Top court ruling leaves Oregon’s residential real estate market in limbo, by Thomas Hillier, Davis, Tremain Wright,


In a ruling the Oregon Supreme Court will soon review, the Oregon Court of Appeals on July 18 issued a major decision.The case, Niday v. Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems Inc., et al, held that MERS, when acting as a nominee for a named lender, is not a beneficiary under Oregon law. The practical effect of the holding is that any trust deed naming MERS the beneficiary may not be foreclosed in the name of MERS by the more expedient nonjudicial method.

 

A little context is in order.

In 1959, to remain competitive for loan dollars, Oregon adopted the Oregon Trust Deed Act to establish trust deeds as a real estate security instrument. For lenders needing to foreclose, the act created a summary, nonjudicial procedure that bypassed the courts and allowed no redemption rights for borrowers. Foreclosure previously was a judicial process taking two years or more to complete; now it could be done in six months with the summary procedure.

Lenders were happy because the time to liquidate a non-performing loan was substantially reduced. Borrowers benefited because there was no right to a deficiency if the debt exceeded the value of the property and borrowers could cure defaults during the foreclosure process by paying only the amount in arrears rather than the full loan balance.

Trust deeds quickly became the favored real estate security instrument.

In 1993, in part to respond to a growing practice wherein lenders were bundling loans secured by trust deeds and selling them in secondary markets, a group of mortgage industry participants formed MERS and the MERS system.

Anytime a loan is sold from one member of the MERS system to another, the sale is tracked using the MERS system. MERS, the named beneficiary as nominee for the original lender and its assigns, remains the beneficiary as the loan is sold and becomes an agent of the new note owner. With no change to the named beneficiary, there is nothing to publicly record, an administrative convenience accomplishing a central purpose of MERS.

As MERS grew in acceptance, so did its popularity. Nationwide, there are more than 3,000 lender members of MERS that account for approximately 60 percent of all real estate secured loans nationwide.

The onslaught of the Great Recession resulted in a tremendous spike in foreclosure activity. To defend foreclosure proceedings, borrowers challenged the authority of MERS, in its own name, to foreclose non-judicially.

Because the trust deed is a creature of statute, the statutory elements allowing a nonjudicial foreclosure must be followed strictly. One such element is the requirement that the name of the beneficiary and any assignee be in the public record. Niday argued that the lender, not MERS, was the beneficiary. MERS countered that it was the named beneficiary in the trust deed and had the contractual right to foreclose as nominee of the lender and its assigns.

The court sided with Niday, holding that MERS is not a “beneficiary” as defined by the act. The court wrote that the beneficiary is “the person to whom the underlying, secured obligation is owed.” It reasoned that because the lender is owed the money, that party is the beneficiary. Only the person to whom the obligation is owed and whose interest is of record may legally prosecute a nonjudicial foreclosure.

What does all of this mean? Maybe nothing if the Supreme Court finds that the Court of Appeals defined “beneficiary” too narrowly.

Short of that, many issues arise. What is the effect on completed nonjudicial foreclosures of MERS trust deeds? Such sales may be void, in which case the ownership and right to possession of thousands of foreclosed properties fall into legal limbo. Perhaps the sales are only voidable, requiring a lawsuit by the borrower within a limited time to challenge the foreclosure sale.

Titles may now be in doubt for people who bought properties either at a foreclosure sale or further along the line. Also, no market may exist for these properties if title insurers choose not to insure titles until there is some clarity.

Going forward, will MERS lenders do business in Oregon? And if so, at what cost? Loans may be more expensive to administer because they either require that all assignments be documented and recorded or foreclosure via the more expensive judicial method. As such, loans in Oregon could demand higher interest rates.

Courts will see a sharp increase in the number of judicial foreclosure filings; it’s happening in Multnomah County already. An already overcrowded judicial system will gain additional burdens.

The Legislature could step in to fix the issue by clarifying the definition of “beneficiary” to include a nominee of the lender, such as MERS. But is there political will to legislate a solution that, on the surface, seems to benefit lenders?

A practice that for many years roamed freely under the radar has suddenly exploded to the surface, leaving the mortgage industry in limbo. Quick answers to the numerous issues now pending are imperative to restore certainty to real estate markets.

Mass Court May Rule on Retroactivity of some Foreclosures Tied to ‘Naked Mortgages’, by Jann Swanson Mortgagenewsdaily.com


Another next major marker in the convoluted foreclosure landscape will probably come in the next few weeks when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) is expected to rule on Eaton v. Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae).  This is another in a series of cases challenging the right of various lenders and nominees to foreclose on delinquent mortgages based on assertions that those parties do not own or at least cannot prove they own the enabling legal documents.

Eaton raises an additional point that has excited interest – whether or not that foreclosure can be challenged and compensation enforced on a retroactive basis or whether such retroactivity exacts too high a cost or permanently clouds title.

The details of the case are fairly standard, involving a note given by Henrietta Eaton to BankUnited and a contemporaneous mortgage to Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems (MERS).  The mortgage was later assigned by MERS to Green Tree servicing and the assignment did not reference the note.  The Eaton Home was subsequently foreclosed upon by Green Tree which assigned its rights under the foreclosure to Fannie Mae which sought to evict Eaton.  Eaton sued, charging that the loan servicer did not hold the note proving that Eaton was obliged to pay the mortgage.

The Massachusetts Superior Court relied on a January, 2011 ruling in U.S. Bank V. Ibanez in which the court held that the assignment of a mortgage must be effective before the foreclosure in order to be valid and that as holder of the note separated from the mortgage due to a lack of effective assignment, the Plaintiffs had only a beneficial interest in the mortgage note and the power of sale statute granted foreclosure authority to the mortgagee, not to the owner of the beneficial interest.

In Eaton the lower court said it was “cognizant of sound reason that would have historically supported the common law rule requiring the unification of the promissory note and the mortgage note in the foreclosing entity prior to foreclosure. Allowing foreclosure by a mortgagee not in possession of the mortgage note is potentially unfair to the mortgagor. A holder in due course of the promissory note could seek to recover against the mortgagor, thus exposing her to double liability.”

In its brief to the Supreme Judicial Court, Fannie Mae contests the lower court ruling on the grounds that:

1.  Requiring unity of the note and mortgage to foreclose would create a cloud on the Title and result in adverse consequence for Massachusetts homeowners.

2.  A ruling requiring unity of the note and mortgage to conduct a valid foreclosure should be limited to prospective application only (because)

A.  Such a ruling was not clearly foreshadowed and

B.  Retroactive application could result in hardship and injustice.

The case has been the impetus for filings of nearly a dozen amicus briefs from groups such as the Land Title Association, Real Estate Bar Association, and foreclosure law firms, most in response to a SJC request for comment on whether any ruling should be applied retroactively and if so what the impact would be on the title of some 40,000 homes foreclosed in the last few years.

Of particular interest is a brief filed by the Federal Housing Finance Agency, conservator of both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac which some observers said might be the first time the agency had intervened in a particular foreclosure case.

FHFA asked the court to apply any decision to uphold the lower court decision prospectively rather than retrospectively.  It’s argument:  applying a ruling retroactively would be “a direct threat to orderly operation of the mortgage market.”   FHFA also said “Retroactive application of a decision requiring unity of the note and the mortgage for a valid foreclosure would impose costs on U.S. Taxpayers and would frustrate the statutory objectives of Conservatorship.”

“There presently is no mechanism or requirement under Massachusetts law to record the identity of the person entitled to enforce the note at the time of foreclosure,” FHFA said.  “Therefore, a retroactive rule requiring unity of the note and mortgage for a valid foreclosure would potentially call into question the title of any property with a foreclosure in its chain of title within at least the last twenty years.”

contrary opinion was advanced in a brief filed by Georgetown University Law School Professor Adam Levitin who called the ruling that a party cannot foreclose on a “naked mortgage” (one separated from the note) merely a restatement of commercial law and “to the extent that the mortgage industry has disregarded a legal principle so commonsensical and uncontroversial that it has been encapsulated in a Restatement, it does so at its peril.”

Levitin argues that it is impossible to know how widespread the problem of naked mortgages may be either in Massachusetts or nationwide so this should temper any evaluation of the impact of retroactivity.  He also states that there are several factors “that should assuage concerns about clouded title resulting from a retroactively applicable ruling requiring a unity of the note and mortgage.”  He points out that adverse possession, pleading standards, burdens of proof and equitable defenses such as laches all combine to make the likelihood of challenging past foreclosure unlikely and sharply limiting the retroactive effect of a ruling.

Kathleen M. Howley and Thom Weidlich, writing for Bloomberg noted that a decision to uphold the lower court “could lead to a surge in claims from home owners seeking to overturn seizures.”

According to Howley and Weidlich, the SJC ruled last year on two foreclosure cases that handed properties back to owners on naked mortgage grounds.  The Ibanez case, referenced above dealt with two single family houses, but in Bevilacqua v. Rodriguez the court handed an apartment building back to the previous owner five years after the foreclosure.  In the interim a developer had purchased the building and turned it into condos.  The condo owners lost their units without compensation and the building now stands vacant.

The decision may be available before month’s end and as Massrealestateblog.com said, “For interested legal observers of the foreclosure crisis, it really doesn’t get any better than this”.

Real Estate News On The National Scene, by Phil Querin, Q-Law.com


The credit and real estate meltdowns, coupled with the subsequent foreclosure crisis, caused many politicians, all with differing motives, to shift into high legislative gear.  Without commenting on motivation, which is an admittedly fertile area for discussion, let’s take a look at the national legislative scene to see what has occurred[1], and whether things are better today than in 2008.

MERS. I am addressing this issue at the beginning, primarily to get it out of the way.  I for one am suffering from “MERS Fatigue,” which is a malady afflicting many of us who watch and wait for something new to occur on this front.

It’s important to understand that MERS, which is the catchy acronym for the “Mortgage Electronic Registration System”, was never a creature of statute.  It was born and bred by the lending and title industries in the late 1990s, for reasons that most people already know.  But because of its national scope – affecting approximately 60% of all home mortgages – MERS bears mentioning here.

Despite all the national attention, the MERS controversy is really one that can only be resolved on the local level, since real estate recording and foreclosure statutes occur on a state – not national – level.  In Oregon, although there have been several federal court rulings, MERS’ legality is still up in the air.  This is because the local federal judges, who are supposed to follow Oregon law, have no binding Oregon appellate court precedent to follow when it comes to MERS.  The result is that there have been divergent federal court rulings.  And, the topic is so contentious at the Oregon legislature that there is little political appetite to tackle the problem, since few can agree on a solution.

So, the news is that there is no news.  It will take months for the one state court case currently on appeal to find its way to the Oregon Court of Appeals or Supreme Court.  And, although there is a slight chance of a breakthrough in the upcoming session, 2012 does not appear to be a year in which we will see a legislative answer.

