pervasive robo-signing of bogus mortgage documents by “document mills” and “foreclosure factories.”

We’ve been particularly concerned about the thousands of Massachusetts residents who purchased foreclosed properties which are now left with defective titles due to the various errors and missteps of foreclosing lenders and their foreclosure attorneys. In the 60 Minutes segment, the new head of the FDIC, Sheila Bair, proposes a federal “Superfund” to clean up this colossal mess. That’s certainly a good idea. Innocent home buyers shouldn’t have to bear the burden of all the mistakes and shortcuts made by a banking industry too eager to process foreclosures at any cost.

More Coverage:

U.S. Bank v. Ibanez case

Defective Foreclosure Titles In Massachusetts: What’s Next?

 

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Ibanez Ruling Foreclosure Update: Nothing Much To Report

by Rich Vetstein on December 23, 2009

Update (2/25/10)Mass. High Court May Take Ibanez Case

I’ve been asked several times recently for an update on the status of Land Court judge Keith Long’s controversial ruling in U.S. Bank v. Ibanez, which invalidated thousands of foreclosures across Massachusetts. Click here for my prior post on the case.

Unfortunately for those affected by the decision, not much is going on. Lenders have reportedly appealed the decision. Word has it that the lenders have hired mega-firm K&L Gates to handle the appeal. (Interestingly, K&L Gates is the same firm which secured a major ruling against the Massachusetts Real Estate Bar Association over non-attorneys handling real estate closings in Massachusetts).

The record in the Land Court is currently being assembled. The Massachusetts Appellate Court database doesn’t even list the case as yet up on appeal. Accordingly, this appeal is many, many months away from being decided.

Also, watch for the lenders to ask the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to take the case on direct appeal. While this will delay the appeal some in the short term, the SJC is the final stop on the appellate railway, and its decision is the final word on the matter. Given the pro-consumer decisions recently issued by the high court and its current makeup of somewhat liberal justices, my money is still on an unfavorable decision for lenders in this case.

In the meantime, I’m hearing that lenders are simply re-doing their foreclosures with the correct loan paperwork (i.e., the mortgage assignments) brought up to date. For buyers who had an agreement to purchase a foreclosed home, this most likely means you will have to wait in line again and re-bid on the second foreclosure.

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Breaking News (1.7.11): Mass. Supreme Court Upholds Ibanez Ruling, Thousands of Foreclosures Affected

Click Here For Our Entire Series Of Post On the Ibanez Case

Update (2/25/10)Mass. High Court May Take Ibanez Case

Today, Massachusetts Land Court Judge Keith Long reaffirmed his controversial ruling made back in March 2009 that invalidated foreclosure proceedings involving two Springfield homes because the lenders did not hold clear titles to the properties at the time of sale. A copy of the decision can be found here.

As I outlined in my prior post on this case, the problem the Land Court dealt with in this case is what happens when modern securitized mortgage lending practices meets outdated foreclosure laws. When mortgages are packaged to Wall Street investors, the ownership of a mortgage loan may be divided and freely transferred numerous times on the lenders’ books. But the mortgage loan documentation actually on file at the Registry of Deeds often lags far behind.

Here is a diagram of the securitized mortgage process (click to enlarge):

The Ruling

Judge Long ruled that foreclosures were invalid when the lender failed to bring  the ownership documentation (known as an assignment) up-to-date until after the foreclosure sale had already taken place. An assignment is a legal document confirming that a mortgage loan has been transferred from one lender to another. Assignments must be recorded with a registry of deeds so anyone researching a property’s title can track the loan’s origin and ownership. Oftentimes, as in the Ibanez case, lenders will sell bundles of loan and record backdated assignments with an effective date before the first foreclosure notice. Judge Long effectively prohibited this practice.

