When you work in media a long time, people tell you a lot of stories. Most of them you can’t run for one reason or another—the person has no proof of his or her claims perhaps. Or maybe the prospect of a lawsuit is there because the current political climate aims to silence voices of those who disagree with the status quo.
After meeting Rebecca Sharp, she told me the story of her personal experience with foreclosure. Sharp’s case is probably not typical—she says she has made her mortgage payments and did so through Western Union. That way she had independent validation she made those payments. As I pointed out in the original column, Sharp’s problems involved her escrow account.
Since writing that story, I’ve received comments and one reader in particular was extremely upset.
He emailed to ask for details such as the name of the lender, whether she had paid the property insurance and other questions. Some of the questions might have been resolved by a more careful read as well as by an understanding of the liability bloggers face daily.
I answered the email by explaining Sharp is involved in a legal process. That alone moved me to proceed carefully. I took an ‘as told to’ approach with the story, sharing what Sharp told me after long conversations as well as her willingness to provide documentation of her claims.
As an independent website, it’s no secret our funds are very limited. We operate at a loss presently. We maintain this site despite the fact someone can threaten or file a lawsuit and cost you money even if you are innocent of the charges.
I believed Sharp’s story was worth sharing and I still believe that.
Articles in The Wall Street Journal and The Florida Times Union reveal a foreclosure industry that stacks odds against the individual. There is a certain degree of chaos, sparked by the sheer numbers. The T-U disclosed, "From barely more than 100 annually six years ago, more than 2,000 summonses have been lost in Duval County in each of the last two years."
At the moment, as we pointed out in the original story, the Florida Attorney General is investigating foreclosure mills in the state. One paralegal’s deposition, reported by the T-U, gives an idea of the situation:
“Tammie Lou Kapusta, a paralegal in the office of David Stern, the foreclosure law firm at the center of much of the investigations, described the serving process as ‘a complete mess’ during a recent deposition. Renters were served rather than property owners, Kapusta told the Florida Attorney General's Office. An affidavit of service - the legal document required to verify that the summons was served properly - would be filed when the summons hadn't been served, she said.”
The reader who emailed me twice accused me of publishing “gossip” and of acting as a “flack” for Sharp. I confess I wonder if this reader is an attorney working in foreclosure or a lender. It matters not.
If a lender or debt servicer goes after a person’s home, every document in the process should be accurate. Taking someone’s home is one of the most serious actions a company can undertake. To permit that action based on sloppy paperwork and faulty information would suggest a complete breakdown of civil law and contracts in our nation.
The mortgage and lending industry as well as financial industries created the largest economic meltdown I’ve seen in my lifetime. At the moment some—not all—are reaping what they sowed.
I do not endorse permitting people to obtain property without paying for it. Nor do I endorse the courts permitting foreclosure mill attorneys to ride roughshod over homeowners if all documents are not legally binding and in good order.
As for my irate and insulting reader, I have to say I’m accustomed to it. It’s reasonable to expect nasty email messages when a story touches a nerve, as the story of the Jacksonville homeowner caught up in the foreclosure chaos. I concluded my reader appeared to believe it’s not possible for a homeowner to be dealt with unfairly—the TU story proved otherwise by reporting the story of a woman whose foreclosure was canceled. The TU said, “[S]he had settled the debt originally owed to its client, National City Mortgage.”
It appears Sharp will receive some help as a result of our story. The US Report will update readers as her case progresses.
Rolling Stone has an article about foreclosures in the November issue. The writer focused on Jacksonville's 'rocket docket,' a court where foreclosures are processed conveyor-belt style. The article is a must-read.
I realize there are homeowners who made commitments they could not keep. But I also believe that if a lawyer represents a client who wants to take someone's home away, the paperwork should be in perfect order. Consider all the papers you sign when you buy a home and the hefty fees you pay to attorneys and title companies. If that's the standard for the purchaser/homeowner, it should also be the standard for the foreclosure mills.
The magazine's editorial bent and mine are usually direct opposites. But on this we agree.
What is happening in Florida is shameful and despicable.
Read Matt Taibbi's article in Rolling Stone: "Courts helping banks screw over homeowners."
And pay close attention to how our president's ally Warren Buffett has prospered from people who fell through the cracks when the US taxpayer bailed out the very culprits who enabled this mess.