Fannie and Freddie. Since the fall of Lehman Brothers in 2008, these two Government Sponsored Enterprises or “GSEs” have come under government ownership and control.  For a summary of the issues from the Congressional Budget Office, go to  the link here.  Since the private secondary mortgage market effectively disappeared between 2007-2008, this means that today, there is no viable buyer of residential loans except the federal government. To some observers, depending on their political bent, this is a good thing; but to others, it’s bad.

One thing is certain; as long as the federal government, through Fannie and Freddie, dictate borrower qualifications, LTVs, and conforming loan limits[2], the conventional mortgage market will continue to be tight.  This does not bode well for higher end homes, especially.  Unfortunately, we don’t have to go back very far in time to remember what happened in the “private label” secondary mortgage market (i.e. non-GSE market) where home loans were handed out like party favors, and those who should never have qualified did.

While there is much talk about doing away with Fannie and Freddie, it is unlikely any time soon.  However, what is occurring, albeit slowly and somewhat quietly, is a move to shift some of the GSEs’ loans to the private sector, where the risk would not be backed by the federal government.  If this works, perhaps more will follow.  While there may be some investors for such loans, it is likely that without a governmental safety net, the nascent private secondary market will demand a higher rate of return to offset the higher risk.

 

In the meantime, the loans of choice appear to be through the FHA.  While the paperwork may be daunting, the LTVs are good and the bar to borrower qualification is much lower and more flexible than conventional loans.

The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. In recognition of Wall Street’s role in the credit and mortgage meltdowns, Congress established the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) through the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. On July 21 of this year, it was opened for business. This is no ordinary federal agency.  It is a super agency, responsible for regulating many, many areas of consumer finance and mortgage loans.[3]

Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard law professor and Presidential Advisor, was the driving force behind the Agency’s creation.  She was a zealous advocate for the consumer.  Unfortunately, the political reality was that she may have been too zealous.  Instead of being appointed director, Richard Cordray, former Ohio Attorney General, was appointed to head the agency.  However, his nomination is currently tied up in Congress, and he may not be confirmed.  Many Republicans oppose the idea of so much power being wielded by a single person rather than a board of Senate-confirmed appointees.  So as it stands, the CFPB – this mega agency that was created to oversee so many aspects of consumer law – has a website, is hard at work making manuals and processing paperwork, yet has no director to oversee enforcement of anything.

Risk Retention, Skin in the Game, and the QRM. Mindful of the risks created when banks used their own safety net capital to trade in high risk loans, known as “proprietary trading,” the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act enacted Section 619, which placed severe restrictions on the ability of banks to use their funds to place risky bets (known as the “Volker Rule”).  Billions of dollars of these bets failed in 2008, leading up to the massive government bailouts that taxpayers funded.  What is the status of the Volker Rule today?  It’s still out for public comment, with banks arguing that the Rule will reduce their revenues and thereby force them to increase the cost of loans to borrowers. Given that big banks are still suffering the reputational fallout from the bailouts, the Volker Rule -with most of its teeth – may actually become law. When? Who knows.[4]

Also mindful of the risks created through sloppy underwriting of securitized loans, Dodd-Frank sought to require that banks retain a 5 percent interest in the risk of loss on those loans. This risk retention rule has been referred to as “skin in the game,” and was intended to require banks to share a portion of the risks they securitized to others.  Instead of investors taking on the entire risk of a slice of securitized loans, banks would have to hold back 5% on their own balance sheet.

However, the law made a major exception; it provided that through rule making, a standard be set for certain loan types with statistically lower default rates for which risk retention would be unnecessary.  This exception became known as the “Qualified Residential Mortgage” or “QRM.”  The QRM rules were intended to impose high standards for documentation of income, borrower performance, low debt-to-income ratios and other quality underwriting requirements.  Although they were to be the exception, not the rule, today, most lenders want these standards to be flexible rather than inflexible, so that there is more wiggle room for their loans to qualify as QRMs and thereby remain exempt from risk retention.  The argument in favor of looser loan standards is the fear that an inflexible QRM exemption will impair access to home loans by low and moderate income borrowers. This debate continues today, and there is some reason to believe that these rules will be substantially diluted before becoming law.

 

PCQ Editorial Comment: It was not so long ago that certain banks criticized borrowers of 100% home financing as creating “moral hazard” – i.e. they took risks because they had no financial risk of default since they had no down payment to lose.  Today, the concept of “moral hazard” seems to have been forgotten by those same banks opposing risk retention rules.  They now expect their borrowers to have “skin in the game” – hence the higher down payment rules – but deny the need to do so themselves.  “Pot meet Kettle.”

Conclusion. So, notwithstanding the fact that this country teetered on the brink of disaster in 2008, the politicians’ rush to legislate has continued to move at a snail’s pace.  Query:  Is the American consumer really better off today than in 2008?


[1] This article will not cover Mortgage Assistance Relief Services (“MARS”), since the much ballyhooed national law was never intended to apply to Realtors®, even though that realization did not come soon enough to avoid all sorts of unnecessary industry handwringing and forms creation. All of the Oregon-specific legislation has been discussed in my prior articles.

[2] On September 30, 2011, Fannie’s high loan limits for certain high housing cost parts of the country expired.  In portions of California, this may result in otherwise qualified buyers having to wait a year or two to save for the additional down payments.

[3] Here is a listing of its responsibilities: Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve: Regulation B (Equal Credit Opportunity Act); Regulation C (Home Mortgage Disclosure); Electronic Fund Transfers (Regulation E); Regulation H, Subpart I (Registration of Residential Mortgage Loan Originators); Regulation M (Consumer Leasing); Regulation P (Privacy); Regulation V (Fair Credit Reporting); Regulation Z (Truth in Lending); Regulation DD (Truth in Savings); FDIC: Privacy of Consumer Financial Information; Fair Credit Reporting Registration of Residential Mortgage Loan Originators; Office of the Comptroller of the Currency: Adjustable Rate Mortgages Registration of Residential Mortgage Loan Originators; Privacy of Consumer Financial Information; Fair Credit Reporting;  Office of Thrift Supervision: Adjustments to home loans; Alternative Mortgage  transactions; Registration of Mortgage Loan Originators; Fair Credit Reporting; Privacy of Consumer Financial Information; National Credit Union Administration: Loans to members and lines of credit to members; Truth in Savings; Privacy of Consumer Financial Information; Fair Credit Reporting Requirements for Insurance; Registration of Mortgage Loan Originators; Federal Trade Commission: Telemarketing Sales Rule; Privacy of Consumer Financial Information; Disclosure Requirements for Depository Institutions Lacking Federal Depository Insurance; Mortgage Assistance Relief Services; Use of Pre-notification Negative Option Plans; Rule Concerning Cooling-Off Period for Sales Made at Homes or at Certain Other Locations; Preservation of Consumers’ Claims and Defenses; Credit Practices; Mail or Telephone Order Merchandise Disclosure Requirements and Prohibitions Concerning Franchising Disclosure Requirements and Prohibitions Concerning Business Opportunities Fair Credit Reporting Act Procedures for State Application for Exemption from the Provisions of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act; Department of Housing and Urban Development: Hearing Procedures Pursuant to the Administrative Procedure Act; Civil Monetary Penalties; Land Registration Purchasers’ Revocation Rights; Sales Practices, and Standards Formal Procedures and; Rules of Practice Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act; Investigations in Consumer Regulatory Programs. For source, link here.

[4] It is rumored that Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, both of whom changed their charters from securities firms to become “banks”, in order to be eligible for taxpayer funded bailout money, are now considering exiting that status, precisely so they will not have to comply with the Volker Rule – if it passes.

Court rulings complicate evictions for lenders in Oregon, by Brent Hunsberger, The Oregonian


Another Oregon woman successfully halted a post-foreclosure eviction after a judge in Hood River found the bank could not prove it held title to the home.

Sara Michelotti’s victory over Wells Fargo late last week carries no weight in other Oregon courts, attorneys say. But it illustrates a growing problem for banks  — if the loans’s ownership history isn’t recorded properly, foreclosed homeowners might be able to fight even an eviction. 

“There’s this real uncertainty from county to county about what that eviction process is going to look like for the lender,” said Brian Cox, a real estate attorney in Eugene who represented Wells Fargo. 

Michelotti’s case revolved around a subprime mortgage lender, Option One Mortgage Corp., that went out of business during the housing crisis. Circuit Court Judge Paul Crowley ruled that it was not clear when or how Option One transferred Michelotti’s mortgage to American Home Mortgage Servicing Inc., which foreclosed on her home and later sold it to Wells Fargo. 

Since the loan’s ownership was not properly recorded in Hood River County records, as required by Oregon law, Crowley ruled that Wells Fargo could not prove it had valid title to the property to evict. Crowley presides over courts in Hood River, Gilliam, Sherman, Wasco and Wheeler counties. 

In June, a Columbia County judge blocked U.S. Bank’s eviction of Martha Flynn after finding the loan’s ownership history wasn’t properly recorded. But unlike Flynn’s case, Michelotti’s loan did not involve the Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems – a lightening rod for lawsuits over whether lenders properly foreclosed n homeowners. 

“A lot of people get lost in ‘Oh it’s all MERS,'” said Michelotti’s attorney, Thomas Cutler of Harris Berne Christensen in Lake Oswego. “The problem runs broader than that.” 

Crowley also rejected the bank’s argument that if Michelotti had paid her mortgage, the eviction would never have occurred. 

“(Wells Fargo)’s counter argument to the effect that ‘if (Michelotti) had paid the mortgage we wouldn’t be here’ does not prevail at this junction because the question remains: are the right we here?'” Crowley wrote. 

H&R Block Inc. sold Option One in 2008 to Wilbur Ross & Co., a distressed-asset investor, who merged it with American Home Mortgage Investment Corp. 

But Crowley said he found no evidence of when the merger took place or why Option One’s name continued to be used on loan documents. 

Cox said Wells Fargo had not yet decided how to respond to the ruling.

 
 

Use Caution When Selling REO Properties, by Phil Querin, PMAR Legal Counsel, Querin Law, LLC Q-Law.com


Foreclosure Sign, Mortgage Crisis

Image via Wikipedia

By now, most Realtors® have heard the rumblings about defective bank foreclosures in Oregon and elsewhere. What you may not have heard is that these flawed foreclosures can result in potential title problems down the road. 

Here’s the “Readers Digest” version of the issue: Several recent federal court cases in Oregon  have chastised lenders for failing to follow the trust deed foreclosure law. This law, found inORS 86.735(1), essentially says that before a lender may foreclose, it must record all assignments of the underlying trust deed. This requirement assures that the lender purporting to currently hold the note and trust deed can show the trail of assignments back to the original  bank that first made the loan.

Due to poor record keeping, many banks cannot easily locate the several assignments that  occurred over the life of the trust deed. Since Oregon’s law only requires assignment as a condition to foreclosing, the reality of the requirement didn’t hit home until the foreclosure crisis was in full swing, i.e. 2008 and after.

