financial services

Foreclosure settlement with banks filed


By Bloomberg News
Posted 3/13/12

WASHINGTON – The $25 billion agreement with five banks to end federal and state probes into abusive foreclosure practices was filed in U.S. court in Washington, D.C., capping negotiations over claims of misconduct after the housing bust.

The agreement subjects the lenders to monitoring by officials plus penalties of as much as $1 million for each violation, the U.S. Justice Department said. The consent judgments will be in effect for 3.5 years, according to the settlement terms.

The Justice Department today filed in federal court the proposed settlements along with a civil complaint against Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and three other banks. The agreement needs approval from a federal judge.

In what the U.S. called the largest federal-state civil settlement in the nation’s history, the banks have committed $20 billion in relief for borrowers plus payments of $5 billion to states and the federal government. About $1.5 billion will go toward payments to those who lost homes in foreclosure between Jan. 1, 2008, and Dec. 31, 2011, the Justice Department said.

The deal comes more than a year after attorneys general from all 50 states announced a probe into foreclosure practices following disclosures that banks were using faulty documents to seize homes.

Negotiated Settlement

The nation’s five largest mortgage servicers – Bank of America, JPMorgan, Wells Fargo & Co., Citigroup Inc. and Ally Financial Inc. – negotiated the settlement with federal agencies, including the Justice Department, and 49 states. Oklahoma reached a separate agreement and didn’t sign the federal settlement.

About $17 billion of the agreement will pay for mortgage debt forgiveness, forbearance, short sales and other assistance to homeowners. Servicers will also provide $3 billion in refinancing to lower homeowners’ interest rates. The settlement also sets new standards for servicing loans aimed at preventing foreclosure abuses. A website has been set up to give information on the settlement.

Today’s court filing also shows the banks have agreed to settle at least five so-called whistle-blower lawsuits over their mortgage practices, including one filed by a Florida lawyer who alleged her house was improperly foreclosed upon.

$18 Million

Lynn Szymoniak, an attorney from West Palm Beach, Florida, will get $18 million to settle her claims over the 2009 foreclosure of her condominium unit, according to William E. Nettles, U.S. Attorney for South Carolina. Szymoniak’s case, one of the first to focus on the practice of so-called “robo signing” of mortgages, was filed in South Carolina.

Szymoniak’s settlement is coming out of the $95 million South Carolina received as part of the $25 billion mortgage-fraud accord, Nettles said. The settlement also resolves cases in New York, Georgia and Massachusetts, according to court filings.

“We’re obviously very proud of this settlement,” Nettles said in a telephone interview. “We believe it’s a positive step toward righting the wrongs committed by the banks during the mortgage meltdown.”

Pension funds and other investors in mortgage-backed securities condemned the settlement, saying it could cost retirees and other “innocent parties” billions of dollars by rewriting the contractual terms of their investments, potentially lowering their value.

‘Other People’s Funds’

“It is unfair to settle claims against the robosigners with other people’s funds,” the Association of Mortgage Investors said in a written statement. “While we request that it not be done, at a minimum we request that a meaningful cap be placed on the dollar amount of the settlement satisfied by innocent parties. Restitution should come from those who are settling these claims, and lien priority must be respected.”

Joseph Smith, the former North Carolina commissioner of banks, will act as monitor to oversee banks’ compliance with the agreement. There will also be a monitoring committee comprising representatives of the state attorneys general, state financial regulators, the U.S. Justice Department, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, according to the agreement.

The mortgage servicers will have to submit quarterly reports, according to the terms. If a servicer violates requirements of the consent judgment, it will be subject to penalties as much as $1 million per violation or as much as $5 million for certain repeat violations, the Justice Department said.

Relief Requirements

The consumer relief requirements include varying amounts of credit the servicers will receive for every dollar spent, the department said. Because servicers will get only partial credit for many of the relief activities, the agreement will result in benefit to borrowers in excess of $20 billion, it said.

The servicers are required to complete 75 percent of their consumer relief obligations within two years and 100 percent within three years, according to the Justice Department.

The case is U.S. v. Bank of America Corp., 12-00361, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

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