LOS ANGELES (Legal Newsline) - California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law Wednesday key provisions of Attorney General Kamala Harris' Homeowner Bill of Rights, protecting homeowners and borrowers during the mortgage and foreclosure process.
"The California Homeowner Bill of Rights will give struggling homeowners a fighting shot to keep their home," Harris said in a statement.
"This legislation will make the mortgage and foreclosure process more fair and transparent, which will benefit homeowners, their community, and the housing market as a whole."
Brown, Harris' predecessor, agreed.
"Californians should not have to suffer the abusive tactics of those who would push foreclosure behind the back of an unsuspecting homeowner," the governor said in a statement.
"These new rules make the foreclosure process more transparent so that loan servicers cannot promise one thing while doing the exact opposite."
Harris' bill of rights consists of a series of related bills, including two identical bills that were passed July 2 by the state Senate and Assembly: Assembly Bill 278 and Senate Bill 900.
The bills were approved 53-25 and 25-13 in the Assembly and Senate, respectively.
The one restricts the process of "dual-tracked" foreclosures.
The other guarantees a reliable contact for struggling homeowners to discuss their loan with and, for the first time, imposes civil penalties on the practice of fraudulently signing foreclosure documents without verifying their accuracy, otherwise known as "robo-signing."
The bill also imposes civil penalties, of up to $7,500, on the repeated filing of foreclosure documents without verifying their accuracy -- otherwise known as "robo-signing."
In addition, homeowners may require loan servicers to document their right to foreclose.
Under both bills, homeowners also will have a clearly-defined right to access the courts to protect themselves from violations of these protections.
According to Harris' office, the laws will go into effect Jan. 1, 2013.
The attorney general's bill of rights also includes four bills outside of the conference committee process.
The other bills will enhance law enforcement responses to mortgage and foreclosure-related crime, in part by empowering the attorney general to call a grand jury in response to financial crimes spanning multiple jurisdictions.
Additional elements will help communities fight blight related to foreclosure, and the crime that results, and provide enhanced protections for tenants in foreclosed homes.
Harris has said her package builds on the nationwide mortgage settlement, making those reforms permanent and extending them to all Californians -- not just those hurt by the five banks.
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.
From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at email@example.com.