Saturday, December 24, 2011

Unfair and Deceptive Mortgage Practices in Massachusetts

Chapter 93A of the Massachusetts General Laws prohibits the use of unfair or deceptive practices in trade or commerce. I am going to highlight one way this comes up in the context of foreclosure. Mortgage foreclosure is a two-track system. The first track is managed by the loss mitigation department at the mortgage servicer, and the other is managed by an outside law firm that is hired to handle the nuts and bolts of the foreclosure. The same law firms usually handle all the foreclosures in Massachusetts, like Harmon Law Offices, Korde and Associates, and a few others. As I'll explain, the two different groups, i.e. the loss mitigation people and the lawyers, can give very different messages to the consumer.

The loss mitigation people are employees of the servicer and are charged with communicating with often-frantic consumers about loan modifications, work outs, and forbearances.  These individuals have a tough job, and some do it well and some do it poorly.  However, the bottom line is that you will often hear from these folks that "everything will be fine," "we have your application and are processing it, everything looks good," "we aren't really going to foreclose," or "you have plenty of time to work through this with us."  But all at the same time, another group of people at the mortgage company has hired a law firm to foreclose on your home.  The law firm has no idea what you've been discussing with the mortgage company and has no reason to care: They were hired to do a job and until they are called off, they'll do it.

So what's the problem here?  It's mixed messages.  They are deceptive and can cause harm to a consumer if the loan modification or forbearance doesn't go through and the homeowner has been told not to worry and sits on their hands.  Often a consumer will figure this all out in time, however.  When you get an official court notice that a foreclosure is happening (under the Servicemembers Relief Act) and/or see an ad in the paper advertising your home for sale, it usually starts to seem unreasonable to rely on the phone statements of a mortgage employee.  Often this is when people investigate their bankruptcy options in earnest, but sometimes (but not often) due to the need to come up with money to file, it too late.

Who's to blame? The mortgage servicer mainly is. It is the entity that employs the loss mitigation people and establishes the policies they work under. The mortgage servicer also hires and sets the parameters of the job for the law firm to carry out. If the misrepresentations are bad enough, that is why the mortgage servicer is the most natural party to be sued under 93A if the consumer suffers significant financial damage as a result of the violations.