By Mitch Stacy
Associated Press
Reprinted from Contra Costa Times
Published 2/18/09

ZEPHYRHILLS, Fla. — Kathy Lovelace lost her job and was about to lose her house, too. But then she made a seemingly simple request of the bank: Show me the original mortgage paperwork.
And just like that, the foreclosure proceedings came to a standstill.
Lovelace and other homeowners around the country are managing to stave off foreclosure by employing a strategy that goes to the heart of the whole nationwide mess.

During the real estate frenzy of the past decade, mortgages were sold and resold, bundled into securities and peddled to investors. In many cases, the original note signed by the homeowner was lost, stored away in a distant warehouse or destroyed.
Persuading a judge to compel production of hard-to-find or nonexistent documents can, at the very least, delay foreclosure, buying the homeowner some time and turning up the pressure on the lender to renegotiate the mortgage.

"I'm going to hang on for dear life until they can prove to me it belongs to them," said Lovelace, a 50-year-old divorced mother who owns a $200,000 home in Zephyrhills, near Tampa. "I'll try everything I can because it's all I have left."

In interviews with The Associated Press, lawyers, homeowners and advocates outlined the produce-the-note strategy. Exactly how many homeowners have employed it is unknown. Nor is it clear how successful it has been; some judges are more sympathetic than others.
More than 2.3 million homeowners faced foreclosure proceedings last year and millions more are in danger of losing their homes. On Wednesday, President Obama will unveil a plan to spend at least $50 billion to help homeowners fend off foreclosure.
Chris Hoyer, a Tampa lawyer whose Consumer Warning Network Web site offers the free court documents Lovelace used to file her request, has played a major role in promoting the produce-the-note strategy.

"We knew early on that the only relief that would ever come to people would be to the people who were in their houses," Hoyer said. "Nobody was going to fashion any relief for people who have already lost their houses. So your only hope was to hang on any way you could."
Tom Deutsch, deputy executive director of the American Securitization Forum, a group that represents banks, law firms and investors, dismissed the strategy as merely a stalling tactic, saying homeowners are "making lawyers jump through procedural hoops to delay what's likely to be inevitable."

Deutsch said the original note is almost always electronically retained and can eventually be found.
Judges are often willing to accept electronic documentation. And lenders are sometimes allowed to produce other paperwork to establish they are the holder of a loan. Still, assembling such documents to a judge's satisfaction takes time, which to homeowners is the point.
Lovelace filed her produce-the-note demand last fall after the bank acknowledged that her original mortgage document had been lost or destroyed. Since then, there has been no activity on the foreclosure — no letters from the lender, no court filings.
The law firm handling the foreclosure for the lender refused to comment.
A University of Iowa study last year suggested that companies servicing mortgages are often negligent when it comes to producing the documentation to support foreclosure. In the study of more than 1,700 bankruptcy cases stemming from home foreclosures, the original note was missing more than 40 percent of the time, and other pieces of required documentation also were routinely left out.
The first big success of the produce-the-note movement came in 2007 when a federal judge in Cleveland threw out 14 foreclosures by Deutsche Bank National Trust Co. because the bank failed to produce the original notes.

Michael Silver, a lawyer for two of the families in that case, said at least one eventually lost their home. Still, he considers that a success.
"From the perspective of the person who's in the home, you may have kept them in the house another 10 or 12 months," he said. "If I can get a result with economic benefits to a client, then I think I won."

Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio endorsed the strategy in a fiery speech on the House floor during debate on the federal bank bailout last month.

"Don't leave your home," she said. "Because you know what? When those companies say they have your mortgage, unless you have a lawyer that can put his or her finger on that mortgage, you don't have that mortgage, and you are going to find they can't find the paper up there on Wall Street."

April Charney, head of foreclosure defense for Jacksonville Area Legal Aid in Florida, said the strategy has been so successful for her that she now travels around the country to train other lawyers in how to use it. She said she has gotten cases delayed for years by demanding that lenders produce paperwork they cannot find.

"This is an army of lawyers getting out there to stop foreclosures so we can get to the serious business of creating solutions," Charney said. "Nothing good is going to happen as long as we continue to bleed homeowners."

