If you are a struggling homeowner and have sought relief via a loan modification, there may be new pressure on lenders to negotiate a modification. Last week, New York’s Appellate Division, Second Department, ruled in US Bank N.A. v Sarmiento that Wells Fargo, a well-known lender, could not collect interest or fees on a loan that had accrued while a borrower, Sarmiento, pursued a loan modification. Sarmiento attended 18 settlement conferences and remained persistent in obtaining a loan modification yet the decision indicates that Wells “delayed and prevented any possible resolution of the action.” Wells is cited for various delays and miscommunications which when considered wholly, led to the determination by the court that Wells failed to negotiate in good faith. This court decision yielded a long-awaited definition of “good faith” with regards to negotiations in foreclosure conferences. The court concluded that Wells’ conduct indicates a “disregard for the settlement negotiation process” which increased the balance on Sarmiento’s loan.
This decision gives hope to borrowers frustrated with the often drawn-out process of obtaining a loan modification. If a lender loses documents, repeatedly requests the same information, fails to review the application in a timely manner, denies an application without adequate grounds or deliberately or recklessly delays the process in any way, a borrower now has the option to demonstrate the lender’s failure to negotiate in good faith. This could translate to thousands of dollars lost in interest and legal fees for lenders.
Hopefully, this will put pressure on lenders to remain timely and organized in their evaluation of a borrower’s loan modification application for if they don’t comply with good faith guidelines, they could be at risk to lose a great deal of money. But remember, “good faith” is a double edged sword, as borrowers must also negotiate in good faith by putting forth a purposeful and honest effort at a settlement conference to reach a resolution.