Being unable to now comply with the successive recording requirement, the statute was frequently ignored. The result was that most foreclosures in Oregon were potentially based upon a flawed process. One recent federal case held that the failure to record intervening assignments resulted in the foreclosure being “void.” In short, a complete nullity – as if it never occurred.

Aware of this law, the Oregon title industry is considering inserting a limitation on the scope of its policy coverage in certain REO sales. The limitation would apply where the underlying foreclosure did not comply with the assignment recording requirement of ORS 86.735(1). This means that the purchaser of certain bank-owned homes may not get complete coverage under their owner’s title policy. Since many banks have not generally given any warranties in their

REO deeds, there is a risk that a buyer will have no recourse (i.e. under their deed or their title insurance policy) should someone later attack the legality of the underlying foreclosure.

Realtors® representing buyers of REO properties should keep this issue in mind. While this is  not to suggest that brokers become “title sleuths,” it is to suggest that they be generally aware of the issue, and mention it to their clients, when appropriate. If necessary, clients should be told to consult their own attorney. This is the “value proposition” that a well-informed Realtor®  brings to the table in all REO transactions.

©2011 Phillip C. Querin, QUERIN LAW, LLC

Visit Phil Querin’s web site for more information about Oregon Real Estate Law http://www.q-law.com

Oregon Foreclosures: The Mess That MERS Made, by Phil Querin, Q-Law.com


For the past several years in Oregon, foreclosures have been processed fraudulently and in violation of Oregon’s trust deed law. Banks, servicers, title companies and licensed foreclosure trustees, were all aware of the problem for years, but no one did anything about it. This was not a minor error or simple oversight – it was a patent disregard for the laws of Oregon.

Oregon’s Trust Deed Foreclosure Law. It is widely known that during the credit/housing boom, lenders frequently sold their loans between one another. When the ownership of a loan is transferred, it is necessary to execute, in recordable form, an “Assignment of Trust Deed.” ORS 86.735(1) governs what must occur before a trust deed may be foreclosed in Oregon; all such assignments must be placed on the public record. This is not a new law and it is not significantly different from the laws of many other states. Oregon’s law has been on the books for decades.

ORS 86.735(1) is not complicated or confusing. It simply means that after the original lender makes a loan and takes back a trust deed (which is immediately recorded), all subsequent assignments of that loan must be recorded before the foreclosure is formally commenced. In this manner, one can see from the public record, the “chain of title” of the loan, and thereby know with certainty, that the lender filing the foreclosure actually has the legal right to do so. It protects the consumer and assures the reliability of Oregon land titles.

The MERS Solution. In the 1990s, MERS came into existence. Its avowed purpose was to replace the time honored system of public recording for mortgage and trust deed transfers, with an electronic registry which its members would voluntarily use when a loan was transferred. This registry is for use only by MERS members, all of whom are in the lending industry. The immediate effect of MERS was that lenders stopped publicly recording their mortgage and trust deed assignments. This deprived local governments of millions of dollars in recording fees, and took the business of the sale of loans “underground.” A more detailed discussion of MERS’ business model is posted here.

Although the numbers vary, it is believed that MERS comprises approximately 60% of the national lending industry. Until recently, it had no employees. MERS was not born from any state statute or national enabling legislation. It was the brainchild of its owners, Mortgage Bankers Association, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Bank of America, Nationwide, HSBC, American Land Title Association, and Wells Fargo, among others.

How MERS Has Contributed To Oregon’s Mortgage Mess. In an effort to give MERS the appearance of authority, its rules clarify that it will act solely as a “Nominee” for each of its members – doing only what its member instructs, but in its own name and not the name of the member. The “Nominee” is, as some Oregon federal judges have correctly observed, nothing more than “a strawman.”

When the foreclosure crisis hit, lenders realized that they needed some way to get the trust deed into current bank’s hands to initiate the process. Since MERS’ existence was virtual, and with no real employees, whenever it came time to assign a mortgage or trust deed, a MERS “Assistant Vice President” or “Assistant Secretary” would execute the assignment on behalf of MERS in their “official” capacity. But since MERS has no such officers, it simply created mass “Corporate Resolutions”, appointing one or more low level member bank employees to “robo-sign” thousands of bogus assignments.

It is important to note that these MERS “officers” only made one assignment – i.e. from the original lender whose name appeared on the public record when the loan was first made, to the foreclosing lender. In Oregon, this means that ORS 86.735(1) requiring the recording all of the intervening assignments, was intentionally ignored. Hence, there was never a “chain of title” on the public record disclosing the intervening assignments of the loan. As a result, in Oregon, no one – including the homeowner – knows if the bank foreclosing a loan even has a legal right to do so.

And there is reason to believe many of the banks did not have the legal right to foreclose. In every Oregon foreclosure I have witnessed during the last twelve months, where the loan was securitized into a REMIC, there is substantial doubt that the foreclosing bank, acting as the “trustee” of the securitized loan pool, actually had any right to foreclose. This is due to the strict tax, accounting, and trust laws governing the REMIC securitization process.

The short explanation is that if the paperwork was actually transferred into a loan pool between, say 2005 – 2008, there would be no need for an assignment to that trustee today – the loan would have already been in the pool and the trustee already had the right to foreclose; but if the loan was not transferred into the pool back then – when it should have been, it cannot be legally assigned out to that trustee today. Although it is not always easy to locate, the Pooling and Servicing Agreement, or “PSA,” governing the REMIC will contain a “Cut-Off Date.” That date is the deadline for the sponsor of the REMIC to identify the pool’s notes and trust deeds (or mortgages) in the trust. After that time [subject to limited exceptions – which do not include the transfer of nonperforming loans into the trust – PCQ], no new loans may be added. For example, if the REMIC was created in early 2006, the Cut-Off Date is likely to also be in 2006. This would mean that a bank, acting in the capacity of a trustee for a certain REMIC today, would not have the legal right to foreclose, if that trustee only recently received the trust deed assignment. The REMIC had been closed years earlier.

This is fraudulent. Yet it was so widespread, that foreclosures routinely adopted this “single assignment” model, and it became an assembly line business for MERS and its member banks. The assignment documents were typically prepared in advance by foreclosure mill attorneys and foreclosure trustee companies, uploaded into cyberspace to a servicer or foreclosure processing company, and signed, en masse, by robo-signers. Then the assignments were shipped over to notaries, who never actually witnessed the MERS “officer” sign an document. Once completed, the original assignment document was sent via overnight mail to the foreclosure trustee to record and begin the foreclosure. In many instances, the foreclosure trustee, (a) acting as a MERS “officer” would sign the assignment document transferring ownership of the loan to a lender, then (b) he or she would sign another document appointing their company as the Successor Trustee, then (c) that same person would also sign the Notice of Default, which commenced the foreclosure. No conflict of interest there…. It is this “need for speed” that epitomizes the MERS business model.

The result has been predictable – today there is evidence of fraudulent foreclosure paperwork on a massive scale. Forgeries are rampant. Notarization laws are flaunted. Until recently, the banks and MERS have gotten away with this scheme. The lending, servicing and title industries have simply taken a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to foreclosures in Oregon and elsewhere.

However, in 2010, Oregon and several other states said “enough.” In Oregon for example, there were at least three federal district court and bankruptcy court cases that struck down foreclosures due to the use of the MERS strawman model, and also based upon the flagrant violation of ORS 86.735(1). The most notable of these cases is the February 7, 2011 published opinion of Hon. Frank R. Alley III, Chief Bankruptcy Judge in Donald McCoy III v. BNC Mortgage, et al. Judge Alley held, in part, that: “…the powers accorded to MERS by the Lender [whose name appears in the Trust Deed] – with the Borrower’s consent – cannot exceed the powers of the beneficiary. The beneficiary’s right to require a non-judicial sale is limited by ORS 86.735. A non-judicial sale may take place only if any assignment by [the Lender whose name appears in the Trust Deed] has been recorded.” [Parentheticals mine. PCQ]

Judge Alley concluded that a failure to follow the successive recording requirement of ORS 86.735(1) meant that the foreclosure was void. It is important to note that in McCoy, as in most rulings against MERS lenders, the courts have not held that the banks may not prosecute their foreclosures – merely that before doing so, they must record all intervening assignments, so there is no question as to the foreclosing bank’s standing.

MERS is now engaged, through surrogates and one or more lobbyists, to introduce a bill in the Oregon legislature. It is a bold effort to legislatively overturn Judge Alley’s ruling, as well as similar adverse rulings by Oregon federal court judges, King, Hogan, and Perris.

MERS, its member banks, and the foreclosure industry, including its foreclosure mill attorneys, have never had justification for ignoring Oregon’s foreclosure law. Nor have they offered any justification. Instead, they have threatened that if ORS 86.735(1) and other homeowner protections in our foreclosure statutes are not amended to give MERS the right to continue acting as a strawman, and to avoid recording all successive assignments, the Oregon housing and foreclosure crisis will continue longer than necessary. Metaphorically speaking, having been caught with their hand in the cookie jar, MERS now asks the Oregon Legislature to legalize cookie theft.

Oregon Consumers Need To Be Protected. MERS’ proposed legislative solution does nothing to protect homeowners. Rather, it is aimed at legalizing patently fraudulent conduct, in the name of “helping” Oregon homeowners get through the foreclosure crisis faster. Thanks, but no thanks. The title and lending industry are concerned that if a law is not immediately passed giving MERS its way, foreclosures will come to a halt and commerce will suffer. The banks have even threatened to file judicial foreclosures against homeowners, to somehow avoid the recording of assignments law. This is a complete ruse. Here’s why:

Lenders cannot avoid their paperwork problems in Oregon by going into court. As we have seen in Oregon’s federal court cases, the banks are still unwilling to produce the necessary documents to prove they have standing to foreclose. If a bank does not have the legal documentation minimally necessary to establish its right to foreclose non-judicially, why would it go into court and shine a bright light on its own fraudulent paperwork? The outcome will be the same – as we have seen in judicial foreclosure states such as Florida, where they now require the banks’ attorneys to certify to the truthfulness of their pleadings and paperwork.
Lenders will not go into court for fear of further alienating an already alienated public. [Note the recent MERS Announcement to it’s members, tightening is rules due to concern over its “…reputation, legal and compliance risk….” – PCQ]
The banks know that with the high court filing fees and lawyers, it will be much more costly for them to foreclose judicially in court. While they do not seem concerned about their high executive bonuses, when it comes to the cost of foreclosures, they’ll pinch a penny ’til it screams.
In any event, there is little reason to fear judicial foreclosures clogging court dockets. With proper documentation, the process can be relatively fast (3+ months), since the cases could be disposed of on summary judgment. If judicial foreclosure cases became too numerous, the local courts can create expedited protocols and assign certain judges to speed them through – as done in other states. Lastly, many foreclosures are already being filed judicially, especially on commercial properties. To date, there has been no hue and cry that it is overwhelming the court systems.
The lenders’ complaints that foreclosures are slowing Oregon’s housing recovery are not necessarily verified by the stats. Oregon’s Regional Multiple Listing Service (“RMLS™”) shows that January 2009 housing inventory (i.e. dividing active listings by closed sales) was 19.2 months; January 2010 was 12.6 months; January 2011 was 11.3 months. February 2009 was 16.6 months, February 2010 was 12.9 months; and February 2011 was 10.9 months. March 2010 showed housing inventory at 7.8 months (down from 12.0 months in 2009), and there is no reason we cannot expect even better numbers when this month is over.

