Wednesday, October 27, 2010

AGs Unite

Attorneys general from all 50 states, as well as 39 state bank regulators, have joined forces in an investigation of mortgage servicers.

In a joint statement Wednesday, the group said it believes the so-called robo-signing of court documents in foreclosure cases, which has come to light in recent weeks, "may constitute a deceptive act and/or an unfair practice or otherwise violate state laws."

John Ryan, the executive vice president of the Conference of State Bank Supervisors, said, "The foreclosure process in the various states is designed to ensure a basic level of due diligence and accountability occurs before taking an action that has dramatic implications for homeowners and communities. Our priority is to ascertain if violations of state law occurred, to reestablish confidence in the integrity of the foreclosure process and take appropriate action to protect the rights of consumers and homeowners affected."

The group's formation coordinates and expands the individual efforts of several states that began investigating after problems with foreclosure documents surfaced late last month. (Alabama was not among the states represented when the announcement was first made Wednesday but joined the coordinated effort later that day.) So far, Ohio is the only state to file a civil suit; it alleges fraud by GMAC Mortgage.

Several large mortgage servicers, including GMAC Mortgage, of Ally Financial Inc.; JPMorgan Chase & Co.; Bank of America Corp. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc.'s Litton Loan Servicing, have halted foreclosures while they review their processes to make sure mistakes are absent from their filings of foreclosure documents.

Meanwhile, the New York State Banking Department, which is participating in the multistate effort, said it has sent letters to more than 20 mortgage servicers registered to do business in the state demanding they suspend foreclosures until the completion of thorough analyses of their procedures.

The companies are to respond by Oct. 22, outlining the steps they are taking to review their foreclosure processes; the results of the reviews, including descriptions of the process for verifying affidavits; any corrective action that has been taken or will be taken and the status of foreclosures pending in New York.

Separately, on Tuesday, Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum sent letters to Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, GMAC Mortgage, PNC Financial Services Group Inc. and Litton Loan Servicing calling for meetings to discuss ways to "promptly and effectively redeem the integrity of the foreclosure process."

Topic du Jour

Mers, the mortgage industry's electronic loan registration system, became a topic of conversation on the third-quarter earnings conference call of JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Jamie Dimon, the bank's chairman and chief executive, tried to skirt the issue after a question from Chris Kotowski, an analyst at Oppenheimer & Co., who asked whether Dimon was comfortable with "the robustness of the Mers system."

"We stopped a while back using them for that purpose," Dimon said. "And we're not going to comment on all the underlying things. One of the things you've got to remember … we've known there are issues in the mortgage business. And for the most part, by the time you get to the end of the process, … we're not evicting people who deserve to stay in the house."

Spokesman Tom Kelly clarified, saying the bank stopped foreclosing in the name of Mers in 2008 and does not register any retail-originated loans with Mers. For loans it services, "we take the title out of the Mers name before we start foreclosure proceedings because some state courts don't accept foreclosures in the Mers name," Kelly said.

Merscorp Inc. in Vienna, Va., operates a registry that tracks the sales of loans, or the right to service them, for 3,400 member companies, which pay annual dues and a fee for every transaction recorded.

For years, homeowners have challenged the system's authority to foreclose on behalf of mortgage lenders, though public records often list a Merscorp subsidiary as the mortgage holder — not the originating lender.

Fannie Mae stepped into the fray this year, telling servicers that any foreclosures filed after May 1 could no longer name Mers as a plaintiff on mortgage loans owned or securitized by the government-sponsored enterprise.

A Mers spokeswoman said JPMorgan Chase registers correspondent loans through the system but has never registered its retail loans through Mers.

Boston Fired Up

Boston is cracking down on abandoned properties, threatening to take the owners to court if they do not improve conditions in a timely way.

Late last month, a task force created by Mayor Thomas M. Menino began inspecting nearly 150 properties citywide deemed unsafe by the Fire Department, the Boston Herald reported.

The task force comprises people from the fire, inspection services and other departments. A warehouse fire in August — one of the biggest in the city's history — prompted the mayor to form the group, the newspaper said.

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