Christopher Marconi was in the shower when he heard a loud banging on his door. By the time he grabbed a towel and hustled to his front step, a U.S. marshal’s sedan was peeling out of his driveway. Nailed to Marconi’s front door was a foreclosure summons from Wells Fargo, naming him as a defendant. But the notice was for a house Marconi had never seen — on a mortgage he never had.
Tom Williams was in his kitchen thumbing through the mail when he opened a letter from GMAC. It informed him that the bank would confiscate his house unless he immediately paid off his mortgage balance of $276,000. But Williams had never missed a mortgage payment. And his loan wasn’t due to mature until 2032.
Warren Nyerges opened his front door to find a scraggly haired summons server standing on his stoop. He plopped a foreclosure notice from Bank of America in Nyerges’ hands. But Nyerges had paid for his house in cash. And he’d never had a checking account, much less a mortgage, with Bank of America.
By now, you may have heard the stories of bank robo-signers powering through hundreds of foreclosure affidavits a day without verifying a single fact. But most of those involved homeowners who had stopped paying their mortgage. They were genuine defaulters. Now a new species of homeowner is getting pushed into foreclosure hell.
People have always loved to complain about their banks. The push-button circus that passes for customer service. The larding on of fees. But the false foreclosure cases are hardly the usual complaints. These homeowners paid their mortgages — or loan modifications — on time. Some even paid off their loans. Worse, those on the receiving end of a bad foreclosure claim tell similar stories of getting bounced from one bank official to the next with no resolution while the foreclosure process continues apace.
Many have to resort to paying a lawyer, even after presenting documentation. They say they have to sue not only to stop the wrongful foreclosure but also to attempt to win back their costs.
There are no official statistics for these homeowners, but lawyers, real estate agents and consumer advocates say their ranks are growing. In November, during foreclosure hearings on Capitol Hill, senator after senator scolded the banks about wrongful foreclosures. They said their offices were deluged with complaints from people who had done everything right but were being treated by banks as if they had done everything wrong. And the Florida attorney general’s office is also investigating the issue as part of its foreclosure probe.
“This is the worst I’ve ever seen it,” says Ira Rheingold, an attorney and executive director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates. Diane Thompson, a lawyer with the National Consumer Law Center, has defended hundreds of foreclosure cases. “In virtually every case, I believe the homeowner was not in default when you looked at the surrounding facts. It is a widespread problem throughout the country.”