Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Oak Park Foreclosure Lawyer Discusses Loan Forgery Accusations

Through the years our experienced Oak Park foreclosure defense attorneys have come to understand the often underhanded efforts used by lenders when seeking to take back a property from a distressed homeowner.  Unfortunately, our Chicago foreclosure lawyers know that some banks are willing to engage in unsavory, aggressive, and even illegal conduct on occasion if it suits their bottom line.  It is important for families facing these irresponsible lenders to stand up to these practices and protect their rights as homeowners.  Banks often engage in these practices so long as they are not called out on it.  It is only when they are pressed that the dishonesty abates. 

For example, last week news broke of new allegations from a mortgage foreclosure case that accuses mega-lender Wells Fargo of forging loan documents to expedite foreclosure proceedings.  The Las Vegas Review-Journal recently covered the situation, explaining how the claims were the latest effort on the part of a foreclosure defense attorney to hold mortgage lenders accountable for their often-illegal practices. 

This particular suit stems from forged signatures and backdated documents involved in a $350,000 loan to an area man.  There are two different deeds of trust involving the property at issue in the case.  The first deed, dated from January of 2010, bears the signature of a bank employee identified as the assistant secretary of the mortgage servicer.  However on the second deed from less than a month later the same employee’s signature is present, this time identified as the firm’s president.  Both assignments were notarized as authentic.  In addition, the attorney alleges that the bank back-dated a document and used a notary stamp that was not even in existence at the time of the signature.

These latest allegations were made to a judge to review three failed mediations between the homeowners and Well Fargo, the lending company.  The mediation was conducted pursuant to legislation in that state which sought to help the thousands of homeowners struggling following the nationwide housing crisis.  Of course as part of the mediation process—and all foreclosure proceedings—the banks must prove that they actually own the mortgages and therefore have a right to foreclosure.  Yet, many banks failed to follow the law when securing these mortgages.  In an effort to cover up for those mistakes they often avoid efforts to prove their ownership rights.  In some cases, like that alleged in this case, banks are willing to forge documents and otherwise break the law in order to correct their previous errors.

Those familiar with this case explain that the state’s Attorney General is expected to file criminal charges against the bank, title company employees, and notary public involved in these forgeries.  This is an aggressive, but necessary step to ensure that the laws as they relate to foreclosures are followed.  Banks, title companies, and others companies in the process are not above the law. 

The Chicago foreclosure attorneys at the Emerson Law Firm are proud to stand with homeowners who are fighting these bank practices.  Unfortunately, many local families are still under the impression that they have no defensive options when up against banks during foreclosure.  This is not true.  All those facing foreclosure should take the time to visit with a professional, explain their situation, and learn what options may be available to reach a satisfactory outcome.

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Monday, September 26, 2011

August Surge in Mortgage Default Warnings Could Indicate More Oak Park Foreclosures

The Chicago foreclosure lawyers at our firm have watched closely as mortgage default warnings have appeared to wax and wane throughout the last several years.  For various reasons, foreclosures from the nation’s largest banks have varied dramatically from season to season.  The robo-signing scandal that continues to be sorted out across the country temporarily put a halt to some foreclosure activity in this area.  However, it is now clear that OakPark foreclosures may again show signs of increasing.  The trend appears to be the same in the Chicago area and the rest of Illinois.

Early last week Yahoo Finance reported on the upward foreclosure trend nationwide, noting that banks sent many more warnings to homeowners in August threatening foreclosure than in previous months.  The August spike represented a 33% increase from July according to data collected by RealtyTrac, Inc.  The total number of warnings in August was the highest in nine months.  The jump from July to August was the largest single month increase in the last four years—suggesting that many banks may be poised to initiate a new foreclosure wave.

Observers indicate that this new wave may be a long-lasting trend after more than a year of foreclosure slowdowns.  As one RealtyTrac executive explained, “This is really the first time we’ve seen a significant increase in the number of new foreclosure actions.  It’s possible this is a blip, but I think it’s much more likely we’re seeing the beginning of a trend here.” 

