I was keeping track of the number of Sheriff's Sales stopped, but I decided that this gave the wrong impression to viewers. An attorney should not be consulted as a matter of last resort. Instead an attorney should be consulted early in the process and the sooner an attorney is consulted the more likely a Homeowner will have a favorable result

The Law Office of Bruce M. Broyles

2670 North Columbus Street, Suite L, Lancaster, Ohio 43130

Phone: (740) 277-7850 / (330) 965-1093

The Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct suggest that the reader be informed that one of the purposes of this blog is to attract potential clients, and therefore should be considered attorney advertisement

Friday, July 6, 2012

FDCPA and Those Calls to Clients

In 2007, Ohio replaced its Code of Professional Conduct with the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct.  I was almost certain that a "Servicer" contacting the client during litigation violated the new ethical rules.  Today, when another client called distraught over receiving a telephone call from the "Servicer", I decided I needed to review the Rules again.  Turns out that Rule 4.2 comment [4] actually allows such contact between the clients.
4.2 Comment [4]Parties to a matter may communicate directly with each other, and a lawyer is not prohibited from advising a client concerning a communication that the client is legally entitled to make.
Upon further reflection, I had to question whether the contact was from a party to the litigation.  Since it was from the Servicer and not the Plaintiff this was not communication by a party.

I then reviewed the Ohio Consumer Protection Acts, and could not find any prohibition against clients being contacted directly by debt collectors.  I then turned to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) 15 U.S.C. §§ 1692-1692p.

I believe that the "servicer" would be a debt collector, and the FDCPA prohibits debt collectors from contacting consumers who are represented by counsel.  I did not see any definition of consumer which rendered the FDCPA inapplicable to mortgage debt.  Further, the cases that I reviewed involving FDCPA did not apply the statute to the Lender as it was collecting its own debt.  However, when a 'servicer" contact the client, it may be a debt collector because it is not an affiliate of the Lender.  A Lender that originated the loan only to immediately sell the loan and retain the "servicing rights" would be a debt collector.

The FDCPA prohibits a debt collector from directly contacting a consumer who is represented by counsel. 
Without the prior consent of the consumer given directly to the debt collector or the express permission of a court of competent jurisdiction, a debt collector may not communicate with a consumer in connection with the col­lection of any debt—
if the debt collector knows the consumer is represented by an attorney with respect to such debt and has knowl­edge of, or can readily ascertain, such attorney’s name and address, unless the attorney fails to respond within a reasonable period of time to a communication from the debt collector or unless the attorney consents to direct communication with the consumer; 15 U.S.C. 1692c.

The FDCPA provides civil damages up to $1,000 plus attorney fees.  I think it may be a good point of practice to advise opposing counsel to inform Plaintiff's "servicer" that it is not to directly communicate with the client.  This may avoid some aggravation for the client.  When the servicer contacts the Homeowner despite the requested warning, the servicer may be liable for civil damages under teh FDCPA.  Since the driving force behind many foreclosures seems to be the money that "servicers" make such a FDCPA claim may provide some leverage to thos erepresenting Homeowners Facing Foreclosure.

I am certain that many others have already thought of this and are (1) successfully using it or (2) are aware of the downfall of this strategy and avoid it.  I would ask for those reading this with experience on the issue reply and educate me accordingly.  

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Free Advice to Homeowners Facing Foreclosure

Today, I will again be in the office at 6:00 p.m. to answer any question of a Homeowner Defending a Foreclosure complaint.  I subscribe to a number of foreclosure websites and blogs, and I receive articles written by very knowledgeable and caring experts.  Most of those articles address very technical issues, or discuss the issue on a large national scale.  These articles present issues that may exist in a Homeowner's case, but the articles do noy provide easy how to information as to how these issues may apply to an individual case.

What I am trying to do is explain the process to people going through it the first time.  Litigation is complex.  Homeowners not only have to deal with the complexity of litigation, they also have to deal with the frightening experience and threat of losing their home.  

Foreclosure Defense seems to have created a cottage industry for companies and individuals to prey upon the difficult circumstances of these Homeowners.  Many Homeowners have be subjected to high pressure, fast talking, "too good to be true" sales pitches.  That is why I invite Homeowners Facing Foreclosure to come to my office and I will try to answer your questions.  Its FREE. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Tension Between HAMP and the One Year Guideline

 The Making Home Affordable Program, Version 3.3, As of September 1, 2011.

In February 2009, the Obama Administration introduced the Making Home Affordable Program, a plan to stabilize the housing market and help struggling homeowners get relief and avoid foreclosure. In March 2009, the Treasury Department (Treasury) issued uniform guidance for loan modifications across the mortgage industry and subsequently updated and expanded that guidance in a series of policy announcements.