These numbers suggest that housing inventory is gradually being reduced year over year. Although it is true that housing prices continue to decline, that is more likely the result of lenders fire-selling their own REO inventory, than anything else. I say this because of many anecdotal reports of lenders refusing short sales at prices higher than they ultimately sold following foreclosure. Perhaps lender logic is different than human logic….

In an online article in Mortgage News Daily [a lender resource site – just look at their advertising – PCQ], it was reported:

The cost of a foreclosure, it turns out, is pretty staggering and we wonder why lenders and the investors they represent aren’t jumping at a solution, any solution, that would allow them to avoid going to foreclosure whenever possible.***According the Joint Economic Committee of Congress, the average foreclosure costs were $77,935 while preventing a foreclosure runs $3,300.

Overall, foreclosure is a lose-lose proposition for all concerned – except perhaps the companies servicing and foreclosing the loans [Point of Interest: Bank of America owns BAC Servicing and ReconTrust, and is making millions from the business of servicing and foreclosing the loans it made to its own borrowers. A sterling example of vertical integration in a down market… PCQ]

The only good solution is a non-foreclosure solution. Lenders already have ultimate control over the outcome for every loan in default. In those cases where modifications are viable, they should do so on an expedited basis. [Point of Interest: Go to the following CoreLogic site here , where in 2010 they touted their new analytics program that is designed to enhance lender decision making on modifications, short sales, and deeds-in-lieu. One has to believe that if such programs exist and banks stopped losing borrowers’ paperwork, they could actually have a decision back fairly quickly – rather than the 14-month horror stories we hear about. – PCQ]

Although it is doubtful that the industry can and will – anytime soon – create a fast and fair process to reduce principal balances, that is certainly a fair solution. It is fair to the homeowner in need, and actually fair to the bank, since the cost of foreclosure, including taxes, insurance, commissions, and other carrying costs, are significantly more than the short term pain of a write down. [If the banks need a little accounting sleight-of-hand from the FASB, there’s no reason they couldn’t put some pressure on, as they did with the mark-to-market rules. -PCQ]

Another, more likely and quicker solution, is to establish a fast-track short sale process. This should not be complicated if the banks stopped “losing paperwork” and focused on turning short sales into 45-60 day closings, consistent with the timing for equity sales. It has been lender delays that have stigmatized short sales, so only hungry investors, and buyers with the patience of Job, participate. This can change if banks begin expediting their short sale processing.

With both the modification and short sale alternatives, lenders do not receive the property back into their already bloated REO departments; and there is the added advantage that the banks do not have to risk a judicial slapdown, when using their fraudulently prepared Assignments of Trust Deed. In short, it is a “win-win” solution for lender and borrower.

Conclusion. The MERS business model was based upon the concept that “It is better to seek forgiveness than permission.” The problems they created were done with their eyes wide open in a brazen act of “might makes right” hubris. After having created these problems, they are now seeking to legislatively overturn the rulings of several of Oregon’s highly regarded federal judges. These decisions have affirmed the rule of law. To do otherwise – that is to sanctify MERS’ illegal conduct by eviscerating statues designed to protect homeowners, would be a travesty.

MERS, the banks, and the title industry own this problem, and they should own the solution. Whatever the outcome, it must be fair, and should not be borne on the backs of Oregon’s already struggling homeowners.

Freddie Mac Bars Foreclosure Actions in the Name of MERS, by Carrie Bay, DSNEWS.com


Freddie Mac

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Freddie Mac issued new policy guidelines to its servicers this week that prohibit foreclosures in the name of Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems Inc. (MERS). MERS was developed by the industry to keep track of the servicing rights on home loans. It was designed as a paperless property registry to facilitate the quick transfer of mortgages between lenders, as well as investors in mortgage-backed securities.

In certain jurisdictions, servicers use the MERS name to initiate foreclosures on properties listed in its registry on behalf of the creditor. But this approach has been challenged repeatedly by homeowners who say the electronic system has no standing to act as the mortgagee nominee in foreclosure actions.

MERS argues that borrowers are required to sign documents stating that MERS can assume rights and responsibilities on behalf of creditors, and this reasoning has led a number of state courts to uphold MERS’ right to foreclose.

Still, the electronic registry has come under heavy fire lately. It became a focus of last fall’s robo-signing scandal when the MERS name appeared within defective affidavits and regulators extended their servicing investigations to include the system and its role in the foreclosure process.

Fannie Mae told its servicers last spring that they were no longer allowed to foreclose in the name of MERS, and now Freddie Mac is following suit.

Freddie has updated its servicer guide to eliminate the option for the foreclosure counsel or trustee to conduct a foreclosure in the name of MERS. The new rule is effective for mortgages registered with MERS that are referred to foreclosure on or after April 1, 2011.

Hundreds of Oregon foreclosure sales stopped after judges’ rulings by Brent Hunsberger, The Oregonian


Sales of hundreds of foreclosed homes in Oregon have been halted or withdrawn in recent weeks after federal judges repeatedly questioned their legality, according to a number of real estate attorneys in the state.

Lenders have withdrawn more than 300 foreclosure sales since February in Deschutes County alone, one of the Oregon area’s hardest hit by the housing collapse. About 130 of those notices were filed in the past week, attorneys say.

Dozens of foreclosure listings by ReconTrust Co., the foreclosure arm of Bank of America Corp., have disappeared from its website, attorneys say. A BofA spokeswoman said the bank was canceling certain sales to ensure that those homeowners had fully explored options to avoid foreclosure.

Since October, federal judges in five separate Oregon cases have halted foreclosures involving MERS, saying its participation caused lenders to violate the state’s recording law. Three of those decisions came last month, the key one in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Eugene.

Attorneys say it’s not clear whether lenders in Oregon will simply start over or head to court to foreclose, steps that could prolong the crisis for months and drive up costs, attorneys say. Some suggest lenders might not have access to the documents they need to comply with state law.

“A lot of us are questioning whether there is a solution,” said David Ambrose, a Portland attorney who represents lenders in mortgage transactions. “It’s pretty amazing. There are a lot of unanswered questions.”

MERS is listed as an agent for lenders on more than 60 million U.S. home loans, about half of all such loans.

Homeowners nationwide have challenged its standing. In New York last month, a federal bankruptcy judge ruled that MERS lacked authority to foreclose on homes it didn’t own.

In Oregon, lenders can foreclose without going to court. But state law also requires that the loan’s ownership history, or assignments, be recorded with local county governments before proceeding with a nonjudicial foreclosure.

In the Eugene court case, Donald E. McCoy III filed for bankruptcy protection in part to block U.S. Bank from foreclosing on his Central Point home. He then sued the bank and MERS, along with his original lender BNC Mortgage Inc., claiming they had not properly recorded BNC’s subsequent sale of the loan to investors.

Chief Bankruptcy Judge Frank R. Alley III found McCoy’s allegation persuasive and refused to grant the bank’s request for a dismissal.

“Oregon law permits foreclosure without the benefit of judicial proceeding only when the interest of the beneficiary (lender) is clearly documented in a public record,” Alley wrote. “When the public record is lacking, the foreclosing beneficiary must prove its interest in a judicial proceeding.”

In response to that ruling, First American Financial Corp., one of the nation’s largest title insurers, began warning lenders and buyers in title documents that it wouldn’t insure titles with a cloudy public record in Oregon, company attorney Alan Brickley said.

“It’s simply saying we have a concern, and you should have a concern,” said Brickley, who’s based in Portland.

But attorneys representing lenders and consumers say that warning will have a chilling effect on the sales of foreclosed homes in which MERS is involved.

“If you can’t get title insurance, that almost stops the process,” Ambrose explained.

And, in a potential deal breaker for other foreclosure cases, one of the nation’s largest title-insurance companies is warning lenders that it might not guarantee title in some cases.

The developments underscore that the challenges disrupting foreclosures in other states have finally hit home in Oregon. Foreclosure sales in the state totaled 10,500 last year, or 28 percent of all home sales, according to RealtyTrac Inc. Federal agencies and state attorneys general are investigating the foreclosure and loan-modification practices of the nation’s largest banks.

The legal concerns revolve around Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems Inc., a Reston, Va., corporation set up in the mid-1990s by the mortgage banking industry to rapidly record the ownership of mortgages so they could be packaged and sold as securities.

MERS essentially allowed lenders to sell loans without recording each transaction with county recorder offices, experts say. That rapid and sometimes reckless securitization of such loans contributed to the 2008 financial crisis and housing slump. The problems clouding the foreclosure process — including last year’s robo-signing scandal that forced several big banks to suspend foreclosures in about two dozen states — continue to drag down the housing market today.

U.S. District Judge Anna J. Brown last month blocked two foreclosure sales by CitiMortgage Inc. and BAC Home Loan Servicing, saying the lenders had failed to properly record documents.

Also last month, MERS told its member lenders in a memo distributed nationally to stop foreclosing in its name while it works to address the legal challenges.

“It’s a fundamental change that they have to deal with and the question is whether they can,” said Margaret E. Dailey, a real estate attorney in Newport.

The full impact of these developments is only now beginning to play out in Oregon. Not all foreclosures involve MERS.

Dailey on Friday counted more than 70 foreclosures rescinded at the Lincoln County recorder’s office since the start of the year, including 45 in February.

A review by The Oregonian of Deschutes County clerk’s office records shows that BofA’s ReconTrust withdrew more than 60 foreclosure sale notices Friday and 35 on Thursday.

BofA spokeswoman Jumana Bauwens said the cancellations resulted from a review late last year of its foreclosure process. The bank wants to ensure that homeowners nearing a foreclosure sale have exhausted other opportunities, including loan modifications and short sales, she said.

“We are not going through and saying rescind everything,” Bauwens said late Saturday.

Experts caution that the rulings eventually could be overturned. But buyers and lenders probably will look to the Oregon Legislature for a potential fix, attorneys say. Already, one bill has been introduced, Senate Bill 484, that would make it harder for banks to sell or foreclose on properties using MERS.

Foreclosure Crisis Triggers Debate on Role of Mortgage Registry, by Thom Weidlich, Bloomberg.com


On July 1, a federal judge took away Robert Bellistri’s house in Arnold, Missouri.

Bellistri, who bought the house as an investment after it was seized for non-payment of taxes, failed to notify Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems Inc. of his purchase, the judge said. A state appeals court last year had ruled otherwise, finding Bellistri didn’t need to tell MERS, a company that lets banks electronically register their sales of home loans so they can avoid trudging down to the county land-records office.

