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Abuses by Mortgage Service Companies

Although predatory lending has received far more attention than abusive servicing, a significant percentage of consumer complaints over loans involve servicing, not origination. For example, the director of the Nevada Fair Housing Center testified that of the hundreds of complaints of predatory lending issues her office received in 2002, about 42 percent involved servicing once the loan was transferred

Abusive Mortgage Servicing Defined:

Abusive servicing occurs when a servicer, either through action or inaction, obtains or attempts to obtain unwarranted fees or other costs from borrowers, engages in unfair collection practices, or through its own improper behavior or inaction causes borrowers to be more likely to go into default or have their homes foreclosed. Abusive practices should be distinguished from appropriate actions that may harm borrowers, such as a servicer merely collecting appropriate late fees or foreclosing on borrowers who do not make their payments despite proper loss mitigation efforts. Servicing can be abusive either intentionally, when there is intent to obtain unwarranted fees, or negligently, when, for example, a servicer’s records are so disorganized that borrowers are regularly charged late fees even when mortgage payments were made on time.

Abusive servicing often happens to debtors who have filed a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Plan and are in the process of making payments under the Plan. If you suspect that your mortgage servicer is abusing your relationship by charging unnecessary fees while you are paying off your Chapter 13 Plan, call us. We can help.

There is significant evidence that some Mortgage servicers have engaged in abusive behavior and that borrowers have frequently been the victims. Some servicers have engaged in practices that are not only detrimental to borrowers but also illegal Such abuse has been documented in court opinions and decisions, in the decisions and findings of ratings agencies, in litigation and settlements obtained by government agencies against prominent servicers, in congressional testimony, and in newspaper accounts of borrowers who claim to have been mistreated by servicers. The abusive servicing practices documented in these sources include improper foreclosure or attempted foreclosure, improper fees, improper forced-placed insurance, and improper use or oversight of escrow funds .

Improper foreclosure or attempted foreclosure

Because servicers can exact fees associated with foreclosures, such as attorneys’ fees, some servicers have attempted to foreclose on property even when borrowers are current on their payments or without giving borrowers enough time to repay or otherwise working with them on a repayment plan Furthermore, a speedy foreclosure may save servicers the cost of attempting other techniques that might have prevented the foreclosure.

Some servicers have been so brazen that they have regularly claimed to the courts that borrowers were in default so as to justify foreclosure, even though the borrowers were current on their payments. Other courts have also decried the frequent use of false statements to obtain relief from stay in order to foreclose on borrowers’ homes. For example, in Hart v. GMAC Mortgage Corporation, et al., 246 B.R. 709 (2000), even though the borrower had made the payments required of him by a forbearance agreement he had entered into with the servicer (GMAC Mortgage Corporation), it created a “negative suspense account” for moneys it had paid out, improperly charged the borrower an additional monthly sum to repay the negative suspense account, charged him late fees for failing to make the entire payment demanded, and began foreclosure proceedings.

Improper fees

Claiming that borrowers are in default when they are actually current allows servicers to charge unwarranted fees, either late fees or fees related to default and foreclosure. Servicers receive as a conventional fee a percentage of the total value of the loans they service, typically 25 basis points for prime loans and 50 basis points for subprime loans In addition, contracts typically provide that the servicer, not the trustee or investors, has the right to keep any and all late fees or fees associated with defaults. Servicers charge late fees not only because they act as a prod to coax borrowers into making payments on time, but also because borrowers who fail to make payments impose additional costs on servicers, which must then engage in loss mitigation to induce payment.