A number of attorneys will talk about HAMP and some of the requirements, but many, including myself, have, or at least had,  no idea where to locate the Guidelines, what authority existed for the Guidelines or the Federal Regulation creating the guidelines.  According to the guidelines, the Federal authorityb comes from the following:

As part of Helping Families Save Their Homes Act of 2009 (HFSTHA), Congress established the Servicer Safe Harbor by amending the Truth in Lending Act for the purpose of providing a safe harbor to enable such servicers to modify and refinance mortgage

The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development describes the authority the same as the guidelines.
Legal Authority: Section 230(b) of the National Housing Act (12 U.S.C. 1715u(b)), as amended by the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act of 2009, Division A of Public Law 111-22.

Administering Office: Assistant Secretary for Housing-Federal Housing Commissioner, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Washington, DC 20410-8000.
Information Source: Administering Office.

The HAMP Program and other relief efforts are overseen by the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Assets Relief Program, SIGTARP, which was established by Section 121 of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 ("EESA").
Under EESA, the Special Inspector General has the duty, among other things, to conduct, supervise and coordinate audits and investigations of the purchase, management and sale of assets under the Troubled Asset Relief Program ("TARP").
 loans under a "qualified loss mitigation plan."

Now that we know where to find the guidelines there are several provision that are helpful to Homeowners facing Foreclosure.

3.2 Suspension of Foreclosure Proceedings in Process
With respect to a borrower who submits a request for HAMP consideration after a loan has been referred to foreclosure, the servicer must, immediately upon the borrower’s acceptance of a TPP based on verified income, and for the duration of the trial period, take those actions within its authority that are necessary to halt further activity and events in the foreclosure process, whether judicial or non-judicial, including but not limited to refraining from scheduling a sale or causing a judgment to be entered.
The servicer will not be in violation of this section to the extent that: (a) a court with jurisdiction over the foreclosure proceeding (if any), or the bankruptcy court in a bankruptcy case, or the public official charged with carrying out the activity or event, fails or refuses to halt some or all activities or events in the matter after the servicer has made reasonable efforts to move the court or request the public official for a cessation of the activity or event; (b) the servicer must take 
some action to protect the interests of the owner, investor, guarantor or servicer of the loan in response to action taken by the borrower or other parties in the foreclosure process; or (c) there is not sufficient time following the borrower’s acceptance of the TPP for the servicer to halt the activity or event, provided that in no event shall the servicer permit a sale to go forward. The servicer must document in the servicing file if any of the foregoing exceptions to the requirement to halt an existing foreclosure sale is applicable.
3.3 Suspension of Scheduled Foreclosure Sale
When a borrower submits a request for HAMP consideration after a foreclosure sale date has been scheduled and the request is received no later than midnight of the seventh business day prior to the foreclosure sale date (Deadline), the servicer must suspend the sale as necessary to evaluate the borrower for HAMP. Servicers are not required to suspend a foreclosure sale when: (1) a request for HAMP consideration is received after the Deadline; (2) a borrower received a permanent modification and lost good standing (as described in Section 9.4); (3) a borrower received a TPP offer and failed to make one or more payments under the TPP by the last day of the month in which it was due; or (4) a borrower was evaluated based upon an Initial Package and determined to be ineligible under HAMP requirements.
The servicer will not be in violation of this section to the extent that a court with jurisdiction over the foreclosure proceeding (if any), or the bankruptcy court in a bankruptcy case, or the public official charged with carrying out the activity or event, fails or refuses to halt the sale after the servicer has made reasonable efforts to move the court or request the public official for a cessation of the sale. The servicer must document in the servicing system and/or mortgage file if the foregoing exception to the requirement to suspend an existing foreclosure sale is applicable.

Unfortunately for Homeowners facing foreclosure in Ohio there is an unintended tension between the Federal Government's desire to assist Homeowners Facing Foreclosure and the Ohio Supreme Court's Rules of Superintendence for Ohio Courts.  Rlue 35 requires a Case Management Section of the Supreme ourt to create and Audit Statistical Reports.  Rule 37 requires Judges to file statistical reports on a periodica basis.  Rule 39 creates time guidelines for the disposition of cases which shall be set forth on the statistical report forms.  Statistical Refport Form A, Section III, C (5) defines reporting case known as Foreclosure.
5. Foreclosures - Column E. This category is used for cases that involve the enforcement of a lien, mortgage, trust deed, or other similar instrument in any method provided by law. A case will be reported as terminated upon filing of foreclosure entry. Whether the case proceeds to the sale of the property has no influence on the termination of the case for reporting

