A Bill of Rights—for Homeowners

California’s new law gives increased protection to people threatened with foreclosure. Will other states follow?
California Houses photo by Joshua Daniel O.

Photo by Joshua Daniel O.

Homeowners in California were hard-hit by the real estate crash and the recession—more than 1 million homes in the state were lost to foreclosure from 2008 to 2011. But new legislation will give increased protection to California homeowners threatened by foreclosure and may set a precedent for other states to follow.

Governor Jerry Brown signed the California Homeowners Bill of Rights, Assembly Bill 278 and Senate Bill 900, into law on July 11. State Attorney General Kamala D. Harris, a Democrat, introduced the bill. Its proponents included the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, Courage Campaign, Consumers Union, Center for Responsible Lending, and the National Council of La Raza.

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The California Homeowners Bill of Rights provides homeowners with access to courts by strengthening provisions in the national mortgage settlement that 49 state attorneys general reached with the five biggest banks that service borrowers’ mortgages.

The main elements of the new law address methods used by mortgage lenders and servicers that have contributed to the high number of foreclosures. The most egregious of these are: “dual tracking,” in which the lender appears to be working with borrowers to avoid foreclosure while actually pushing the foreclosure process along; “hot potato” treatment of borrowers by making them speak to multiple servicer representatives who give conflicting information; and “robo-signing,” the repeated filing of foreclosure documents without verifying their accuracy.

The new law, which takes effect on Jan. 1, 2013, is unmatched nationwide. Other states will likely consider duplicating California’s law.


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