How current events impact your business and real estate holdings

Monday, July 20, 2015

Foreclosure: Borrowers - it's not just you, the banks ignore practically everyone

New York County, Supreme Court, recently published a case opinion by initially referencing the plight of many homeowners in the first paragraph as follows:

"They have been thwarted by unresponsive loan servicers, unprepared lawyers, boilerplate form letters, and the banks' or servicers' often-changing and repetitive demands for financial information."

Sound familiar?

In the case, the Court reduced interest to 2% during the time that it found the lender acted in bad faith. This opinion is legally important because it expands the time of its interest sanction to pre-settlement conferences, but more so, its functionally important for borrowers because the opinion represents a terrific explanation of the current law governing mortgage modifications.

The law is set forth in detail below:

In reaching its decision, the Court, laid out the law as follows:

Duty Post-Default:
"3 NYCRR 419.2 establishes a "duty of good faith and fair dealing" by mortgage loan servicers in connection with their transactions with borrowers. This duty requires that servicers "make borrowers in default aware of loss mitigation options and services offered by the servicer in accordance with section 419.11" (3 NYCRR 419.2 [e]). This duty also requires servicers to "provide trained personnel and telephone facilities sufficient to respond promptly to borrower inquiries regarding their mortgage loans" (id., 419.2 [f]), and to "pursue loss mitigation with the borrower whenever possible in accordance with section 419.11" (id., 419.2 [g]). Part 419.11 creates an obligation on the part of servicers to make reasonable and good faith efforts to pursue appropriate loss mitigation options, including loan modifications as an alternative to foreclosure. Notably, section 419.11 (d) requires that servicers must complete their review of a borrower's eligibility for a loan modification or other loss mitigation options and advise the borrower or their representative of the determination in writing within 30 days of receiving all required documentation. Finally, section 419.11 (i) creates a good faith presumption on the part of servicers if they offer loan modifications in accordance with HAMP guidelines."

Duty Post-Commencement of Mortgage Foreclosure Action:
CPLR 3408 (a) and (f) read, in pertinent part, as follows:
"(a) In any residential foreclosure action involving a home loan . . . in which the defendant is a resident of the property subject to foreclosure, the court shall hold a mandatory conference . . . for the purpose of holding settlement discussions pertaining to the relative rights and obligations of the parties under the mortgage loan[*8]documents, including, but not limited to determining whether the parties can reach a mutually agreeable resolution to help the defendant avoid losing his or her home, and evaluating the potential for a resolution in which payment schedules or amounts may be modified or other workout options may be agreed to, and for whatever other purposes the court deems appropriate.
(f) Both the plaintiff and defendant shall negotiate in good faith to reach a mutually agreeable resolution, including a loan modification, if possible."

To conclude that a party failed to negotiate in good faith pursuant to CPLR 3408 (f), a court must determine that "the totality of the circumstances demonstrates that the party's conduct did not constitute a meaningful effort at reaching a resolution" (US Bank N.A. v Sarmiento, 121 AD3d 187, 203 [2d Dept 2014]). Following the adoption of CPLR 3408, the Chief Administrator of the Courts promulgated regulations setting forth the rules and procedures governing CPLR 3408 settlement conferences (see 22 NYCRR 202.12—a). This regulation requires that "[i]f the parties appear by counsel, such counsel must be fully authorized to dispose of the case" (22 NYCRR 202.12-a [c] [3]).

Next, the Court laid out its options in sanctioning violations of CPLR 3408(f) as follows: 

"barring of interest on the loan for the period of time that the servicer acted in bad faith and unduly prolonged the foreclosure proceedings (see U.S. Bank N.A. v Smith, 123 AD3d 914 [2d Dept 2014] [mortgagee barred from collecting interest on mortgage for 9-month period]; US Bank N.A. v Williams, 121 AD3d 1098 [2d Dept 2014] [court canceled all interest accrued on the subject mortgage loan between the date of the initial settlement conference and the date that the parties agreed to a loan modification]; US Bank N.A. v Sarmiento, 121 AD3d at 200 [interest tolled from date mortgagor began placing $2,000 per month in an escrow fund, at the court's direction]; see also Bank of America N.A. v Lucic, 45 Misc 3d 916 [Sup Ct, NY County 2014]; U.S. Bank, N.A. v Shinaba, 40 Misc 3d 1239[A], 2013 NY Slip Op 51484[U] [Sup Ct, Bronx County 2013]; Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. v Ruggiero, 39 Misc 3d 1233[A], 2013 Slip Op 50871[U] [Sup Ct, Kings County 2013]; Deutsche Bank Trust Co. of Am. v Davis, 32 Misc 3d 1210[A], 2011 Slip Op 51238 [Sup Ct, Kings County 2011]). Because foreclosure is an equitable remedy which triggers the equitable powers of the court (Notey, 41 NY2d 1055 supra; Norwest Bank Minn., NA, 94 AD3d at 836, supra), courts have not hesitated to toll interest when it is an appropriate remedy for a [*9]mortgagee's unconscionable delay in prosecuting foreclosure actions (see Dayan v York, 51 AD3d 964 [2d Dept 2008]; Danielowich v PBL Dev., 292 AD2d 414 [2d Dept 2002]; Dollar Fed. Sav. & Loan Assn. v Herbert Kallen, Inc., 91 AD2d 601 [2d Dept 1982]; South Shore Fed. Sav. & Loan Assn. v. Shore Club Holding Corp., 54 AD2d 978 [2d Dept 1976])."