The case highlights a debate raging in courts on the role MERS has, if any, in home foreclosures. How it’s resolved will determine whether MERS’s involvement produced a defective process and clouded millions of property titles. A definitive ruling against MERS might slow any future bundling of mortgages into securities since the company played a role in that process.

“MERS is the central device by which the banks have tried to opt out of the legal system and the real-property record system,” U.S. Representative Alan Grayson of Florida said in an interview. “They have taken it upon themselves, with the supposed consent of the borrowers, to violate a system of property record-keeping that we’ve had going back centuries.”

Attorneys general of all 50 states opened a joint investigation into home foreclosures Oct. 13, saying they will seek an immediate halt to any improper practices at banks and mortgage companies. The announcement came after several banks, including Bank of America Corp., halted foreclosures in either all states or the 23 with judicial supervision of foreclosures.

More Rounds

MERS, whose parent company is Merscorp Inc., bills itself as a provider of “support services to the mortgage industry,” specifically tracking the servicing rights and ownership interests in mortgage loans on its electronic registry.

Merscorp, based in Reston, Virginia, was created by industry leaders in 1995 to improve servicing after county offices couldn’t deal with the flood of mortgage assignments, Karmela Lejarde, a spokeswoman for MERS, said in an interview.

“That bottleneck got mitigated,” she said. The company’s tagline is “Process Loans, Not Paperwork.”

According to its Website, MERS is owned by the largest lenders in the country including Bank of America, Citigroup Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Wells Fargo & Co., in addition to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which own or guarantee more than half of the $11 trillion U.S. mortgage market.

The company’s net operating revenue last year was $32 million, she said.

Nominee

Under the MERS system, a borrower who takes out a loan agrees to allow the company to act as the lender’s nominee, or agent, on the mortgage or deed of trust securing the property. That means MERS holds the lien, according to the company.

MERS continues to be the mortgagee of record as long as the note promising the borrower’s repayment is owned by a MERS member. If it’s sold to an outside entity, the assignment is recorded with the appropriate county.

About 60 percent of newly originated loans are on the MERS system, Lejarde said. Since its inception in 1995, it has carried 66 million loans and currently has between 23 million and 25 million active loans, she said.

“The problem with MERS is it takes a public function and puts it into a private entity that doesn’t seem to have any clear accountability,” said Alan White, a law professor at Valparaiso University in Indiana. “And it does it on legal grounds that seem tenuous.”

Securitization

MERS played a key role in the bundling of mortgages into securities that reached a frenzy before the economic decline of 2008, critics including Grayson of Florida said. It allowed banks to sell and resell home loans faster, easier and cheaper, he said.

“MERS was a facilitator of securitization,” said Grayson, a Democratic member of the House Financial Services Committee.

MERS disagrees. It was created to provide clarity and transparency and not “to enable faster securitization,” it said in an Oct. 9 statement.

“MERS probably served a necessary purpose given the volume of securitization that went on,”Talcott Franklin, a lawyer in Dallas who represents investors in mortgage-backed securities, said in a phone interview. “But for MERS, do you know how overwhelmed the county recorder offices would have been by the volume of assignments that had to go through there?”

Fees

A big selling point for the company is its cost savings. It charges $6.95 for every loan registered, Lejarde said. With an average cost of about $40 for filing a mortgage assignment with local counties, MERS has saved the industry about $2.4 billion, Merscorp Chief Executive Officer R.K. Arnold said in a September 2009 deposition in an Alabama suit.

The company is accused in two whistleblower suits filed this year of cheating California and Nevada counties out of millions of dollars in recording fees. In 2006, New York State’s highest court told one county it had to record MERS mortgages against its wishes. The county said MERS cost it $1 million a year.

Several courts have expressed confusion that MERS positions itself as both mortgage owner and representative of a mortgage owner. That stems from its use of mortgage language that typically states it is both the mortgagee and “acting solely as nominee for Lender and Lender’s successors and assigns.”

Agent and Principal

“It is axiomatic the same entity cannot simultaneously be both an agent and a principal with respect to the same property right,” Christopher Peterson, a law professor at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, wrote in a law-review article about MERS this year.

Peterson wrote that courts should look to the actual economics of the transaction, which some have done, finding that MERS has no standing in proceedings to seize delinquent borrowers’ homes.

In a March 2009 ruling, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Linda B. Riegle in Las Vegas decided MERS wasn’t a true beneficiary under a trust deed.

“If it doesn’t walk like a duck, talk like a duck and quack like a duck, then it’s not a duck,” she wrote.

Consumer advocates and bankruptcy attorneys who criticize MERS say it has no right to foreclose when it doesn’t hold both the promissory note and the security instrument — the mortgage or trust deed. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1872 that a mortgage has no separate existence from the note, Peterson wrote.

Legal Right

“It appears that on a widespread and probably pervasive basis, they did not take the steps necessary to own the note,” Grayson said in a Sept. 30 video he recorded about MERS, “which means that in 45 out of the 50 states they lack the legal right to foreclose.”

MERS says it has the right to foreclose because the borrower grants the company legal title to the mortgage and it forecloses as agent for the promissory-note holder. “Courts around the country have repeatedly upheld and recognized this right,” MERS said in an Oct. 4 e-mailed statement.

Since March 2009, supreme courts in Arkansas, Kansas and Maine have found that MERS had no standing in foreclosure proceedings under their states’ laws. The company lends no money and suffers no injury, the panels said.

MERS’s relationship to the bank that owned a loan in question was “more akin to that of a straw man than to a party possessing all the rights given a buyer,” the Kansas Supreme Court wrote. “What stake in the outcome of an independent action for foreclosure could MERS have?”

Minnesota Victory

MERS won a high-court victory last year when the Minnesota Supreme Court declared the company doesn’t have to record the sale of a promissory note, as opposed to a mortgage, at the county office before a foreclosure can begin.

Citing a 2004 state law it called “the MERS statute,” the Minnesota court said “the legislature appears to have given approval to MERS’s operating system for purposes of recording.” A MERS lawyer helped draft the law, Arnold, the company CEO, said in the deposition last year.

In response to the Kansas decision, the state legislature there changed court-procedure rules this year to require a “nominee of record” to be made part of such lawsuits.

Eventually high courts in states with judicial oversight of foreclosures will have to review MERS’s role, Patrick A. Randolph, a professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City specializing in real-estate law, said in an interview.

“It’s a question of state law,” Randolph said. “The problem is simply confusion about a word the courts are not used to seeing in this context — the word ‘nominee.’”

Lien Holder

Under its contracts, MERS is the mortgage owner’s agent and has the right to foreclose, said Randolph, who is also affiliated with a St. Louis law firm, Husch Blackwell LLP, which works for MERS, though he doesn’t handle those cases he said.

Complicating matters, MERS doesn’t handle foreclosures itself. Home-loan owners, including trustees of mortgage-backed entities, do so in its name. MERS Inc., which holds the liens, has no employees, and MERSCORP, the parent, has only about 50, Lejarde said.

MERS has also come under fire for allowing members to appoint their employees as MERS certifying officers — as assistant secretaries or vice presidents of MERS — to sign documents, including assignments. MERS has deputized “thousands” of such certifying officers, Arnold said.

Vexed

New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur M. Schack, a trial- level judge in Brooklyn, is particularly vexed by the practice and has tossed foreclosure actions in part because of it.

He has pointed out what he sees as a potentially serious conflict: The same person, as an “employee” of MERS — with duties owed to the entity selling a mortgage — assigns that mortgage to a bank at presumably market value, and then the same person, as the bank’s employee, swears an affidavit in the foreclosure case.

Schack has demanded that two-hat-wearing signers provide him with their employment histories.

Lejarde, the MERS spokeswoman, said the certifying officers are employees of the lenders, not MERS, and must follow both companies’ policies.

MERS’s certifying officers represent for the company’s critics what they see as its role in muddying mortgage titles, to the point borrowers don’t know who owns their loans — a charge MERS strongly denies.

Previous Lender

In his case, Bellistri had notified BNC Mortgage Inc., the previous homeowner’s lender, that he bought the house in Arnold, about 18 miles southwest of St. Louis. He didn’t notify MERS, which was listed as BNC’s nominee on the trust deed.

By that time, BNC had conveyed the note to Deutsche Bank AG, as trustee of a mortgage-backed investment vehicle, though Bellistri had no way of knowing that. MERS continued to hold “legal title to the beneficial interests in the deed of trust on behalf of Deutsche Bank,” according to the federal judge’s ruling.

In the proceeding Bellistri initiated, a Missouri state court and the Missouri Court of Appeals in St. Louis named him the property’s rightful owner. Deutsche Bank had hired Ocwen Financial Corp. as servicer. MERS assigned the deed to Ocwen and said the note went with it.

The appeals court disagreed, saying MERS had no right to grant Ocwen the note because records showed it was still owned by BNC. So Ocwen lacked standing to contest Bellistri’s deed, it said. Under Missouri law, the note and deed go together, and therefore Bellistri keeps the house, the appeals court said.

Federal Suit

MERS filed a federal suit at U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, where judgeCharles A. Shaw ruled the other way. Shaw said that Bellistri failed to properly notify MERS of its redemption rights and that the state-court decision threatened MERS’s “overall business model — at least in Missouri.”

Lawsuits elsewhere attack that business model. In Delaware federal court, homeowners accuse MERS of forcing them to pay inflated fees related to their foreclosures.

MERS and its members have been sued this year for racketeering in New York, Florida and Kentucky federal courts, accused of conspiring to falsely foreclose on loans and “to undermine and eventually eviscerate long-standing principles of real-property law.”

Dozens of lawsuits claiming MERS itself is a fraud have been consolidated for pretrial proceedings in federal court in Phoenix. The homeowners haven’t fared well there. In September 2009, U.S. District Judge James Teilborg threw out an earlier case with similar accusations. On Sept. 30, he tossed six proposed class-action, or group, lawsuits.

Defaulting Owners

Teilborg found the defaulting homeowners failed to sufficiently allege that MERS and its members conspired to commit fraud because it’s not a true beneficiary under the trust deed. They also fail to explain how MERS, as a “’sham’ beneficiary,” diminishes their need to pay back the money they borrowed, the judge said.

“At most, plaintiffs find the MERS system to be disagreeable and inconvenient to them as consumers,” Teilborg wrote.

The Bellistri case is Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems Inc. v. Bellistri, 09-cv-731, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Missouri (St. Louis) and Bellistri v. Ocwen Loan Servicing LLC, ED91369, Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District (St. Louis).

To contact the reporter on this story: Thom Weidlich in Brooklyn, New York, federal court attweidlich@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: David E. Rovella at drovella@bloomberg.net.

 

The Wheels Are Coming Off in MBS Land: All 50 State AGs Join Probe; Banks Abandoning MERS Foreclosures, by Nakedcapitalism.com


I get on an airplane, and there are more dramatic developments by the time I land.

