Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s federal regulator says loan servicers working for the companies must review affidavits filed in foreclosure proceedings before proceeding to judgment or selling foreclosed properties.
Guidance issued by the Federal Housing Finance Agency on Thursday directs Fannie and Freddie to require that all loan servicers working for the companies take steps similar to those already implemented by lenders implicated in the "robo signing" scandal.
Mortgage servicers working for Fannie and Freddie must not only review their foreclosure processes and remediate any problems they find, but recheck affidavits filed in ongoing foreclosure actions and on "real estate owned" (also known as bank-owned or REO) properties in Fannie’s and Freddie’s inventories before those properties can be sold.
The four-point policy framework "envisions an orderly and expeditious resolution of foreclosure process issues," providing greater certainty to homeowners, lenders and investors, FHFA said in releasing the guidelines.
It’s unclear whether Fannie and Freddie’s marching orders will have much of an impact, since many loan servicers have already implemented similar measures.
At least five loan servicers — Bank of America, GMAC Mortgage, JP Morgan Chase, PNC Financial Services Group Inc. and Litton Loan Servicing — have temporarily suspended or curtailed foreclosure proceedings and sales of foreclosed properties in 23 states where courts have jurisdiction over the foreclosure process.
The loan servicers say they are reviewing their foreclosure procedures in the wake of allegations that employees handling court filings for some of the companies signed affidavits that contained information they had not personally verified.
Bank of America and GMAC Mortgage have expanded their reviews to non-judicial foreclosure states, and Bank of America has temporarily halted foreclosure sales in all 50 states.
So far, Bank of America and other loan servicers say their reviews haven’t turned up evidence that borrowers were foreclosured on improperly.
A Wells Fargo & Co. employee has testified in a Florida lawsuit that she signed hundreds of foreclosure affidavits a day without verifying the information in them, the Wall Street Journal reports. Wells Fargo says it has no plans to initiate a foreclosure moratorium, and that its affidavit procedures and daily auditing "demonstrate that our foreclosure affidavits are accurate."
In the past, when lawyers for homeowners have fought foreclosures on such procedural grounds, they have mostly succeeded in delaying, rather than stopping, foreclosures.
But the "robo signing" scandal has raised the specter of a new onslaught of lawsuits, slowing the flow of foreclosed properties into REO inventories.
Attorneys general in all 50 states have formed a bipartisan group to investigate affidavits and other documents loan servicers have prepared in foreclosing on homeowners.
Some title insurers are balking at insuring title on foreclosed and REO properties. Bank of America has agreed to provide warranties to the nation’s largest title insurance underwriter, Fidelity National Financial Inc., and other companies are seeking similar assurances from other lenders.
The American Land Title Association, which has been working with FHFA, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, lenders and other stakeholders on the issue, said it supports the guidance issued by FHFA to Fannie and Freddie, but continues to look to lenders to provide "appropriate indemnities."