Foreclosure Moratorium in Massachusetts: FAQs

Earlier this week,  Governor Baker signed into law “An Act providing for a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures during the COVID-19 Emergency.” I previously wrote about how this law affects evictions. In this post, I’ll discuss the foreclosure moratorium.

What Foreclosures Are Covered Under the Moratorium?

The moratorium covers all residential foreclosures in Massachusetts. This law broadly prohibits all action related to a Massachusetts foreclosure, including the start of a Servicemembers Case and the publishing of a foreclosure sale notice.

An exception is allowed for “vacant or abandoned” property. The law does not cover foreclosures for commercial property.

What Relief is Available to Homeowners Under the Moratorium?

The law allows a homeowner to request a forbearance of their mortgage loan, which temporarily suspends payments on the loan. This is only allowed for those who have a “certain mortgage loan”, which is defined under a pre-foreclosure law, G.L. c. 244, § 35B. This forbearance, importantly, requires that the unpaid loan expenses be added to the end of the loan.

Forbearances are presently allowed for many homeowners under the federal CARES Act. However, to the best of my knowledge, a forbearance under the CARES Act does not require a lender to add the unpaid balance at the end of the loan, as the state moratorium does.

How Long Will the Moratorium Last?

120 days after the passage of the bill or 45 days after the COVID-19 emergency declaration has been lifted . . . whichever is sooner. The Governor also has the power to extend this moratorium.

What Impact will the Moratorium Have on Future Foreclosures?

A common misconception about foreclosure is that the process begins immediately after a homeowner misses a loan payment. In Massachusetts, nothing can be further from the truth. A myriad number of state and federal laws and mortgage requirements must be followed before a foreclosure sale can occur. It can easily be at least a year (and often longer) from the default of a loan up to a foreclosure sale.

As such, even without the moratorium, I wouldn’t have expected too many foreclosure sales to occur during the coronavirus pandemic. Some lenders may have started the process, but few homes would have actually been foreclosed. This moratorium will delay the inevitable foreclosures that will eventually arise from the pandemic.

What will happen next? It is possible that a wave of foreclosures may occur in the next several years, similar to what happen after the 2007/2008 financial meltdown. In my opinion, the most likely scenario is that loan servicers and other mortgage holders will be flooded with requests for mortgage relief in the next year. Many homeowners, unfortunately, will have difficulty getting the assistance they need.

Final Thoughts

If you need assistance with a foreclosure matter, contact me for a consultation.

Tips for Obtaining Mortgage Payment Assistance

Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, many homeowners will likely need mortgage payment assistance in months ahead. Here are some tips for homeowners in need of such help.

Speak to Your Lender

For anyone seeking mortgage payment assistance, the first step is to speak with your lender. Most lenders have some form of mortgage assistance available, which can sometimes be granted through a simple phone call with the lender.

The most important piece of advice for obtaining mortgage payment assistance is (1) get it in writing and (2) keep a timeline of your communications with the lender. If a problem arises later, having this information can be critical in trying to avoid foreclosure.

Understand the Relief Available

Most lenders are offering mortgage forbearances as assistance during the coronavirus pandemic. A forbearance is a postponement of mortgage payments. It gives the homeowner a break from paying their mortgage.

A forbearance, importantly, does not forgive what is owed, or permanently modifies the loan. A homeowner who receives a forbearance needs to remember that their mortgage payments will resume in the future.

I have a feeling that the federal government (and many lenders on their own) will be pushing through more permanent mortgage assistance options in the future, so additional relief may be available soon.

Foreclosures Are Not Occurring Anytime Soon

While many homeowners, understandably, are concerned about losing their homes, foreclosures will not be occurring soon, due to federal and state regulations. Homeowners, however, do need to be proactive in addressing these matters, as foreclosures will resume at some point in the future.

Conclusion

If you need assistance with a foreclosure matter, contact me for a consultation.