Even though the headline item is the fact that the attorneys general in all 50 states are joining the mortgage fraud investigation, the real indicator that the banks are stressed is that they have started abandoning MERS, the electronic database that passes itself off as a registry for mortgages. JP Morgan has quit using it as an agent on foreclosures; it clearly can’t withdraw from it fully, given that it has become a central information service.

Despite this being treated as a pretty routine event in the JP Morgan earnings call, trust me, it isn’t. The withdrawal of JP Morgan from the use of MERS as the face in foreclosures is a tacit admission that the past practice of using MERS as the stand -in for the trust is problematic. I’ve heard lawyers discuss the possibility of class action litigation to invalidate all MERS-initiated foreclosures in states with strong anti-MERS rulings; this idea no doubt will get more traction given JP Morgan’s move. (An attorney who is in the thick of this situation told me another major bank has made the same move as JPM, but I see no confirmation in the news as of this writing).

The triggers for the sudden escalation appear to have been the release of a research note by Citigroup which included a grim assessment (which we did not consider to be dire enough) by Professor Levitin to Citi clients on likely path of the mortgage crisis. This was no doubt compounded among the cogoscenti by the research note published by Josh Rosner, that most if not all notes (which are the borrower IOU in a mortgage) were endorsed in blank, which creates near insurmountable problems in foreclosure, worse even for the RMBS ownership of them as de facto mere unsecured paper.

But the stunner is the withdrawal of JP Morgan from the purported mortgage registry system, MERS. 60% the mortgages in the US are registered through MERS, and not at the local courthouse as was the long established, well settled custom in the US. Countries that have moved to central databases (such as Australia) have them operated by the government, and they are transparent and run with sound standards of data integrity. As noted, banks like JP Morgan can’t fully withdraw; MERS has become too integral, but its announcement is an admission that all is not well.

The fact that major MERS members are suddenly resigning from MERS is a sign that tectonic plates are moving. MERS has become central in mortgage securitization; Freddie and Fannie have required its use since early in this decade.

From the Associated Press:

JPMorgan Chase’s CEO says the bank has stopped using the electronic mortgage tracking system used by major financial institutions.

Lawyers have argued in court proceedings that the system is unable to accurately prove ownership of mortgages.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. and other banks have suspended some foreclosures following allegations of paperwork problems in thousands of cases.

The trigger may have been the publication of a simply devastating analysis at the end of September, “Two Faces: Demystifying the Mortgage Electronic Registration System’s Land Title Theory” by Christopher L. Peterson. Even though I have read the critical MERS unfavorable opinions, this is the first time I am aware of that someone has looked at the operation of MERS from a broader legal perspective. It finds fundamental flaws in virtually every aspect of its operation. To give a partial list: the language used by MERS in its registry at local courthouses is contradictory (it claims to be both the owner of the mortgage and as well as a nominee; legally, a single party can’t play two roles simultaneously), rendering it unenforcable; MERS has employees of servicers and law firms become “MERS vice presidents” or secretaries when fit none of the criteria that fit those roles, and also have clear conflicts of interest given that they are also full time employees of other organizations; MERS record keeping has the hallmarks of being poorly controlled (there have been cases of mortgages basically being stolen from other MERS members; some contacts have suggested that a single MERS member can assign a mortgage, meaning checks are weak; MERS members are not required to update records). And most important, every state supreme court that has looked at the role of MERS has ruled against it.

As much as I have heard the case against MERS in bits and pieces, and regarding it as very problematic, seeing it assembled in one place (with solid references to judicial decisions) makes for a overwhelming case. The best resolution the author can come up with is that lenders with MERS registered mortgages would be granted an equitable mortgage as a substitute for the flawed MERS registered mortgages:

While awarding equitable mortgages is surely a better approach for financiers and their investors than simply invalidating liens, it would not solve all their problems. Replacing legal mortgages with equitable mortgages would give borrowers significant leverage. Historically, state law has not uniformly treated equitable mortgagees vis-à-vis other competing creditors. Generally, the holder of an equitable mortgage had priority against judgment creditors. But, it is likely that an equitable mortgage could be avoided in bankruptcy. Moreover, it is likely that financiers would have less luck seeking deficiency judgments when foreclosing on equitable mortgages.

In Florida, the so-called rocket docket has apparently slowed to a crawl, between some banks suspending foreclosures and at least some judges starting to take borrower allegations of fraud seriously. From Bloomberg:

Home to more foreclosures than 47 U.S. states, Florida sought to clear out its backlog with a system of special court hearings that dispensed with cases quickly, sometimes in less than a minute.

Homeowners like Nicole West now threaten to slow that system, Florida’s so-called rocket docket, to a crawl. West, who has been fighting to save her Jensen Beach house from foreclosure, has leveled a new allegation in her three-year battle: the entire process is based on fraud.

West said her case is rife with the kind of flawed mortgage documents that have caused lenders including Bank of America Corp. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. to stop the process of foreclosures and evictions across the country. The banks said they are investigating homeowner charges like West’s that signatures were forged and documents were backdated…..

The bank moratoriums are already thwarting the initiative by Florida officials to clear jammed court dockets. Now, efforts by homeowners such as West to bring claims of fraud to the attention of judges are further prolonging evictions, and in turn slowing purchases of foreclosed properties.

The focus so far has been on what the foreclosure mess means for borrowers. Not enough media attention has been given to the implications for the major banks, particularly their trust businesses, and RMBS investors. Neither the facts nor the law are on the financiers’ side, but they are either in denial or doing a full bore job of obfuscation.

 

 

http://www.nakedcapitalism.com

MERS Enters Self-Preservation Mode, Issues Press Release To “Clarify” Its Role In Foreclosure Fraud, by Tyler Durden, Zerohedge.com


As more people realize that the fake title transfer aspect of foreclosure fraud is just the tip of the iceberg which runs, via MERS (Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems) conduits all the way to the core of the securitization system, and thus $10 trillion in first level debt (and who knows how much in 3rd and 4th level layering of debt on top of this: think CDO-squared and cubed), we expect an increasing number of denials from the enablers in the explosion of securitization over the past ten years. Such as MERS. Which is why it is not surprising that late last night, it was precisely MERS who not only acknowledged for the first time its involvement in this whole fiasco (by a press release and a “fact and rebuttal” session), but has made it all too clear just how deep the problem truly runs. We would like to highlight just how very alike is the defense prepared by the High Frequency Signing Lobby to that by the High Frequency Traders out there: it is all just technological advancement, and if you want to blame it on someone, blame it on Intel and their fast fast chips: “What we’re seeing now is that the foreclosure process itself was not designed to withstand the extraordinary volume of foreclosures that the mortgage industry and local governments must now handle.” Obviously the volume only exploded once failed systems such as MERS appeared on the scene: it is precisely in this aspect that MERS served as an enabling catalyst to let loose the wave of exponential re-re-securitization. It continues: “The MERS process of tracking mortgages and holding title provides clarity, transparency and efficiency to the housing finance system.” And here is where MERS basically puts the ball back in the corrupt legal system’s court: “We are committed to continually ensuring that everyone who has responsibilities in the mortgage and foreclosure process follows local and state laws, as well as our own training and rules.” Because why not blame the entire judicial system, when one could just acknowledge the burden of having failed at doing their own job properly… One thing is certain: someone is going down for this biggest snafu in the history of mortgages/securitization.

Follows the full MERS press release:

Statement by CEO of Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems (MERS) RESTON, Va.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–

October 09, 2010

Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems (MERS) Chief Executive Officer R.K. Arnold today issued the following statement regarding the organization and clarifying certain aspects of its operations:

“MERS is one important component of the complex infrastructure of America’s housing finance system. Billions of dollars of mortgage money flow through the financial system every year. It takes many, often-unseen mechanical processes to properly get those funds into the hands of qualified homebuyers.

Technology designed to reduce paperwork has a very positive effect on families and communities. They may not see it, but these things save money and time, creating reliability and stability in the system. That’s important to keep the mortgage funds flowing to the consumers who need it. [ZH: odd how almost identical this defense is to the one prepared by the HFT lobby. Perhaps, it should now be called High Frequency Signing and Trading?]

With millions of Americans facing foreclosure, every element of the housing finance system is under tremendous strain. What we’re seeing now is that the foreclosure process itself was not designed to withstand the extraordinary volume of foreclosures that the mortgage industry and local governments must now handle.

MERS helps the mortgage finance process work better. The MERS process of tracking mortgages and holding title provides clarity, transparency and efficiency to the housing finance system. We are committed to continually ensuring that everyone who has responsibilities in the mortgage and foreclosure process follows local and state laws, as well as our own training and rules.”

Facts about MERS

FACT: Courts have ruled in favor of MERS in many lawsuits, upholding MERS legal interest as the mortgagee and the right to foreclose.

This legal right springs from two important facts:

1) MERS holds legal title to a mortgage as an agent for the owner of the loan 2) MERS can become the holder of the promissory note when the owner of the loan chooses to make MERS the holder of the note with the right to enforce if the mortgage loan goes into default.

MERS does not authorize anyone to represent it in a foreclosure unless both the mortgage and the note are in MERS possession. In some cases where courts have found against MERS, those cases have hinged on other procedural defects or improper presentation of MERS’s legal interests and rights. Citations can be found at the end of this document.*

FACT: MERS does not create a defect in the mortgage or deed of trust

Claims that MERS disrupts or creates a defect in the mortgage or deed of trust are not supported by fact or legal precedents. This is often used as a tactic by lawyers to delay or prevent the foreclosure. The mortgage lien is granted to MERS by the borrower and the seller and that is what makes MERS the mortgagee. The role of mortgagee is legal and binding and confers to MERS certain legal rights and responsibilities.

FACT: The trail of ownership does not change because of MERS

MERS does not remove, omit, or otherwise fail to report land ownership information from public records. Parties are put on notice that MERS is the mortgagee and notifications by third parties can be sent to MERS. Mortgages and deeds of trust still get recorded in the land records.

The MERS System tracks the changes in servicing rights and beneficial ownership. No legal interests are transferred on the MERS System, including servicing and ownership. In fact, MERS is the only publicly available comprehensive source for note ownership.

While this information is tracked through the MERS System, the paperwork still exists to prove actual legal transfers still occurred. No mortgage ownership documents have disappeared because loans were registered on the MERS System. These documents exist now as they have before MERS was created. The only pieces of paper that have been eliminated are assignments between servicing companies because such assignments become unnecessary when MERS holds the mortgage lien for the owner of the note.

FACT: MERS did not cause mortgage securitization

MERS was created as a means to keep better track of the mortgage servicing and beneficial rights as loans were getting bought and sold at a high rate during the late 1990s.

At the height of the housing market, low interest rates prompted some homeowners to refinance once, twice, even three times in the space of months. Banks were originating loans at more than double their usual rate. Assignments – – the document that names the holder of the legal title to the lien — primarily between servicing companies, were piling up in county land record offices, awaiting recording. Many times the loans were getting refinanced before the assignments could get recorded on the old loan. The delay prevented lien releases from getting recorded in a timely manner, leaving clouds on title.

