By Alexx, staff attorney.
We at the office have been meaning to start a blog for several months and the timing couldn’t be more perfect. Thanks to some fabulous donors who contribute to the National Consumer Law Center, I was able to attend a two day conference in Boston, MA called: Handling Mortgage Cases from A to Z. There were lawyers and legal advocates from every state sharing knowledge and strategies for helping homeowners in trouble.
I attended their annual Consumer Rights Litigation conference last November in Boston and hope to go to Chicago for this fall’s meeting. These conferences are wonderful and I have left both times feeling excited all over again to be working in the area of consumer law helping folks in Arizona.
Foreclosures are the top of everyone’s list of epic problems with mortgages and home loans these days so the conference dealt with those issues often and in depth. The presenters and trainers in the conference are doing amazing work.
They are lawyers working in legal aid, for other non-profits or for private firms. In addition to their attorney duties, many of them are also professors, scholars, and political advocates. They teach and train law students and other lawyers. They help influence reforms to existing laws. They help write new, more consumer-friendly laws. Some of them are also folks who were involved in a more hands-on way with the better aspects of Dodd-Frank.
In several sessions, the presenters gave examples of thorny issues and horrible practices they’ve seen in the cases they’ve worked on. They’ve seen it all– from incompetent procedures for dealing with loan modification requests to asinine excuses for “losing” documents (such as there’s only one fax machine in the entire loss mitigation department of the bank and it must have jammed) to lenders and other financial institutions flat out lying to consumers.
At lunch and during breaks the participants often swap stories of what consumer rights litigation is looking like in their hometowns and communities. Now while I want to spend some time talking about some of the topics we covered at the conference and the tips and tricks I picked up, I’d like to spend just little bit talking about that story-telling aspect of the conference.
A presenter was talking some about some of the horror stories of the run-around many consumers get when they call up the bank or loan servicer and try to get information on how to save their home from foreclosure.
In one example, The homeowner is told that he can’t qualify for a loan modification because he hasn’t fallen behind on his loan. A couple of months later he calls back and is told that he owes too much money in late fees and back payments and so the lender or investor isn’t interested in giving a loan modification but that he should apply anyway. He’s told five or six times to fax and mail the same information about his income and hardship. Meanwhile his marriage is suffering. He and his wife are stressed out and fighting and living in fear that their house will be taken away.
I looked around the room and dozens of attorneys were nodding their heads because they’ve seen it before.
I’ve seen it before (In fact, we’re litigating a case with just those facts right now).
I start talking to a few folks during a break and confirm that even though we’re from five different states, we’re all seeing the same run-around experiences from our clients. I start to feel glad that other attorneys are facing the same sorts of problems. It’s comforting to know our office isn’t alone in the fight we’re fighting for our clients.
But at the same time, I’m overwhelmed by the fact that we’re all seeing this kind of bad behavior from the lenders and servicers of home loans all across the country. And it’s only getting worse.
But again, it goes back to the fact that our office isn’t alone. We’re all in the conference together over these couple of days precisely because we are not unique. We are getting together, telling our stories, sharing information about strategies that have and have not worked, and working to make sure we get the best possible outcome for our clients but also to help shape the law so these kinds of abuses can be better dealt with.
That storytelling is important for consumers as well and carries many of the same benefits. Consumers, you are not alone in your fight for your rights to protect yourselves, your families, and your homes. And while the idea that the kind of situation you are facing is also happening to thousands and thousands of other consumers across the country is an awful thing to think about, sharing your stories can help everyone fight for their rights under existing laws and help influence the creation of new, better laws and policies.
And consumers are speaking up about the hell they’ve been put through.
They’re writing to their newspapers, to their state Attorney General’s Office, to their Congressional Offices. The Washington Post is just one publication that has been collecting stories over the last couple of years of the impacts of the foreclosure crises on homeowners and their families.
Facing foreclosure is a daunting, terrifying and incredibly difficult process. Through this blog, we hope to be able to provide consumers and advocates with useful information and resources for dealing with foreclosure and other consumer rights issues.
If nothing else, we want to let you know that you are not alone in this. We’re constantly working to find new and better ways to deal with these issues and we are thankful to our clients and to our colleagues for sharing their stories with us and partnering with us to make a difference.