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Bank of America ends freeze on foreclosures in 23 states

The mortgage servicer will begin asking for court approval to seize homes next week. In California and 26 other states, however, it will continue to review the legality of its foreclosure documents.

October 19, 2010|By E. Scott Reckard, Los Angeles Times

Bank of America Corp. ended its freeze on foreclosures in 23 states earlier than some analysts had expected, but it is still reviewing its actions in California and 26 other states to make sure its attempts to seize homes complied with the states' laws.

BofA, the largest mortgage servicer and only major bank to impose a nationwide foreclosure moratorium, said it would begin asking judges in the 23 states for approval to seize a total of about 102,000 homes beginning Oct. 25.

That is just 24 days after it announced the freeze — a far faster resolution than the months of delays some analysts had predicted for the nation's battered housing markets.

Bank of America announced its initial moratorium Oct. 1 after two other major mortgage lenders, Ally Financial Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co., said they would halt foreclosures in 23 states where court approval is required before banks can seize homes of borrowers who default.

Ally and Chase said bank officials in some cases had failed to read legal affidavits before signing them and submitting them as part of requests for court orders to allow foreclosures without trials.

BofA acknowledged that in some cases it, too, had employed so-called robo-signers who attested to the accuracy of foreclosure documents without reading them.

The bank said its review didn't find evidence of unwarranted foreclosures, so it planned to resume its takeovers of homes with properly signed affidavits in the 23 states requiring court approval.

But BofA said it would continue to conduct reviews to ensure proper foreclosure procedures were followed in the other 27 states that do not require court consent but do have rules that lenders must follow in seizing homes.

Until it is done, the bank said it would continue its moratorium in those states, but it did not indicate how long that process might take.

Reiterating that the bank had not rushed the foreclosure process, spokesman Dan Frahm said that nationwide about 195,000 BofA customers have missed more than two full years of payments.

He said the bank works "until the very last moment" to try to find ways to keep borrowers in their homes, but "the prolonged nature of the recession — and sustained high unemployment in particular — makes recovery for many borrowers unlikely."

Once its review is complete, Bank of America said it expects fewer than 30,000 foreclosure sales will have been delayed in California and the other states that don't rely on court approvals.

The Charlotte, N.C., bank said its initial assessment in the 27 remaining states was producing the same findings as in the court-order states — "the basis for our foreclosure decisions is accurate."

"Our decision to review our process and, later, to extend our review to all 50 states, has been an important step to give customers confidence they are being treated fairly," the bank said.

Chase also has said it expects to complete its review and fix flawed paperwork in the judicial foreclosure states in weeks, not months. The New York bank has expanded its review of foreclosure procedures to 41 states. It wasn't clear whether California was among them.

Bank shares, which sank last week on news that Chase had set aside $1.3 billion to cover legal problems, including botched foreclosure documents, rose Monday on the Bank of America news and expectations that damage from the foreclosure fiasco would be less than feared.

Bank of America made the announcement shortly before the stock market closed. Its shares rose by 36 cents, or 3%, to $12.34. Wells Fargo rose $1.29, or 5.5%, to $24.87. Chase advanced $1.05, or 2.8%, to $38.20.

Many consumer groups and politicians had called for a nationwide moratorium on foreclosures until the brouhaha over flawed paperwork was sorted out.

But the Obama administration declined to back a broad freeze, saying most foreclosures were warranted and indeed necessary for the nation's battered housing market to clear itself of distressed properties and return to normal.

Analyst Paul Miller, who follows mortgage lending issues for FBR Capital Markets, said last week that it did not appear that banks have serious problems in handling foreclosures in California and the other states where they don't have to ask judges for permission.

The continuing reviews appear to be "political at this point," Miller said.

"Banks cannot afford to be on the front page of the newspapers, and this is an attempt to get in front of the news flow," he said.

scott.reckard@latimes.com

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