MERS was created to provide clarity, transparency and efficiency by tracking the changes in servicing rights and beneficial ownership interests. It was not created to enable faster securitization. MERS is the only publicly available source of comprehensive information for the servicing and ownership of the more than 64 million loans registered on the system. The Mortgage Identification Number (MIN), created by MERS, is similar in function to a motor vehicle VIN, which keeps track of these loans. Without MERS the current mortgage crisis would be even worse.

FACT: Lenders cannot “hide” behind MERS

MERS is the only comprehensive, publicly available source of the servicing and ownership of more than 64 million loans in the United States. If a homeowner needs to identify the servicer or investor of their loan, and it is registered in MERS, they can be helped through the MERS website or via toll-free number at 888-679-6377.

FACT: MERS fully complies with recording statutes

The purpose of recording laws is to show that a lien exists, which protects the mortgagee and any bona fide purchasers. When MERS is the mortgagee, the mortgage or deed of trust is recorded, and all recording fees are paid.

*NOTABLE LEGAL VICTORIES:

a. IN RE Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems (MERS) Litigation, a multi- district litigation case in federal court in Arizona who issued a favorable opinion, stating that “The MERS System is not fraudulent, and MERS has not committed any fraud.”

b. IN RE Tucker (9/20/2010) where a Missouri bankruptcy judge found that the language of the deed of trust clearly authorizes MERS to act on behalf of the lender in serving as the legal title holder.

c. Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. v. Bellistri, 2010 WL 2720802 (E.D. Mo. 2010), where the court held that Bellistri’s failure to provide notice to MERS violated MERS’ constitutional due process rights.

 


 

In foreclosure controversy, problems run deeper than flawed paperwork, by Brady Dennis and Ariana Eunjung Cha, Washingtonpost.com


Sign of the times - Foreclosure

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Millions of U.S. mortgages have been shuttled around the global financial system – sold and resold by firms – without the documents that traditionally prove who legally owns the loans.

Now, as many of these loans have fallen into default and banks have sought to seize homes, judges around the country have increasingly ruled that lenders had no right to foreclose, because they lacked clear title.

These fundamental concerns over ownership extend beyond those that surfaced over the past two weeks amid reports of fraudulent loan documents and corporate “robo-signers.”

The court decisions, should they continue to spread, could call into doubt the ownership of mortgages throughout the country, raising urgent challenges for both the real estate market and the wider financial system.

For struggling homeowners trying to avoid foreclosure, it could mean an opportunity to challenge the banks they argue have been unhelpful at best and deceptive at worst. But it also threatens to leave them in prolonged limbo, stuck in homes they still can’t afford and waiting for the foreclosure process to begin anew.

For big banks, “there’s a possible nightmare scenario here that no foreclosure is valid,” said Nancy Bush, a banking analyst from NAB Research. If millions of foreclosures past and present were invalidated because of the way the hurried securitization process muddied the chain of ownership, banks could face lawsuits from homeowners and from investors who bought stakes in the mortgage securities – an expensive and potentially crippling proposition.

For the fragile housing market, already clogged with foreclosure cases, it could mean gridlock and confusion for years. And there is concern in Washington that if the real estate market and financial institutions suffer harm, it could force the government to step in again. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said Wednesday he is looking into the allegations of improper foreclosures, and Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), chairman of the Senate banking committee, said he plans to hold hearings on the issue.

At the core of the fights over the legal standing of banks in foreclosure cases is Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, based in Reston.

The company, known as MERS, was created more than a decade ago by the mortgage industry, including mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, GMAC, and the Mortgage Bankers Association.

MERS allowed big financial firms to trade mortgages at lightning speed while largely bypassing local property laws throughout the country that required new forms and filing fees each time a loan changed hands, lawyers say.

The idea behind it was to build a centralized registry to track loans electronically as they were traded by big financial firms. Without this system, the business of creating massive securities made of thousands of mortgages would likely have never taken off. The company’s role caused few objections until millions of homes began to fall into foreclosure.

In recent years, the company has faced numerous court challenges, including separate class-action lawsuits in California and Nevada – the epicenter of the foreclosure crisis. Lawyers in other states have also challenged the company’s legal standing in court.

 

Kentucky lawyer Heather Boone McKeever has filed a state class-action suit and a federal civil racketeering class-action suit on behalf of homeowners facing foreclosure, alleging that MERS and financial firms that did business with it have tried to foreclose on homes without holding proper titles.

“They have no legal standing and no right to foreclose,” McKeever said. “If you or I did this one time, we’d be in jail.”

Judges in various states have also weighed in.

In August, the Maine Supreme Court threw out a foreclosure case because “MERS did not have a stake in the proceedings and therefore had no standing to initiate the foreclosure action.”

In May, a New York judge dismissed another case because the assignment of the loan by MERS to the bank HSBC was “defective,” he said. The plaintiff’s counsel seemed to be “operating in a parallel mortgage universe,” the judge wrote.

Also in May, a California judge said MERS could not foreclose on a home, because it was merely a representative for Citibank and did not own the loan.

On the other hand, Minnesota legislators passed a law stating that MERS explicitly has the right to bring foreclosure cases. And on its Web site and in e-mails, MERS cites numerous court decisions around the country that it says demonstrate the company’s right to act on behalf of lenders and to undertake foreclosures.

“Assertions that somehow MERS creates a defect in the mortgage or deed of trust are not supported by the facts,” a company spokeswoman said.

But that’s precisely what lawyers are arguing with more frequency throughout the country. If such an argument gains traction in the wake of recent foreclosure moratoriums, the consequences for banks could be enormous.

“It’s an issue of the whole process of foreclosure having been so muddied by the [securitization] process,” said Bush, the banking analyst. “It is no longer a straightforward legalistic process, which is what foreclosures are supposed to be.”

Janet Tavakoli, founder and president of Tavakoli Structured Finance, a Chicago-based consulting firm, said that for much of the past decade, when banks were creating mortgage-backed securities as fast as possible, there was little time to check all the documents and make sure the paperwork was in order.

But now, when judges, lawyers and elected officials are demanding proper paperwork before foreclosures can proceed, the banks’ paperwork problems have been laid bare, she said.

The result: “Banks are vulnerable to lawsuits from investors in the [securitization] trusts,” Tavakoli said.

Referring to the federal government’s $700 billion Troubled Assets Relief Program for banks, she added, “This problem could cost the banks significantly more money, which could mean TARP II.”

dennisb@washpost.com chaa@washpost.com

 

 

Citigroup, Ally Sued for Racketeering Over Database, by Margaret Cronin Fisk and Thom Weidlich, Bloomberg.com


Map of USA with Kentucky highlighted

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Citigroup Inc. and Ally Financial Inc. units were sued by homeowners in Kentucky for allegedly conspiring with Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems Inc. to falsely foreclose on loans.

The lawsuit, filed as a civil-racketeering class action on behalf of all Kentucky homeowners facing foreclosure, also names as a defendant Reston, Virginia-based MERS, the company that handles mortgage transfers among member banks. The suit claims that through MERS the banks are foreclosing on homes even when they don’t hold titles to the properties.

“Defendants have filed foreclosures throughout the state of Kentucky and the United States of America knowing that they were not the ‘owners’ or beneficiaries of the loan they filed foreclosure upon,” the homeowners wrote in their complaint filed Sept. 28 in federal court in Louisville, Kentucky.

The homeowners claim the defendants filed or caused to be filed mortgages with forged signatures, filed foreclosure actions months before they acquired any legal interest in the properties and falsely claimed to own notes executed with mortgages.

The lawsuit is one of multiple cases against MERS and banks alleging that the process allows wrongful foreclosures. Several of these cases, combined in a multidistrict litigation in Phoenix, were dismissed Sept. 30, with the judge allowing the plaintiffs to re-file their complaints.

‘Inflammatory’

“The allegation is inflammatory and without merit and we intend to defend our position fully in a court of law,” Gina Proia, a spokeswoman for Ally, said in an e-mailed statement.

Mark Rodgers, a spokesman for Citigroup, declined to comment. Karmela Lejarde, a spokeswoman for MERS, didn’t have an immediate comment.

The Kentucky suit claims MERS and the banks violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, a law originally passed to pursue organized crime.

“RICO comes in because the fraud didn’t just happen piecemeal,” Heather Boone McKeever, a Lexington, Kentucky-based lawyer for the homeowners, said in a phone interview today. “This is organized crime by people in suits, but it is still organized crime. They created a very thorough plan.”

The suit, which includes claims of fraud, also names as defendants other banks, real-estate law firms and document- processing companies.

In the Phoenix litigation, U.S. District Judge James A. Teilborg found that the mortgage banks properly named MERS as the nominee for the original lenders and that the plaintiffs didn’t include enough detail in their allegations that the banks formed MERS to conspire to deprive homeowners of their property.

‘Straw Man’

Last year, the Kansas Supreme Court found that MERS’s relationship to the lenders is “akin to that of a straw man” and that it didn’t have rights over the mortgage at issue.

“Having a single front man, or nominee, for various financial institutions makes it difficult for mortgagors and other institutions to determine the identity of their lenders and mortgagees,” the Kansas court said.

The case is Foster v. Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems Inc., 10-cv-611, U.S. District Court, Western District of Kentucky (Louisville).

To contact the reporters on this story: Margaret Cronin Fisk in Southfield, Michigan, atmcfisk@bloomberg.netThom Weidlich in Brooklyn, New York, federal court attweidlich@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: David E. Rovella at drovella@bloomberg.net.

Could 62 Million Homes be Foreclosure Proof?, Fox News


 

Homeowners’ Rebellion: Could 62 Million Homes Be Foreclosure-Proof?

 

In fear of losing your home? Good news … there is a loophole in the system that could keep you right where you are! So what’s the secret? Watch Attorney Bob Massi’s solution below, and may we suggest a paper and pen to jot down all the details.

Over 62 million mortgages are now held in the name of MERS, an electronic recording system devised by and for the convenience of the mortgage industry. A California bankruptcy court, following landmark cases in other jurisdictions, recently held that this electronic shortcut makes it impossible for banks to establish their ownership of property titles—and therefore to foreclose on mortgaged properties. The logical result could be 62 million homes that are foreclosure-proof.

Mortgages bundled into securities were a favorite investment of speculators at the height of the financial bubble leading up to the crash of 2008. The securities changed hands frequently, and the companies profiting from mortgage payments were often not the same parties that negotiated the loans. At the heart of this disconnect was the Mortgage Electronic Registration System, or MERS, a company that serves as the mortgagee of record for lenders, allowing properties to change hands without the necessity of recording each transfer.