The earlier slowdowns were largely a product of a myriad of shoddy paperwork on the part of lenders that has come to collectively be known as robo-signing.  However, other factors were at work as well.  In states were courts play a role in the foreclosure process—such as Illinois—some judges have been reluctant to move forward with foreclosure actions.  In addition, lenders had been slow to take back some properties as home sales continued to stall.  These trends now appears to be changing.  That means that many homeowners who had previously been given month, if not years, before foreclosure actions were initiated are now facing the threat of losing their homes much sooner.

The latest figures also indicate that local community members are struggling at particularly high levels.  Illinois remains one of the top ten states with the highest foreclosure rates.  For those in our area who have been struggling to keep up with mortgage payments, these latest indicators suggest that OakPark foreclosures may become more common in the coming months.  However, it is important for local families not to panic if they find themselves facing foreclosure.  While it may seem as if it is a no-win situation, options are available to help those who are struggling.  Residents simply must know where to look for that help.  Our Oak Park foreclosure defense attorneys have been helping residents in our area for years who have found themselves in this situation.

Whether you are hoping to reinstate your mortgage, sell your home in a short sale, or modify your loan, our Illinois foreclosure lawyers can help you evaluate your options and implement a defensive plan.    However, it is important to seek out professional legal help in a timely manner.  New rules in our state make it tougher to mount a reasonable defense against banks seeking foreclosure if homeowners fail to make certain legal claims early in the process.  As a result, many residents who go it alone often unwittingly waive certain rights.  Do not let this happen to you.  If you receive a mortgage default letter or are in the foreclosure process, please give our office a call and see how we can help.

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Friday, September 23, 2011

Struggling Chicagoland Homeowners May Be Able To Avoid Mortgage Foreclosure With “Hardest Hit” Loans

The Illinois mortgage foreclosure attorneys at the Emerson Law Firm know that many Chicagoland homeowners are hurting during these tough economic times.  Struggling Chicagoland homeowners who have been “hardest hit” by the economic recession may be eligible for a new loan that will help alleviate mortgage foreclosure worries.  Last week, the Chicago Tribune reported that underemployed or unemployed homeowners may be eligible to obtain aid from a new federal fund that will enable them to stay current on their mortgages.

Illinois, along with seventeen other states and the District of Columbia, was selected as a recipient of mortgage relief funds under the “hardest-hit” program, which President Obama announced in February 2010.  The goal of the initiative is to help homeowners living in states most impacted by the economic decline.  The selected states were chosen because state unemployment rates were higher than the national average or state home values had declined more than 20 percent. 

The initiative allocated $345 million in federal funds among the selected states.  Then the selected states were provided with some latitude in deciding the best way to ultimately distribute the funds to struggling homeowners.  In Illinois, the “hardest hit” loan program is run by the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA).  According to the Chicago Tribune, the Illinois initiate is designed to aid residents whose incomes have fallen by at least 25 percent.  The initiative provides a 10-year, forgivable loan to bring those residents current on delinquent mortgages and then keep them current on their mortgages for up to 18 months.

The “hardest hit” loans differ from more traditional loan modification because they provide qualified homeowners with “absolute relief,” according to Mary Kenney, executive director of the IHDA.  Instead of missed mortgage payments and fees being added to the overall mortgage amount, the mortgages are made current.  This provides struggling Chicago homeowners with the relief they need to move forward, so that hopefully they can begin to catch up on debt—rather than falling further into debt—and begin to rebuild their savings and their lives. 

Our Oak Park foreclosure defense lawyers realize that the economic downturn has been hard on millions of Americans, including thousands of Illinois residents.  Our attorneys are experienced in foreclosure defense and will aggressively defend your rights.  Illinois foreclosure law frequently changes, however, so it is imperative for struggling homeowners to be aware of legal changes that affect their rights.  If you have questions or concerns about your mortgage foreclosure defense, please reach out to a qualified legal professional to learn more.