Elderly Parents Facing Foreclosure

I often get consultation requests from adult children whose parents are facing foreclosure. As if foreclosure is not stressful enough already, the potential foreclosure for one’s parents is particularly difficult. Elderly parents facing foreclosure is a sensitive topic that requires appropriate action.

Overview of Foreclosure in Massachusetts

Massachusetts is a non-judicial foreclosure state. This means that a bank is permitted to foreclose a home without going to court, through the sending of legal notices to the homeowner and a public foreclosure auction.

For senior citizens, Massachusetts’s foreclosure process can present a real challenge. It is not uncommon for elderly homeowners to misunderstand these foreclosure notices and get overwhelmed by this situation. Adult children who are helping parents facing foreclosure often tell me that their parents had little recollection about the status of their mortgage loan and the start of the foreclosure process.

Options for Elderly Parents Facing Foreclosure

Elderly parents facing foreclosure need to carefully consider their options. For most homeowners, a loan modification is the best option for attempting to avoid foreclosure. This, however, is not always a viable option for senior citizens, who may be on limited income or not in a position to make loan payments for an extended period of time.

Most lenders, however, do consider a household member’s income when reviewing a borrower for a modification. Seniors who have adult children living with them and earning income may make a loan modification feasible.

Another option for elderly parents facing foreclosure is to simply sell the home. This is something to strongly consider if the home has significant equity in it. Rarely does a foreclosure give the borrower a good financial return from a home sale.

If these options are not feasible, it may also be possible to negotiate a deed in lieu of foreclosure, short sale, or other alternatives for avoiding foreclosure.

Conclusion

I’ve helped many Massachusetts homeowners avoid foreclosure, including elderly parents and senior citizens. If you or your parents need such assistance, contact me for a consultation.

Who Can Foreclose in Massachusetts?

The Appeals Court issued a decision this week concerning an important topic for Massachusetts foreclosure law: who can foreclose in Massachusetts? The decision, Mitchell v. U.S. Bank National Association, is included below.

Background

In this case, two homeowners challenged the validity of a foreclosure sale against their home. As is the case with many residential mortgages in the United States, these homeowners had a securitized mortgage loan.

Securitization is a process by which mortgage loans are put together into a trust, with shares of this trust (known as “certificates”) sold to investors. A trustee (often U.S. Bank National Association or Deutsche Bank) manages these trusts, with a loan servicer responsible for the day-to-day handling of the loan responsibilities, such as collecting loan payments and handling customer inquires.

Who Can Foreclose in Massachusetts?

The homeowners in Mitchell argued that U.S. Bank was not entitled to foreclose their home because this entity was not entitled to enforce their mortgage loan. Rather, they argued, the certificate holders were the only persons entitled to do so, and in turn, foreclose the home.

The Appeals Court rejected this argument. Because U.S. Bank was entitled to receive payments from the mortgage loan, it was therefore entitled to foreclose. The Appeals Court did not agree that, because these payments were for the benefit of the certificate holders, only these investors could foreclose.

Practical Implications

Mitchell reaffirms that attempts to challenge foreclosures on the basis of the loan securitization process is an uphill battle. Massachusetts courts have almost always rejected these arguments, with Mitchell being the most recent example.

That’s not to say that anyone can foreclose in Massachusetts. A valid foreclosure requires that the foreclosing entity hold the mortgage and promissory note, and comply with pre-foreclosure notice requirements. Mitchell, however, again declined to extend the scope of these foreclosure requirements to include the underlining loan securitization process.

Conclusion

If you need assistance with a foreclosure matter, contact me for a consultation.

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Recent First Circuit Decision on Required Massachusetts Foreclosure Notice

The First Circuit Court of Appeals issued a noteworthy decision earlier this month about one of the required notices for a Massachusetts foreclosure. The decision, Thompson v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., is included below.

Foreclosure Notice Requirement – “Paragraph 22”

This case concerns an interpretation of a foreclosure notice requirement commonly referred to as “paragraph 22.” This requirement is found in paragraph 22 of the standard mortgage agreement used in nearly every residential mortgage in the United States. Paragraph 22 requires that, prior to foreclosure, the mortgagee provide the borrower with several disclosures, including their right to cure the loan default and the right to reinstate the loan after acceleration, which was the subject of this appeal.

