Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Mortgage battle vs. bank gets new ally - USATODAY.com

Phoenix resident June Geffre has found an ally in her fight to stop the bank from taking her home.

How to seek help

The Homeowner Advocacy Unit will accept clients referred by the Arizona Foreclosure Prevention Task Force as well as those referred by other community organizations that work with distressed homeowners.

Homeowners with mortgage problems or facing foreclosure can contact the Arizona Foreclosure Prevention Task Force for assistance at 877-448-1211 or azforeclosureprevention.org.

Geffre, a 69-year-old widow who says Bank of America refused to honor a loan-modification agreement it had negotiated with her late husband, is being represented in court by a new homeowner-advocacy group at Arizona State University's Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law.

The ASU Homeowner Advocacy Unit, a student-faculty initiative launched in August under which law-college students litigate real cases, chose Geffre as its first client.

"This case is an example of why this clinic is so important," said Mary Ellen Natale, director of the unit. "The bank's conduct is egregious."

Under the guidance of faculty supervisor M. Robert Dauber, who is licensed to practice in Arizona, the unit filed a lawsuit Monday in Maricopa County Superior Court against BofA on Geffre's behalf. The complaint demanded that the Charlotte, N.C.-based lender cease its pending foreclosure, reinstate the loan-modification agreement and compensate Geffre for damages, including extreme emotional distress.

The Arizona Republic e-mailed a copy of the lawsuit to BofA early Tuesday at the request of a bank representative. The bank representative later said the company could not comment because of the pending litigation.

Law-school advocacy

The litigation program is one of two to be created by the ASU law school in the 2011-12 academic year in response to issues created by the region's housing-market meltdown.

The Phoenix area experienced a record 58,157 home foreclosures in 2010. Jim Belfiore, president of Belfiore Real Estate Consulting, said the area is on pace to have about 54,000 foreclosures by the end of the year and predicted about 38,000 foreclosures in 2012.

The Homeowner Advocacy Unit, which opened in August, allows students to litigate on behalf of clients who believe they have fallen victim to illegal mortgage-related activity.

The college's Foreclosure Mediation Unit, scheduled to open in the spring semester, will put students to work as impartial mediators assisting in the resolution of mortgage-related disputes.

Both programs are funded by a grant from the Arizona Attorney General's Office, ASU officials said.

Loan-modification dispute

According to Geffre's complaint, her late husband, Thomas Geffre, had been approved for a trial home-loan modification under the federal Home Affordable Modification Program in summer 2009.

In January 2010, BofA approved a permanent modification and mailed documents for Thomas Geffre to sign and return to the bank, the lawsuit said.
However, Thomas Geffre had died in November 2009 from complications of pancreatic cancer, the lawsuit said.

When June Geffre received the loan-modification forms in the mail, she said she signed them and mailed them to BofA, along with a copy of her husband's death certificate.

The lawsuit alleged that the lender refused to accept June Geffre's signature, saying that her late husband's signature was required for the permanent-modification agreement to become effective.

Geffre explained to BofA representatives on multiple occasions that her husband was dead and therefore unable to sign the documents and that she repeatedly sent copies of the death certificate as proof he had died, the lawsuit said.

Meanwhile, the lender continued to accept Geffre's modified-loan payments, the lawsuit said. The original monthly mortgage payments were roughly $1,200, Geffre said, and under the modification agreement, they had been lowered to about $800.

After accepting 18 payments at the modified amount, BofA rejected Geffre's July payment and told her she owed about $20,000 for incomplete payments and penalties, she said.

"They dropped the bombshell on me," Geffre said.

The bank initiated foreclosure proceedings in September, she said.

Bid to stop foreclosure

Along with the complaint, the ASU unit filed a motion Monday for a temporary restraining order to stop the foreclosure sale of Geffre's home, which had been scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday.

Judge John Rea granted the order, temporarily halting the sale. A preliminary hearing on Geffre's request for a permanent injunction against BofA is scheduled for Thursday morning, court documents show.

Natale, the advocacy unit's director, said Geffre's case is a perfect example of why the unit is needed.

"Here we have an elderly widow willing and able to make the agreed-upon payments, and the bank would rather take her home and render her homeless," Natale said. "It makes no sense, and it is just wrong."

Student attorneys are seeking to have the loan modification deemed valid and enforceable, have the foreclosure sale canceled and garner compensatory and punitive damages for Geffre.

Geffre is grateful for assistance.

"I'm just amazed at the help they are giving and what they're doing for me," she said.

By J. Craig Anderson The Arizona Republic Dec 7, 2011

Mortgage battle vs. bank gets new ally - USATODAY.com

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