To see whether you qualify for a “hardest hit loan, please see the IHDA’s website for more information: basic eligibility requirements (also posted on the IHDA’s website) include:

     The property must be located in Illinois 
     The household must have a documented income reduction of 25% due to unemployment or underemployment through no fault of its own 
     Household income must be at or below 120% of the area median income 
     Principal loan balance must not be more than $500,000
     Household liquid assets cannot exceed 3 months of mortgage payments
     Property must be the primary and only residence of all borrowers/owners
     Property can be a 1-4 unit building, providing the household resides in one unit
     Homeowners must carry a fixed or adjustable rate loan.  Interest-only or negative amortization loans are not eligible.
     The current servicer of the mortgage must agree to accept payments
     Applicant(s) must not have been convicted of a mortgage-related felony in the last ten years
     Available HHF assistance is sufficient to cure the delinquency and make required forward payments, if necessary to satisfy program guidelines.

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Friday, September 16, 2011

Huge Surge in Bank of America Foreclosures Raises Concerns for Chicagoland Homeowners

Our Oak Park foreclosure defense attorneys understand that the increasing foreclosure numbers that have frequently been reported in the news may alarm struggling Chicagoland residents.  We realize that your home is an investment worth protecting.

Recent changes to Illinois foreclosure law make it more important than ever to contact a legal professional if you are feeling overwhelmed or if you are concerned about losing your home.  However, things are not always as hopeless as they may seem—even in these hard economic times—and understanding a little bit about the foreclosure process may help alleviate many of your worries. 

A foreclosure proceeding consists of several stages, including default (i.e. failure to make a payment or payments), filing of a foreclosure proceeding by the lender, foreclosure sale, and eviction.  The process of foreclosure differs from state to state.  In non-judicial foreclosure states, a notice of default is the first stage of the foreclosure process.  Once it is sent out, a homeowner may be in danger of losing his or her home.  In non-judicial foreclosure states, foreclosures do not go before a judge.  This can leave distressed homeowners vulnerable when lenders attempt to cut corners or do not follow the proper procedures required by the mortgage foreclosure process. Other states—like Illinois—are judicial foreclosure states, so foreclosure actions are heard by a judge.  Even in cases where lenders act properly or in judicial foreclosure states where a judge is involved in the process, it is still crucial for Illinois homeowners to be aware of their rights.  There are many legal nuances to mortgage foreclosure defense, and this area of the law frequently changes. 

According to reports by CNBC News this week, the overall number of foreclosure actions rose sharply this August.  In particular, there were huge surges in the number of notices of default that Bank of America sent to borrowers.  In fact, the bank’s number of notices of default was up over 200 percent more month-to-month.  It is possible that the increase in overall foreclosure actions was driven by the surge in Bank of America’s foreclosure processing. 

The CNBC News reports cited new data from RealtyTrac that confirmed a surge in overall notices of default in August.  Although RealtyTrac did not specifically cite Bank of America as the reason for the surge, CNBC News noted that the national bank recently bought Countrywide Financial, thereby assuming millions of “troubled” loans.

It was also explained that the surge could be due to lenders addressing loans that have been delinquent for some time, but that had not been acted upon previously.  Mortgage foreclosure processing was delayed in many states when the robo-signing scandal was uncovered last year.  Many lenders failed to follow protocol and frequently filed illegal or suspicious paperwork in an effort to hurry the foreclosure process along and abrogate homeowners’ rights.  As a result, some of the foreclosure proceedings that were delayed in our area in order to investigate the fraudulent Illinois mortgage practices may now be resuming. 

One important concern is that other banks will soon follow Bank of America’s lead.  With one major lender pushing a high number of loans to foreclosure, more properties could be up for sale, which will likely push property prices down even further than they already are.  While another “flood” of foreclosure properties added to an already saturated housing market is a concerning prospect, a spokesman for Bank of America stated to CNBC News that the bank is on an “ongoing path to return foreclosures to normal levels.”  In particular, the spokesman reported progress in judicial foreclosure states. 

If you are concerned that you may lose your home in a foreclosure action and you live in the Chicago area, you should know that you are not alone and that there are many legal options available to you.  Our Chicago foreclosure defense lawyers work with homeowners to best meet their needs, including defending them in foreclosure suits or by helping them use loss mitigation strategies where appropriate, such as loan modification or bankruptcy.  While our lawyers cannot make any guarantees or promises, they work hard to protect Chicagoland residents’ rights and will make every effort to save your home. 

