Harris testifies in support of Homeowner Bill of Rights

Jessica M. Karmasek May 11, 2012, 12:25pm


SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline) - California Attorney General Kamala Harris urged lawmakers again this week to support of a package of bills that aim to better protect homeowners.

Harris, who was instrumental in a nationwide settlement over mortgage foreclosure fraud, testified before a joint Legislative Conference Committee Thursday on her so-called Homeowner Bill of Rights.

The bill of rights include:

- Assembly Bill 2425/Senate Bill 1471, which would require creditors to provide a single point of contact to borrowers in the foreclosure process; require creditors to provide a dedicated email address, fax number and mailing address for borrowers to submit information requested; and impose a $10,000 civil penalty on the filing of "robo-signed" documents;

- AB 2314/SB 1472, which would prevent blight enforcement actions from being taken against new purchasers of blighted property for 60 days, provided that repairs are being made to the property; require banks that release liens on foreclosed property to inform local code enforcement agencies of the release so that demolition of blighted property can proceed; and increase fines against owners of blighted property from $1,000 to $5,000 per day, and allow the imposition of the costs of a receivership over blighted property to be imposed directly against the owner of blighted property;

- AB 2610/SB 1473, which would require purchasers of foreclosed homes to honor the terms of existing leases and give tenants at least 90 days notice before commencing eviction proceedings;

- AB 1763/SB 1474, which would authorize the attorney general to impanel a special grand jury for the purposes of investigating and indicting multi-jurisdictional financial crimes against the State;

- AB 1602/SB 1470, which would require lenders to prove to homeowners that they have a right to foreclose on the property, and would create a new Office of Homeowner Protection to aid borrowers; and

- AB 1950, which would impose a new $25 fee to be paid by servicers upon the recording of a notice of default. The fee would be deposited into a real estate fraud prosecution trust fund that would support the attorney general's efforts to deter, investigate and prosecute real estate fraud crimes, including the work of the Mortgage Fraud Strike Force.

The conference committee was created to examine, in particular, the two bills that guarantee a single point of contact for struggling homeowners, penalize the robosigning of documents and restrict "dual track" foreclosures.

In "dual track" foreclosures, borrowers are foreclosed on while negotiating with their bank to stay in their homes.

"This bill of rights is simply about common sense reform and about bringing transparency for an otherwise confusing and daunting system," Harris said in a statement Thursday. "It is about hardworking people who believe in the American dream."

The attorney general was joined in testifying by responsible homeowners struggling with their mortgages.

In February, federal officials and 49 state attorneys general, including Harris, reached a $25 billion agreement with Wells Fargo and Co., JPMorgan Chase and Co., Citigroup Inc., Ally Financial Inc. and Bank of America Corp. over their alleged improper foreclosure practices.

Of the $25 billion, California claimed the largest portion of the pot -- $18 billion.

Harris had departed from the negotiations in September, when the estimated relief for the state was estimated at $4 billion.

The attorney general, at the time, called the proposed deal "inadequate," and insisted on more relief for distressed homeowners, meaningful enforcement and the ability of state attorneys general to pursue investigations into misconduct.

"This outcome is the result of an insistence that California receive a fair deal commensurate with the harm done here," Harris said later of the nationwide settlement.

"We insisted on homeowner relief for Californians and demanded enforceability so homeowners actually see a benefit that will allow them to stay in their homes, and preserved our ability to investigate banker crime and predatory lending."

Harris said her bill of rights builds on the February settlement, making those reforms permanent and extending them to all Californians -- not just those hurt by the five banks.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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