The Massachusetts Foreclosure Law Blog is pleased to present an interview with David Dayen, author of Chain of Title, a new book about the foreclosure crisis. Chain of Title is an account of how three ordinary Americans uncovered foreclosure fraud in the wake of the ongoing foreclosure crisis. I started it during the Memorial Day weekend and recommend it as a great resource on foreclosure defense.
Please tell us about your background and what inspired you to write Chain of Title.
I had a career in film and television production when I discovered political blogging back in 2004. I got more and more interested in it and then in 2009 started to work for a popular website of the time named Firedoglake writing political and news stories. The foreclosure crisis was this critical yet under-covered event in American life, affecting so much of our economy. I worked on stories about nightmares in the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) and then heard about foreclosure fraud. Lisa, Michael and Lynn ran the most comprehensive websites about the scandal, and became sources of mine after I met them at a one-day conference about foreclosure fraud in late 2010. When I heard their stories about moving from foreclosure victims to activists, I knew it would be a great way to tell the story of the financial crisis at the ground level.
What is the most shocking thing you under covered while researching and writing Chain of Title?
Just the total lack of quality control on the part of the mortgage industry. You got the sense that they didn’t care what the piece of paper they put in front of judges or county officials said, as long as they could use it to dispossess someone of their home. There were mortgage assignments that were notarized but unsigned. There were entire filing cabinets of original notes that went missing. There were documents where the effective date was never filled in, leaving the date of execution of the mortgage assignment as 9/9/9999. Barack Obama’s own release of mortgage on his condo was signed by a robo-signer. The fraud was so systemic.
In Chain of Title, you discuss U.S Bank v. Ibanez, a landmark Massachusetts court decision that invalidated thousands of foreclosures across Massachusetts. How do you feel other states and the federal government have responded to the foreclosure crisis?
Every state is different because foreclosure law is generally adjudicated at the state level. Some states created verification standards where lawyers for the banks had to personally verify that the documents in their cases were legitimate. In other states, like those where you don’t need judicial sign-off for a foreclosure, the response was far more limited. I think Hawaii is a good example, they went from a non-judicial to a judicial foreclosure state. Lisa Epstein, one of my subjects, played a role in that, she testified via Skype to a legislative session in Honolulu to argue for the change. I think the federal government took a walk on the rampant fraud that was evident in the foreclosure process, making no effort to criminally prosecute and wrapping up the whole thing into a large settlement designed to produce a penalty with a big headline dollar amount that didn’t correspond to reality. I believe it’s the greatest disappointment of the current Administration, and it fed a belief that there’s a two tiered system of justice in America. In many ways it fueled the anxiety and discontent we see in our politics.
While many Americans have struggled with the foreclosure crisis, others know little about the abuses of the lending industry. What do you hope readers of Chain of Title learn from your work?
I do hope that the book sheds more light into just how many different types of abuses were heaped on homeowners and investors before, during, and after the crisis. More than that, I wanted to recognize these incredible people who did more investigation into this misconduct than the whole of state or federal government. And I wanted to let the public know that there was a real alternative here, that they could have gotten the accountability they so desperately sought. And we have to reckon with the consequences of how in America, who you are matters more than what you did.