Such fees are a crucial part of servicers’ income. For example, one servicer’s CEO reportedly stated that extra fees, such as late fees, appeared to be paying for all of the operating costs of the company’s entire servicing department, leaving the conventional servicing fee almost completely profit The pressure to collect such fees appears to be higher on subprime servicers than on prime servicers:

Because borrowers typically cannot prove the exact date a payment was received, servicers can charge late fees even when they receive the payment on time Improper late fees may also be based on the loss of borrowers’ payments by servicers, their inability to track those payments accurately, or their failure to post payments in a timely fashion. In Ronemus v. FTB Mortgage Services, 201 B.R. 458 (1996), under a Chapter 13 bankruptcy plan, the borrowers had made all of their payments on time except for two; they received permission to pay these two late and paid late fees for the privilege. However, the servicer, FTB Mortgage Services, misapplied their payments, then began placing their payments into a suspense account and collecting unauthorized late fees. The servicer ignored several letters from the borrowers’ attorney attempting to clear up the matter, sent regular demands for late fees, and began harassing the borrowers with collection efforts. When the borrowers sued, the servicer submitted to the court an artificially inflated accounting of how much the borrowers owed.

Some servicers have sent out late notices even when they have received timely payments and even before the end of a borrower’s grace period Worse yet, a servicer might pocket the payment, such as an extra payment of principal, and never credit it to the borrower Late fees on timely payments are a common problem when borrowers are making mortgage payments through a bankruptcy plan

Moreover, some servicers have also added false fees and charges not authorized by law or contract to their monthly payment demands, relying on borrowers’ ignorance of the exact amount owed. They can collect such fees or other unwarranted claims by submitting inaccurate payoff demands when a borrower refinances or sells the house). Or they can place the borrowers’ monthly payments in a suspense account and then charge late fees even though they received the payment Worse yet, some servicers pyramid their late fees, applying a portion of the current payment to a previous late fee and then charging an additional late fee even though the borrower has made a timely and full payment for the new month Pyramiding late fees allows servicers to charge late fees month after month even though the borrower made only one late payment

Servicers can turn their fees into a profit center by sending inaccurate monthly payment demands, demanding unearned fees or charges not owed, or imposing fees higher than the expenses for a panoply of actions For example, some servicers take advantage of borrowers’ ignorance by charging fees, such as prepayment penalties, where the note does not provide for them Servicers have sometimes imposed a uniform set of fees over an entire pool of loans, disregarding the fact that some of the loan documents did not provide for those particular fees. Or they charge more for attorneys’, property inspection, or appraisal fees than were actually incurred. Some servicers may add a fee by conducting unnecessary property inspections, having an agent drive by even when the borrower is not in default, or conducting multiple inspections during a single period of default to charge the resulting multiple fees

The complexity of the terms of many loans makes it difficult for borrowers to discover whether they are being overcharged Moreover, servicers can frustrate any attempts to sort out which fees are genuine.

Improperly forced-placed insurance

Mortgage holders are entitled under the terms of the loan to require borrowers to carry homeowners’ insurance naming the holder as the payee in case of loss and to force-place insurance by buying policies for borrowers who fail to do so and charging them for the premiums However, some servicers have force-placed insurance even in cases where the borrower already had it and even provided evidence of it to the servicer Worse yet, servicers have charged for force-placed insurance without even purchasing it. Premiums for force-placed insurance are often inflated in that they provide protection in excess of what the loan.

Escrow Account Mismanagement

One of the benefits of servicing mortgages is controlling escrow accounts to pay for insurance, taxes, and the like and, in most states, keeping any interest earned on these accounts Borrowers have complained that servicers have failed to make tax or insurance payments when they were due or at all. The treasurer of the country’s second largest county estimated that this failure to make timely payments cost borrowers late fees of at least $2 million in that county over a two-year span, causing some to lose their homes. If servicers fail to make insurance payments and a policy lapses, borrowers may face much higher insurance costs even if they purchase their own, non-force-placed policy. Worse yet, borrowers may find themselves unable to buy insurance at all if they cannot find a new insurer willing to write them a policy

You can make a claim for mortgage service abuse, and often the court will award actual and punitive damages. If you think you have been a victim of mortgage service abuse, contact us. We can help you make a claim.