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Friday, September 9, 2011

Mortgage Fraud Still At Elevated Levels

The FBI’s 2010 Mortgage Fraud Report recently named Illinois as one of the states with the highest levels of mortgage fraud.  Our Oak Park foreclosure defense firm aggressively fights to protect homeowners in all types of real estate, mortgage foreclosure, and bankruptcy cases.  We understand that there is nothing more frustrating than when the institutions and people who have been entrusted to protect consumers deceive or mislead struggling homeowners.

According to an article in the Summit Daily, the 2010 FBI report shows that mortgage fraud remains at an elevated level even after many scams and scandals have come to light and prompted large-scale investigations.  For example, a settlement still has not been reached in the robo-signing scandal.  Robo-signing refers to potentially fraudulent practices used by predatory lenders.  The term robo-signing can be used to describe a wide variety of fraudulent banking practices or other predatory tactics, including when lenders: fail to record the true and real ownership in public records, file fraudulent affidavits claiming they own the note when they are actually only the servicer, file fraudulent affidavits claiming they lost the note when they never possessed the document in the first place, file fraudulent affidavits claiming that a homeowner owes debt that he or she does not actually owe, file frivolous motions for summary judgment, and employ various methods to avoid questioning by regulatory agencies. 

In fact, robo-signing tactics have caused so much damage that Dory Rand, the president of the Woodstock Institute, recently urged for a settlement in an article in Bank Think.  She argues that struggling homeowners would greatly benefit from a settlement in the robo-signing scandal, which could “buoy confidence that an economic recovery is at hand.”

Even more concerning, the FBI reports that the percentage of mortgage fraud is still elevated today: pending fraud investigations are up 12 percent from 2009 to 2010.  The increase from 2008 to 2010 is a whopping 90 percent.  Specifically, the FBI reports that the fraudulent schemes can include: the reconveyance or transfer of property without the homeowner’s knowledge or consent, the delayed recording of loans, and the filing of fraudulent liens to receive cash at closing.

Chicago mortgage foreclosure fraud has been particularly severe.  In addition to Illinois being named as one of the states with the highest levels of mortgage fraud, Interthinx, a company that provides risk-mitigation solutions, issued its quarterly Mortgage Fraud Risk Report, which announced that there has also been a dramatic increase in fraud in the Chicago area. 

There is hopeful news for Chicagoland residents, however.  While fraud has increased in Chicago in recent years, Kevin Coop, the president of Interthinx, states that the mortgage fraud risk in Chicago recently decreased, too.  This suggests that when investigations rise and past fraud is exposed, the risk of future fraud can go down dramatically.  According to Coop, “when the industry has actionable intelligence and increases its scrutiny of an area, word gets out, and the fraudsters move on.”

Our Chicago mortgage foreclosure lawyers know that the wrongdoers who take advantage of homeowners must be held accountable for their actions.  If you believe that you have been a victim of fraudulent banking or mortgage practices, please consult a legal professional to learn more about your rights and the options available to you. 

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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Foreclosure Defense Attorneys Understand the Problem of Robo-Signed Mortgages

Our Oak Park foreclosure attorneys know that often the first step in any legal defensive effort on the part of distressed homeowners is to ensure that their banks followed proper procedure in the mortgage process.  Legal rules and regulations regarding the creation of mortgages are in place specifically to ensure that the potential foreclosure process is fair and reasonable.  There is simply no excuse for banks in our area to cut corners or violate protocols in this process.  When they do so, homeowners often have strong Oak Park foreclosure defense options.  

One common way that banks have been cutting corners in potential violation of the law involve the use of “robo-signing.”  As a Delaware Online story yesterday explained, judges across the country are blocking foreclosure because of these issues.  Officials report that illegal or suspect mortgage paperwork has been found throughout the country, including in our area.  In fact, some county recorder employees have found that deficient mortgage papers may date back to well over a decade, into the 1990s.  Many of those who have looked into their Chicago foreclosure defense options have likely read about the temporary halt that the nation’s largest lenders enacted on foreclosures last year.  Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo & Co., and others all delayed the process because of these concerns about robo-signing. 