Despite the lender’s attempt to convince him otherwise, Judge Long came out (again) in favor of consumers:

The issues in this case are not merely problems with paperwork or a matter of dotting i’s and crossing t’s. Instead, they lie at the heart of the protections given to homeowners and borrowers by the Massachusetts legislature. To accept the plaintiffs’ arguments is to allow them to take someone’s home without any demonstrable right to do so, based upon the assumption that they ultimately will be able to show that they have that right and the further assumption that potential bidders will be undeterred by the lack of a demonstrable legal foundation for the sale and will nonetheless bid full value in the expectation that that foundation will ultimately be produced, even if it takes a year or more. The law recognizes the troubling nature of these assumptions, the harm caused if those assumptions prove erroneous, and commands otherwise.

Judge Long also had some choice words for lenders:

[T]he problem the [lenders] face (the present title defect) is entirely of their own making as a result of their failure to comply with the statute and the directives in their own securitization documents… What the plaintiffs truly seek is a change in the foreclosure sale statute (G.L. c. 244, § 14), which can only come from the legislature.

What Now?

That’s a good question and one not readily answerable. To be sure, the current state of flux and confusion surrounding foreclosure titles affected by an Ibanez issue will remain intact until an appellate court considers the case or some action by the Legislature (which may be unlikely). Given the importance of the decision, I predict that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court will take the unusual step of taking the case directly from the Land Court.

As for what happens in the year or so the case may be in appellate limbo, I asked an in house counsel for a leading title insurance company, and his response was essentially that it’s going to take a fair amount of time and research to figure this one out. If there’s an existing title insurance policy on the property, some but not all of the title companies may be willing to insure over the problem. If there’s no title policy in place, affected parties are going to have to ride this one out for awhile.

Once title insurance companies offer some further guidance, I will post it here.

My Two Cents

While I see both sides of the argument, the decision is troubling to me because Judge Long gave short shrift to the fundamental legal principle that the mortgage follows the note. A valid mortgage is security for some type of underlying obligation, whether it’s a loan or the promise to do something in the future. There’s no question that the millions (or billions) of dollars in loans secured by all these mortgages were validly transferred from one bank/lender to securitized lenders. The money was lent and it didn’t just evaporate into the ether. If the lenders can ultimately demonstrate ownership of the underlying loan which follows the mortgage and produce a valid assignment (albeit late), why isn’t this enough? The borrowers owe the money, and now after this ruling they are immunized from foreclosure by what many folks in the real estate industry view as elevating form over substance.

“For many years, real estate attorneys in Massachusetts have understood that the assignment of a mortgage can be recorded at any time and be effective,” Christopher S. Pitt, chairman of the Title Standards Committee of the Real Estate Bar Association tells Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly.

Now that doesn’t mean lenders don’t need to get their act together. They do. The net effect of this decision will be that lenders must get loan documentation up to date and recorded promptly. Indeed, the Ibanez loan changed ownership at least four times prior to foreclosure — without any of this appearing on the public record.  Two of those entities (Lehman Brothers and its subsidiary) are currently in bankruptcy and a third (Option One) has ceased operations. This is a huge wake up call to the securitized lending industry.

But the question remains, what about all the foreclosures that have already been conducted? And the new homeowners who own these properties and are now saddled with unresolvable title defects? What about these “innocent victims” and the neighborhoods blighted by foreclosed properties which cannot be sold? I guess we can all blame Wall Street once again…

The Consumer Advocate’s Point of View

Attorney Meyer Potashman of Greater Boston Legal Services which filed a brief in the Ibanez case offers this analysis:

This case has the potential to do a lot of damage (or rather reveal the damage that foreclosing lenders did over the past few years), but I think Judge Long was completely right about the law.  Both the statute and all of the securitization documents were clear, and these foreclosures violated both of them. These banks had sophisticated lawyers who knew real estate law when they planned to securitize these loans, but they never bothered to consult their own agreements when the time came to actually securitize, or foreclose, on the loans.  As a result, mortgages were never properly transferred, and the foreclosing lenders never had the right to foreclose.

As with any controversial legal decision, there’s always compelling arguments for both points of view.

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