An acceleration of a loan is a demand by a lender to pay the entire balance of a loan prior to foreclosure. This generally comes after the borrower has defaulted on the loan, and is a sign that a foreclosure sale is forthcoming.

Strict Compliance for Paragraph 22 Notices

In Massachusetts, a lender is required to strictly comply with the paragraph 22 notice requirement. This comes from Pinti v. Emigrant Mortgage, a landmark 2015 Supreme Judicial Court decision. In Pinti, a minor mistake with one of the paragraph 22 notice provisions was grounds for invalidating a foreclosure sale.

Here, the First Circuit held that a paragraph 22 notice sent to a borrower made the foreclosure sale void because it misrepresented the borrower’s rights. The notice told the borrower that he could reinstate his loan after acceleration . . . anytime before the foreclosure was to occur.

The problem? The borrower’s mortgage required this reinstatement to occur five days before a foreclosure sale. The First Circuit held that, because the paragraph 22 notice was misleading, it made the underlining foreclosure sale invalid.

Practical Implications

A critical part of Thompson v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A is that the borrower did not need to show prejudice from this error in the paragraph 22 notice. There was no allegation that the borrower was able to bring his loan current, waited until the day of the foreclosure sale to pay this money, and was denied due to this five-day deadline in his mortgage. This is keeping with an important part of Massachusetts foreclosure law: a foreclosure can be unlawful from an error in the foreclosure process even if the borrower was never harmed from it.

Thompson is an important reminder of the importance of a proper foreclosure notice in Massachusetts. Even the smallest errors in the foreclosure process can be viable grounds for defending against foreclosure.

Conclusion

If you need assistance with foreclosure defense, contact me for a consultation.

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Sherwin Law Firm Files Brief for Lost Promissory Note Appeal

Last week, I filed a brief for a pending appeal in the First Circuit Court of Appeals concerning a lost promissory note.  This appeal concerns a critical issue of Massachusetts foreclosure law: the need for a lender to have a borrower’s promissory note to foreclose.

Overview of a Promissory Note 

A promissory note is a legal term for a written promise to pay a definite sum of money.  Often referred to as simply a “note”, this is a legal contract that a party signs, promising to repay a sum of money.  In the context of real estate, a promissory note is signed by a lender and a home buyer, where the home buyer agrees to repay the money borrowed to purchase the home.  While it is common for homeowner to refer to “paying my mortgage” when making payments on a home loan, a homeowner is actually making payments towards the promissory note (a mortgage, in contrast, is a security agreement, allowing a lender to foreclose if the debt is not repaid).

Most promissory notes for home loans are negotiable instruments, a legal document guaranteeing the payment of a specific amount of money at a set time.  The critical importance of this is negotiability: the right of a mortgage lender to sell the promissory note.  Mortgage lenders generally want to sell a mortgage loan as quickly as possible, for the purpose of maximizing their return on investment.

“Hold the Note” Requirement for Massachusetts Foreclosure Law 

Massachusetts law requires a foreclosing entity to “hold the note” at the time of foreclosure.  This comes from Eaton v. Federal National Mortgage Association, a landmark Massachusetts case that made this a requirement for the foreclosure process.  A foreclosing entity does not need to have physical possession of the note; it is permissible for an agent (such as the loan servicer) to hold it on the note owner’s behalf.

A home owner who wishes to see their promissory note can generally request it from their lender through a qualified written request.  Moreover, Massachusetts law requires a loan servicer to certify in writing to the borrower that they own the loan.  A foreclosing entity must also record an affidavit in the land records certifying that they own the note.  To the best of my knowledge, there is no requirement that a  foreclosing entity must show the actual, physical note to the borrower prior to foreclosure.

What Happens When a Promissory Note is Lost?