Statistical Report Form A- Section III D(21) provides that the time period for the disposition of cases shall be listed immediately above line 21.  Rule 22 states: These time guidelines are mandatory and it is expected that all cases will be terminated within the applicable guideline.
General Division – Form A:
 Mandatory Time Guidelines
Professional Tort                    24 months
Product Liability                     24 months
Other Torts                              24 months
Worker’s Compensation       12 months
Foreclosures                            12 months
Administrative Appeals          9 months
Complex Litigation                  36 months
Other Civil                                24 months
Criminal                                       6 months

The Ohio Supreme Court publishes the statstical reports on its website, under the pull down menu of Reports and Publications.  The 2009 Statistical reports provides an overviw of a period of ten years of statistical reports,  See it here

The report also provides an insight into the Supreme Court's use of the statistical reports to evaluate the Courts of Ohio.  The key indicators are set forth in the 2009 Ohio Courts Statistical Summary, see the following excerpt.

General Notes Concerning Performance Measures
When analyzing the work of Ohio courts and judges, the Case Management Section of the Supreme Court regularly evaluates two key performance measures readily available using caseload statistics reported by the courts: clearance rates and overage rates. Both measures can be applied to a court’s overall docket, individual case types or groups of case types.
Clearance Rate
This measure identifies how well a court keeps up with its incoming caseload. It is calculated as follows:
Clearance rates can be calculated over any time period, as long as the incoming and outgoing values apply to that same time period. However, calculating clearance rates on a monthly basis is less valuable due to the ordinary variations that are seen when this data is viewed over a short time span.
Using monthly caseload statistical reports submitted by judges, the total number of outgoing cases is determined using the reported “Total Terminations” values. The total number of incoming cases is determined using the sum of the reported “New Cases Filed” and “Cases Transferred in, Reactivated, or Redesignated” values. The ratio of outgoing cases to incoming cases (produced using the above formula) is ordinarily multiplied by 100 and expressed as percentage. The target is a clearance rate of 100 percent.  A clearance rate of 100 percent means a court terminated over a given time period exactly as many cases as it took in during that same time period. If a court’s clearance rate is regularly less than 100 percent over an extended period of time, the court will develop a backlog because the pace of incoming cases exceeds the pace of outgoing cases.
While valuable, clearance rates alone do not accurately depict a court’s success in moving its entire docket forward in a timely fashion. A court may regularly demonstrate a 100 percent or greater clearance rate while simultaneously keeping a sizable number of cases from being disposed of within applicable time standards. Accordingly, clearance rates should,
where practicable, be viewed alongside a measure that gauges the extent to which a court’s caseload is pending beyond time standards, such as the overage rate.
Clearance Rate =   Total number of outgoing cases
                                  Total number of incoming cases
Overage Rate
This measure identifies the extent to which a court’s pending caseload lags past applicable time standards, or, overage. To put it another way, it measures the size of a court’s backlog. It is calculated as follows: Using the monthly caseload statistical reports submitted by judges, the total number of cases pending beyond the time guideline is determined
using the reported “Cases Pending Beyond Time Guideline” value, and the total number of cases pending is determined using the reported “Pending End of Period” value. The result is multiplied by 100 and expressed as a percentage.
In 2008, the Supreme Court, in
Disciplinary Counsel v. Sargeant, 118 Ohio St.3d 322, 2008-Ohio-2330, identified an overage rate of 10 percent or greater as an indication of a case management problem.
The 2009 Statistical Summary demonstrates that a county which handled 200 cases in 1997, and had 1800 to 2000 foreclosures filed in 2009 would be required to clear (clearance rate) 1600 more foreclosures within one year (overage rate).  There is an increase of 1600 cases with no new Judges, no new Magistrates, and most likely fewer Clerk of Court staff person.

Foreclosures must be completed within one year.  There are now many more foreclosures filed each year.  The Banks are using this pressure to overwhelm the Court system.  This causes a tension between HAMP which says foreclosures are to be stayed vs. the Ohio Supreme Court guidelines which require cases to be completed in a year.  As a result "Duel Tracking" must take place in Ohio, because the Courts can not afford to stay cases and still comply with the Ohio Supreme Court time guidelines. 

Duel Tracking is not inherently evil, but the Banks convince the Homeowners that they do not need an attorney.  The homeowner does not need to worry about the foreclosure.  However, when the time is up, the Court is going to dispose of the case. 

The oddity of the Supreme Court Guidelines is that the case is considered closed regardless of whether the Home goes to Sheriff's sale.  So Courts that are racing to comply with Supreme Court statistical reporting requirements are much more likely to cancel a Sheriff's sale due to HAMP modification.  Unfortunately for Homeowners, attorneys have trouble even finding the HAMP guidelines and statutory authority.  So Homeowners finally seek out counsel after the decree of foreclosure, and the attorney says there's nothing I can do for you now; its too late.