Robo-signing is often a catch-all phrase that refers to a variety of often unlawful practices.  The most common of which include problems caused by banks that hired entry-level employees to sign hundreds of mortgage documents a day.  Many of these individuals forged the signatures of executives who were needed to sign certain items. At other times, the executives themselves signed the document without verifying their accuracy—a potentially illegal process.  On other occasions notaries stamped the documents even though the signer of the document was not present when the papers were notarized, which is a legal requirement.

Initially, the banks claimed that these faulty signatures were only found in affidavits that banks filed as part of the house buying process, used to prove that the banks have a foreclosure right. These companies have claimed that they were overwhelmed with paperwork and used the signature process to cut corners.  However, it is now being learned that the robo-signature problem may extend to all sorts of mortgage documents, not just the affidavits.  In some areas, as many as 80-100% of home ownership documents include questionable signatures.    

For example, recently an Illinois county pulled 60 documents to check for suspect signatures and found that all 60 were “signed” by those who have already been identified as robo-signers.  In total, at least a dozen county officials in our state have sent findings to the Illinois Attorney General’s office regarding these troubling robo-signing issues. 

News about these mortgage paperwork problems should remind to all local homeowners struggling to keep their homes that help is available.  Our Chicago foreclosure lawyers at the Emerson Law Firm continue to help residents in our area with a wide variety of foreclosure issues.  We encourage all residents in Chicagoland to take the time to visit with an Illinois foreclosure defense attorney to share your story and see what options are available.

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Friday, September 2, 2011

Chicago Foreclosure Plan Significantly Underfunded

Like many other cities across the nation, Chicago is experiencing a foreclosure crisis.  Early in the summer American families were continuing to deal with financial difficulties as increases in mortgage foreclosures took place.  Our Oak Park foreclosure attorneys know that distressed homeowners are concerned about losing their homes, but are hoping to find some relief from the daily struggle to make ends meet. 

One option that lawmakers expected would bring relief was the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP).  Under NSP, a recent article in the Chicago Reader reports, the city receives federal funds to partner with local developers to restore and resell foreclosed homes.  This year Chicago will only receive $16 million dollars to help alleviate its foreclosure crisis, a number that strikes many aldermen (elected members of the city council) as being far too little.  In 2009, Chicago received more than three times that amount—$55 million—from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Some acknowledge that Chicago is receiving a lot of funding in comparison to other large cities.  The real problem is that $16 million is just not enough to address Chicago’s ballooning foreclosure numbers.  The Chicagoland inventory of foreclosed homes currently exceeds that of Los Angeles and Miami, two cites in which the foreclosure crisis has been especially acute.  New York is the only major metropolitan area behind Chicago in the resale of foreclosed properties.  Experts state that banks and realtors in the Chicago area have not been able to resell foreclosed homes as quickly as their counterparts in other large cities because of strict state laws that make it difficult for banks to force borrowers who have defaulted out of their homes.  Chicago’s inability to resell foreclosed properties has a lasting impact on the larger city economy, as well as on local neighborhoods. 

The 2011 funding for the NSP comes from the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, which provided an additional $1 billion dollars for the NSP that was originally established under the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008.  The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awards grants to states and local governments to mitigate the negative impact of the economic crisis and housing market collapse.  The goal is to stabilize and revitalize the communities and areas that have been hit the hardest by the economic repression. 

According to Alderman Ray Suarez, the bottom line is that $16 million is not enough to stabilize Chicago neighborhoods.  However, circumstances are not as hopeless as some homeowners may believe, even with the economic decline and the underfunding of the NSP.  The city is currently on track to restore approximately 2,000 to 2,500 units this year.  While the NSP won’t cover the entire city or address all Chicago foreclosures, it will help. 

Furthermore, Chicago residents have many options at their disposal.  Our Oak Park foreclosure defense firm knows how to protect homeowners’ rights.  We understand that residents are concerned about losing their homes and about the possibility of other related financial liabilities.  Recent changes to Illinois foreclosure law, including stricter deadlines to take advantage of essential legal rights, make it more important than ever to investigate all of your resources and to contact a legal professional if you are facing foreclosure in the Chicago area. 

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