If a promissory note is lost, the lender has the option of doing a lost note affidavit.  The law for this, G.L. c. 106, § 3-309, only allows such an affidavit if the lender (among other things) previously had possession of the note and cannot obtain the note through a diligent search.

However, even with the the lost note affidavit law, a missing promissory note is a headache for a lender attempting to foreclose.  For example, a 2017 Land Court decision held that a lender could not foreclose on the basis of a lost note affidavit due to problems arising from the change of the servicer for the loan.

In my appeal, I challenged whether the foreclosing entity made an adequate showing for each requirement of the lost note affidavit law.  This is an area of law that continues to evolve and be relevant to matters of foreclosure defense.  Stay tuned . . .

Conclusion 

If you need help avoiding foreclosure, contact me for a consultation.  The benefits of having an experienced attorney on your side can make all the difference in getting you the outcome you need.

 

Can I Owe Money After a Foreclosure?

Challenging a Foreclosure

A common question for homeowners facing foreclosure is whether they will owe money after a foreclosure.  While it is possible to owe money after a foreclosure sale (commonly known as a deficiency judgment), there are requirements that a lender must follow to pursue such a claim, and other considerations that come into play on whether a lender will seek these damages against a borrower.

Requirements for Pursuing a Deficiency Judgment

Whether a borrower may own money after a foreclosure depends on the outcome of the foreclosure auction.   In such an auction, the home is put up for sale, with the lender attempting to recover the money that the homeowner owes on the home.  If the winning bid is greater than the amount owed by the borrower, the borrower gets the difference, after deducting the loan payoff and the lender’s costs and fees.

If the borrower owes more than the highest bid on the property, the borrower would owe the difference (known as a “deficiency judgment”).  However, to collect this judgment, the bank is required to comply with a notice and affidavit requirement.  A 2017 decision from the First Circuit Court of Appeals, Gavin v. U.S. Bank, N.A., held that a lender must strictly comply with this law.  In that case, the lender failed to send the required affidavit within thirty days after the foreclosure sale, which precluded the lender from attempting to recover this money from the homeowner.

Deadline for Pursuing a Deficiency Judgment 

Another consideration on whether a homeowner will owe money after a foreclosure sale is whether the lender has filed such a claim within the required deadline (known as the statute of limitations).  The statute of limitations for such a claim is two years from the foreclosure sale.  If such a claim is not brought within this deadline, the homeowner will not owe money after the foreclosure.

Practical Considerations on Owing Money After Foreclosure 

As discussed above, while it is possible to owe money after a foreclosure, it is not common.  The reason is that most lenders do not want to spend the time and money collecting a judgment that the homeowner will likely not be able to pay.  The old adage applies:  you can’t get blood from a stone.

Moreover, any owed money after a foreclosure sale can often be eliminated through a bankruptcy, either before or after the foreclosure.  If such a bankruptcy occurs, the lender will have few, if any, options for trying to collect this debt.

Conclusion 

Although it is rare to owe money after a foreclosure sale, it is possible.  Homeowners facing such a claim should speak with an experienced attorney to learn their options.

Obtaining a Loan to Avoid Foreclosure

Happy New Year!  I hope 2018 has been off to a great start for you . . . besides the cold weather.  A recent foreclosure case that I successfully resolved is the basis for this blog post: obtaining a loan to avoid foreclosure.  This option, while not for everyone, can be an effective means of foreclosure defense.

Foreclosure 101

Foreclosure is the process by which a lender can force the sale of a property to recover the borrower’s owed debt for the property.  Massachusetts is a non-judicial foreclosure state:  a lender does not need to go to court to foreclose, and performs this process through a series of letters and notices.  The most common cause for foreclosure is a borrower’s failure to pay their mortgage loan.

Obtaining a Loan to Avoid Foreclosure 

Avoiding foreclosure requires a borrower to resolve the underlining money owed on a home.  Foreclosure defense is not about getting a free home and the only permanent solution to foreclosure is addressing the owed debt.  This can occur through a loan modification, where a lender agrees to restructure a loan to make the payments more affordable for the borrower.