UPDATE: CNN features The Consumer Warning Network and the “Produce The Note” strategy.
WHO OWNS THE NOTE?
Your goal is to make certain the institution suing you is, in fact, the owner of the note (see steps to follow below). There is only one original note for your mortgage that has your signature on it. This is the document that proves you owe the debt.
 
During the lending boom, most mortgages were flipped and sold to another lender or servicer or sliced up and sold to investors as securitized packages on Wall Street. In the rush to turn these over as fast as possible to make the most money, many of the new lenders did not get the proper paperwork to show they own the note and mortgage. This is the key to the produce the note strategy. Now, many lenders are moving to foreclose on homeowners, resulting in part from problems they created, and don’t have the proper paperwork to prove they have a right to foreclose.
 
THE HARM
If you don’t challenge your lender, the court will simply allow the foreclosure to proceed. It’s important to hold lenders accountable for their carelessness. This is the biggest asset in your life. It’s just a piece of paper to them, and one they likely either lost or destroyed.
 
When you get a copy of the foreclosure suit, many lenders now automatically include a count to re-establish the note. It often reads like this: “…the Mortgage note has either been lost or destroyed and the Plaintiff is unable to state the manner in which this occurred.” In other words, they are admitting they don’t have the note that proves they have a right to foreclose.
 
If the lender is allowed to proceed without that proof, there is a possibility another institution, which may have bought your note along the way, will also try to collect the same debt from you again.
A Tennessee borrower recently had precisely that happen to her. Her lender, Ameriquest, foreclosed on her in July of 2007. About three months later, another bank sent her a default notice for the mortgage on the house she just lost. She called to find out what was going on. After being transferred from place to place and left on hold for lengthy periods of time, no one could explain what happened. They said they would get back to her, but never did. Now, she faces the risk of having her credit continually damaged for a debt she no longer owes.
 
FIGHT FOR FAIRNESS
This process is not intended to help you get your house for free. The primary goal is to delay the foreclosure and put pressure on the lender to negotiate. Despite all the hype about lenders wanting to help homeowners avoid foreclosure, most borrowers know that’s not the reality.
 
Too many homeowners have experienced lender resistance to their efforts to work out a payment structure to keep them in their homes. Many lenders bear responsibility for these defaults, because they put borrowers into unfair loans using deceptive, hard-sell practices and then made the problem worse with predatory servicing.
 
Most homeowners just want these lenders to give them reasonable terms on their mortgages, many of which were predatory to begin with. With the help of judges who see through these predatory practices, lenders will feel the pressure to work with borrowers to keep them in their homes. Don’t forget lenders made incredible amounts of money by using irresponsible practices to issue and service these loans. That greed led to the foreclosure crisis we’re in today. Allowing lenders to continue foreclosing on home after home, destroying our neighborhoods and our economy hurts us all. So, make it hard for your lender to take your home. Make ‘em produce the note!
 
STEPS TO FOLLOW – contact Short Sale Specialists for the documents mentioned below.
A. If your lender has already filed suit to foreclose on your home:
1.      Use the first form. It’s a fill-in-the-blank legal request to your lender asking that the original note be produced, before it can proceed with the foreclosure. In some jurisdictions, the courts require the original request to be filed with the clerk of court and a copy of the request to be sent to the attorney representing the lender. To find out the rules where you live, call the Clerk of Court in your jurisdiction.
2.      If the lender’s attorney does not respond within 30 days, file a motion to compel with the court and request that the court set a hearing on your motion. That, in effect, asks the judge to order the lender to produce the documents.
3.      The judge will issue a ruling at your hearing. Many judges around the country are becoming more sympathetic to homeowners, because of the prevalence of predatory lending and servicing. In the past, many lenders have relied upon using lost note affidavits, but in many cases, that’s no longer enough to satisfy the judge. They are holding the lender to the letter of the law, requiring them to produce evidence that they are the true owners of the note. For example:
§ In October 2007, Ohio Federal Court Judge Christopher Boyko dismissed 14 foreclosure cases brought by investors, ruling they failed to prove they owned the properties they were trying to seize.

B. If you are in default, but your lender has not yet filed suit against you:
1.      Use the second form. It’s a fill-in-the-blank letter to your lender which also requests they produce the original note, before taking foreclosure action against you.
2.      If the lender does not respond and files suit against you to foreclose, follow the steps above.
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