Imagine buying a house, a place to call home. The mortgage is paid on time and the yard is maintained. Then suddenly the mortgage rate shoots up from 6% to 18% because it is a variable rate mortgage. Many calls are made to the lender and but go unreturned. Applications for a loan modification are filed but the bank says that because payments are still being made, it can’t approve the modification; and the only to approve one is if a payment is missed and the mortgage goes into default. The next month, the mortgage isn’t paid because the payment has become too expensive. Finally, a notice in the mail comes that the bank has foreclosed on the property. The bank also says that it wants you and your family out of the house. The bank is evicting you, and you have nowhere to go.
This was the case of Guy Lebrun, the Haitian radio host of Verite Variete. So he went to
City Life/Vida Urbana.
Through City Life, he was connected with legal assistance from Elizabeth Matos, a housing public interest attorney.
Through legal investigation, Ms. Matos discovered that the foreclosure process had not been completed properly. Legally if a bank misses any step in the process, it renders a foreclosure illegal. Attorney Matos knew that she had a solid case to help Mr. Lebrun win. And because it was important that the Lebrun family not simply stay in the home as tenants, the family worked with Boston Community Capital (BCC) and their attorney to buy back their home from the bank. Though it was a two-year process, in the end the Lebrun family was successful in buying back their home from the bank after they were able to contest the basis of the original foreclosure.
This is only one example of how the foreclosure crisis plays out in many households across the United States and within Haitian communities in greater Boston and surrounding areas. The damage caused by foreclosures in neighborhoods is significant, undermining community cohesion and increasing family homelessness. Yet even with our proximity to this crisis, many of us are still unclear about what foreclosures are and how to avoid them.
You may think that without an attorney it is impossible to fight against a bank and its lawyers. However, it is possible to present a defense to either an eviction action or a foreclosure. Here are a couple of recommendations:
Do not leave your house
The first thing a bank will do is post a notice on the property, stating that the bank owns the property. The bank may then attempt to evict everyone that is living in the house. It is very important that you stay in the house. The only person that can evict you from the house is a judge. This is the law in Massachusetts.
Call or visit City Life, Greater Boston Legal Services or the legal aid organization in your area.
Attorneys and advocates at these organizations can help with strategies to fight against evictions and help direct you to legal advocates.
Check the Registry of Deeds where your home is located.
This is a simple action that you can take yourself right away. If you receive a notice saying that the bank has foreclosed on your property, go to the Registry of Deeds to see if the bank has filed the foreclosure deed. There are many banks that have been claiming that the necessary procedures have been followed and all the proper documents have been filed. However, many cases have been won because the banks did not follow the proper procedures. If the document has not been filed, take this information to your attorney or tell the judge when you go to court, that the foreclosure deed has not been filed. If it has been filed, do not stop there: the bank must prove that it did all the correct legal procedures to foreclose. If the bank did not, then the foreclosure is not legal.
Do not jump at the first money offer from the bank.
The bank that has foreclosed on your house may attempt to offer you a program known as “Cash for Keys.” In exchange for you moving out and not going to court, the bank will try to offer money. These monetary offers can range from $500 to $2,000, however your case may be worth much more money and you may actually have a right to stay in your home. Remember to never move out just because the bank says you should, and do not take money from the bank without going to an organization like City Life or legal aid to see if you have other options.
If you cannot find an attorney before you appear in court, stay calm.
Ask for an interpreter, if you need one. Also let the judge know that you are contesting the bank’s claim that it properly foreclosed on your home.
For more information on mortgage services, visit City Life/Vida Urbana (CLVU) on Tuesdays at 284 Amory St in Jamaica Plain.
Emie Michaud Weinstock is an attorney who practices public interest civil law in the Greater Boston area.