Another option for some borrowers is obtaining a loan to avoid foreclosure.  If a borrower can obtain financing from another lender to pay the owed money on the home, this can be an option for saving one’s home.  This new financing, of course, would need to be more affordable for the borrower to make this option worthwhile.

This option is not for every borrower facing foreclosure: many borrowers in these predicaments lack the credit to obtain new financing.  This is a more realistic option for  those facing foreclosure who are not on the underlining loan.  This can occur if a homeowner has inherited a home with a delinquent mortgage loan, or have a partner or spouse whose name alone was on the mortgage debt.  In such a scenario, the non-borrower may qualify for a loan to avoid foreclosure, whose terms are more favorable than the delinquent debt.

Obtaining the Assistance of a Foreclosure Defense Attorney

If obtaining a loan to avoid foreclosure is an option for you, a foreclosure defense attorney can be helpful for your case.  If the underlining mortgage loan is really behind in payments, the owed debt may be much higher than the property value, making it difficult to find new financing.  A lawyer may be helpful in negotiating a more reasonable payoff for the homeowner.

I have had success in such cases, where the homeowner has excellent credit and is facing foreclosure through no fault of their own.  In the right circumstances, the lender might agree to accept less than what is owed on the property, with the borrower getting an affordable mortgage loan.

A word of caution on this blog post.  I have heard from some potential clients who have considered purposely defaulting on their loan, in hopes of getting a better payoff in the end.  This is bad, bad advice.  Defaulting on a mortgage loan has serious consequences, and there is never a guarantee that a permanent foreclosure defense can be reached for such a case.

Conclusion 

If you find yourself facing foreclosure, contact me for a consultation.  The advantages of having an experienced attorney on your side can make all of the difference in attempting to save your home.

Preserving a “Pinti” Defense – Paragraph 22 of the Standard Mortgage

The Massachusetts Appeals Court issued an important decision this week on preserving a “Pinti” defense under paragraph 22 of the standard mortgage.  In US Bank v. Milan, the Appeals Court ruled that a homeowner failed to preserve this foreclosure defense and was precluded from raising it in his foreclosure case (a full copy of this decision is below).

Overview of Paragraph 22 of the Standard Mortgage

Paragraph 22 of the standard mortgage (used for most residential home purchases) requires that a default notice be sent to a homeowner containing a number of required disclosures before a foreclosure sale can proceed.  In Pinti v. Emigrant Mortgage, the Supreme Judicial Court held that a lender must strictly comply with this mortgage requirement.  Failure to do so makes any subsequent foreclosure sale void.

Pinti, importantly, limited the homeowners who were entitled to this defense.  Initially, the decision only applied to those paragraph 22 notices sent after July 17, 2015 (the date of Pinti).  The Appeals Court subsequently extended the benefit of Pinti to those homeowners who had a pending appeal on the paragraph 22 issue, and later, to any homeowner who raised it as a defense in a pending trial court case.  In this present appeal, the Appeals Court needed to determine what counts to preserve this defense in a pending foreclosure case.

How Does a Homeowner Preserve a Paragraph 22 Defense? 

In this case, the homeowner was in a post-foreclosure eviction case, where the bank alleged to have foreclosed the home.  The homeowner was entitled to defend against the eviction by arguing that the foreclosure was void, precluding the bank from obtaining possession of the home.

Here, the homeowner appears to have answered the bank’s eviction lawsuit by using a printed answer form, which allows claimants to raise defenses and counterclaims by checking a box.  This homeowner made a general allegation that the foreclosure was void.  In response to the bank’s inquiry on the basis of this defense, the homeowner alleged that there was forgery in his case, and did not mention a failure to comply with paragraph 22 of his mortgage.  While this case was ongoing, the Supreme Judicial Court issued Pinti.  The trial judge ruled that Pinti applied because the homeowner preserved a Pinti defense in this case, and found the overall foreclosure to be void.

The Appeals Court disagreed, ruling that the homeowner listed forgery, and not a paragraph 22 defect, as the asserted grounds for the homeowner’s foreclosure defense.  In other words, the Court was not willing to let the homeowner “change horses midstream” and get the benefit of Pinti after stating a prior, separate basis for his foreclosure defense.

Conclusion 

Recent court cases have been favorable to foreclosed homeowners with a paragraph 22 defect.  Milan suggests that there are limits to who can get the benefit of Pinti  in their case, and that a failure to expressly raise this matter can be fatal to one’s defense.  This decision, however, really only applies to homeowners with a pending foreclosure case who received a defective paragraph 22 notice before July 17, 2015.  Homeowners who received a defective notice after this date will likely have much more leeway in raising a Pinti defense.

While the Court did not address this issue, Milan touches upon the problems of using forms in answering or bringing a lawsuit.  Such forms allowed a claimant to raise a defense or claim merely by “checking a box” and without providing any supporting facts or detail.  I have long believed that these forms are problematic and not proper under the requirements for raising a legal claimMilan suggests that Massachusetts appeal courts may be inclined to take a closer look at this issue in the future.  Regardless, this is a reason why the benefits of finding an experienced foreclosure defense attorney cannot be overstated.

US Bank v. Milan

Reversing a Foreclosure

reversing-a-foreclosure

Fall has been off to a great start for me, and I hope for you too.  My busy schedule is providing me opportunities to work on some great cases and I’m looking forward–to what I hope–will be some rewarding outcomes in the end.  So far, so good: I have reached favorable resolutions for several of my foreclosure defense cases.  One of my favorite parts of doing these cases is the actual process of reversing a foreclosure, a topic I want to discuss here.

What Happens to the Ownership of a Home After Foreclosure?

Following a foreclosure sale, the lender will record a foreclosure deed in the applicable land records for the property.  “Recording” is the act by which documents are made part of the public land registries.  Deeds and mortgages are the most commonly recorded documents, and searching the appropriate land registry is how one learns about the history of a particular piece of property.  In Massachusetts, these records can be found online:  http://www.masslandrecords.com.

A foreclosure deed is among these recorded documents, and states that the mortgagee held a foreclosure sale of the property and lists who purchased the property at the auction sale (which is often the mortgagee itself).

Challenging a Foreclosure Sale

Massachusetts is a non-judicial foreclosure state:  a lender does not need to go to court to foreclose a home.  A homeowner, however, has the right to challenge the validity of a foreclosure sale, which generally comes either through a defense in a post-foreclosure eviction or in a separate civil lawsuit.  If successful, a homeowner can ask the court to “undo” the foreclosure sale and restore ownership to the homeowner.  How is this done?

Reversing a Foreclosure 

My approach to reversing a foreclosure involves requesting a declaratory judgment from the court.  A declaratory judgment, simply put, is a court order that resolves a legal dispute.  In Abate v. Fremont Investment & Loan, the Supreme Judicial Court stated that declaratory judgments are a proper means of  challenging a foreclosure’s validity (page 835 of the decision).

I often request a declaratory judgment stating that the underlining foreclosure sale is void, and  ownership of the home belongs to the homeowner.  If a settlement is reached in one of these cases, the homeowner and bank can (and should) jointly request a declaratory judgment.  A declaratory judgment is generally a 1-2 page document stating the case name and number, a summary of the court’s order,  and is signed by a judge.

Once a court grants a declaratory judgment, I record this in the land records, along with the other property documents.  As part of the “chain of title”, the property is now officially back in the homeowner’s name and the foreclosure is reversed.  This recorded declaratory judgment will include a reference to the previously recorded foreclosure deed, so anyone searching the land records will learn of this court order.

Conclusion 

Reversing a foreclosure is one of the most rewarding parts of my job.  It is a great feeling to see the actual result of my work: an official order that gives someone their home back.  If you find yourself in need of foreclosure defense, contact me for a consultation.