MERS was convenient for the mortgage industry, but courts are now questioning the impact of all of this financial juggling when it comes to mortgage ownership. To foreclose on real property, the plaintiff must be able to establish the chain of title entitling it to relief. But MERS has acknowledged, and recent cases have held, that MERS is a mere “nominee”—an entity appointed by the true owner simply for the purpose of holding property in order to facilitate transactions. Recent court opinions stress that this defect is not just a procedural but is a substantive failure, one that is fatal to the plaintiff’s legal ability to foreclose.

That means hordes of victims of predatory lending could end up owning their homes free and clear—while the financial industry could end up skewered on its own sword.

California Precedent

The latest of these court decisions came down in California on May 20, 2010, in a bankruptcy case called In re Walker, Case no. 10-21656-E–11. The court held that MERS could not foreclose because it was a mere nominee; and that as a result, plaintiff Citibank could not collect on its claim. The judge opined:

Since no evidence of MERS’ ownership of the underlying note has been offered, and other courts have concluded that MERS does not own the underlying notes, this court is convinced that MERS had no interest it could transfer to Citibank. Since MERS did not own the underlying note, it could not transfer the beneficial interest of the Deed of Trust to another. Any attempt to transfer the beneficial interest of a trust deed without ownership of the underlying note is void under California law.

In support, the judge cited In Re Vargas (California Bankruptcy Court); Landmark v. Kesler (Kansas Supreme Court); LaSalle Bank v. Lamy (a New York case); and In Re Foreclosure Cases (the “Boyko” decision from Ohio Federal Court). (For more on these earlier cases, see here, here and here.) The court concluded:

Since the claimant, Citibank, has not established that it is the owner of the promissory note secured by the trust deed, Citibank is unable to assert a claim for payment in this case.

The broad impact the case could have on California foreclosures is suggested by attorney Jeff Barnes, who writes:

This opinion . . . serves as a legal basis to challenge any foreclosure in California based on a MERS assignment; to seek to void any MERS assignment of the Deed of Trust or the note to a third party for purposes of foreclosure; and should be sufficient for a borrower to not only obtain a TRO [temporary restraining order] against a Trustee’s Sale, but also a Preliminary Injunction barring any sale pending any litigation filed by the borrower challenging a foreclosure based on a MERS assignment.

While not binding on courts in other jurisdictions, the ruling could serve as persuasive precedent there as well, because the court cited non-bankruptcy cases related to the lack of authority of MERS, and because the opinion is consistent with prior rulings in Idaho and Nevada Bankruptcy courts on the same issue.

What Could This Mean for Homeowners?

Earlier cases focused on the inability of MERS to produce a promissory note or assignment establishing that it was entitled to relief, but most courts have considered this a mere procedural defect and continue to look the other way on MERS’ technical lack of standing to sue. The more recent cases, however, are looking at something more serious. If MERS is not the title holder of properties held in its name, the chain of title has been broken, and no one may have standing to sue. In MERS v. Nebraska Department of Banking and Finance, MERS insisted that it had no actionable interest in title, and the court agreed.

An August 2010 article in Mother Jones titled “Fannie and Freddie’s Foreclosure Barons” exposes a widespread practice of “foreclosure mills” in backdating assignments after foreclosures have been filed. Not only is this perjury, a prosecutable offense, but if MERS was never the title holder, there is nothing to assign. The defaulting homeowners could wind up with free and clear title.

In Jacksonville, Florida, legal aid attorney April Charney has been using the missing-note argument ever since she first identified that weakness in the lenders’ case in 2004. Five years later, she says, some of the homeowners she’s helped are still in their homes. According to a Huffington Post article titled “‘Produce the Note’ Movement Helps Stall Foreclosures”:

Because of the missing ownership documentation, Charney is now starting to file quiet title actions, hoping to get her homeowner clients full title to their homes (a quiet title action ‘quiets’ all other claims). Charney says she’s helped thousands of homeowners delay or prevent foreclosure, and trained thousands of lawyers across the country on how to protect homeowners and battle in court.

Criminal Charges?

Other suits go beyond merely challenging title to alleging criminal activity. On July 26, 2010, a class action was filed in Florida seeking relief against MERS and an associated legal firm for racketeering and mail fraud. It alleges that the defendants used “the artifice of MERS to sabotage the judicial process to the detriment of borrowers;” that “to perpetuate the scheme, MERS was and is used in a way so that the average consumer, or even legal professional, can never determine who or what was or is ultimately receiving the benefits of any mortgage payments;” that the scheme depended on “the MERS artifice and the ability to generate any necessary ‘assignment’ which flowed from it;” and that “by engaging in a pattern of racketeering activity, specifically ‘mail or wire fraud,’ the Defendants . . . participated in a criminal enterprise affecting interstate commerce.”

Local governments deprived of filing fees may also be getting into the act, at least through representatives suing on their behalf. Qui tam actions allow for a private party or “whistle blower” to bring suit on behalf of the government for a past or present fraud on it. In State of California ex rel. Barrett R. Bates, filed May 10, 2010, the plaintiff qui tam sued on behalf of a long list of local governments in California against MERS and a number of lenders, including Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo, for “wrongfully bypass[ing] the counties’ recording requirements; divest[ing] the borrowers of the right to know who owned the promissory note . . .; and record[ing] false documents to initiate and pursue non-judicial foreclosures, and to otherwise decrease or avoid payment of fees to the Counties and the Cities where the real estate is located.” The complaint notes that “MERS claims to have ‘saved’ at least $2.4 billion dollars in recording costs,” meaning it has helped avoid billions of dollars in fees otherwise accruing to local governments. The plaintiff sues for treble damages for all recording fees not paid during the past ten years, and for civil penalties of between $5,000 and $10,000 for each unpaid or underpaid recording fee and each false document recorded during that period, potentially a hefty sum. Similar suits have been filed by the same plaintiff qui tam in Nevada and Tennessee.

By Their Own Sword: MERS’ Role in the Financial Crisis

MERS is, according to its website, “an innovative process that simplifies the way mortgage ownership and servicing rights are originated, sold and tracked. Created by the real estate finance industry, MERS eliminates the need to prepare and record assignments when trading residential and commercial mortgage loans.” Or as Karl Denninger puts it, “MERS’ own website claims that it exists for the purpose of circumventing assignments and documenting ownership!”

MERS was developed in the early 1990s by a number of financial entities, including Bank of America, Countrywide, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac, allegedly to allow consumers to pay less for mortgage loans. That did not actually happen, but what MERS did allow was the securitization and shuffling around of mortgages behind a veil of anonymity. The result was not only to cheat local governments out of their recording fees but to defeat the purpose of the recording laws, which was to guarantee purchasers clean title. Worse, MERS facilitated an explosion of predatory lending in which lenders could not be held to account because they could not be identified, either by the preyed-upon borrowers or by the investors seduced into buying bundles of worthless mortgages. As alleged in a Nevada class action called Lopez vs. Executive Trustee Services, et al.:

Before MERS, it would not have been possible for mortgages with no market value . . . to be sold at a profit or collateralized and sold as mortgage-backed securities. Before MERS, it would not have been possible for the Defendant banks and AIG to conceal from government regulators the extent of risk of financial losses those entities faced from the predatory origination of residential loans and the fraudulent re-sale and securitization of those otherwise non-marketable loans. Before MERS, the actual beneficiary of every Deed of Trust on every parcel in the United States and the State of Nevada could be readily ascertained by merely reviewing the public records at the local recorder’s office where documents reflecting any ownership interest in real property are kept….

After MERS, . . . the servicing rights were transferred after the origination of the loan to an entity so large that communication with the servicer became difficult if not impossible …. The servicer was interested in only one thing – making a profit from the foreclosure of the borrower’s residence – so that the entire predatory cycle of fraudulent origination, resale, and securitization of yet another predatory loan could occur again. This is the legacy of MERS, and the entire scheme was predicated upon the fraudulent designation of MERS as the ‘beneficiary’ under millions of deeds of trust in Nevada and other states.

Axing the Bankers’ Money Tree

If courts overwhelmed with foreclosures decide to take up the cause, the result could be millions of struggling homeowners with the banks off their backs, and millions of homes no longer on the books of some too-big-to-fail banks. Without those assets, the banks could again be looking at bankruptcy. As was pointed out in a San Francisco Chronicle article by attorney Sean Olender following the October 2007 Boyko [pdf] decision:

The ticking time bomb in the U.S. banking system is not resetting subprime mortgage rates. The real problem is the contractual ability of investors in mortgage bonds to require banks to buy back the loans at face value if there was fraud in the origination process.

. . . The loans at issue dwarf the capital available at the largest U.S. banks combined, and investor lawsuits would raise stunning liability sufficient to cause even the largest U.S. banks to fail . . . .

Nationalization of these giant banks might be the next logical step—a step that some commentators said should have been taken in the first place. When the banking system of Sweden collapsed following a housing bubble in the 1990s, nationalization of the banks worked out very well for that country.

The Swedish banks were largely privatized again when they got back on their feet, but it might be a good idea to keep some banks as publicly-owned entities, on the model of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. For most of the 20th century it served as a “people’s bank,” making low interest loans to consumers and businesses through branches all over the country.

With the strengthened position of Wall Street following the 2008 bailout and the tepid 2010 banking reform bill, the U.S. is far from nationalizing its mega-banks now. But a committed homeowner movement to tear off the predatory mask called MERS could yet turn the tide. While courts are not likely to let 62 million homeowners off scot free, the defect in title created by MERS could give them significant new leverage at the bargaining table.

Ellen Brown wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Ellen developed her research skills as an attorney practicing civil litigation in Los Angeles. In Web of Debt, her latest of eleven books, she shows how the Federal Reserve and “the money trust” have usurped the power to create money from the people themselves, and how we the people can get it back. Her websites are webofdebt.com, ellenbrown.com, and public-banking.com.

Save Homes from Foreclosure, Here’s How – Please Share With Others: Daily Kos


by War on Error

This info has helped others.  Please pass this to anyone facing foreclosure with Mortgage Electronic Systems Registration on their foreclosure papers.

HELP PEOPLE SAVE THEIR HOMES.

To learn how the Ownership Society Scam was choreographed.  Read this website:
http://loanworkout.org/…

Read this diary for history, details, and some of people who put together what may be the biggest White Collar Crime in history
http://www.dailykos.com/…

MORTGAGE ELECTRONIC REGISTRATION SYSTEMS  (MERS) – Go to your newspaper’s foreclosure listing and look for MERS on the postings.  50,000,000 mortgages list MERS as the Trustee.  But MERS doesn’t have any promissory notes.  You have to read all this to understand.  But do give it to anyone facing foreclosure.

Without MERS, the huge volume of Mortgage Backed Securities and CDOs could not have been created.  

HERE IS THE SCARY possibility:  Countries, retirement funds, states, counties, etc. invested in these bundled products, based on ratings from the likes of Standard & Poors, Fitch, and Moody’s only to find, when they opened up the bundles, that they were filled with JUNK instead of GOLD. So they lost all of the money they invested. You can watch PBS NOW to learn how junk became traded as gold:

http://www.pbs.org/…

Is it possible that the real money, given to Hedge Funds to purchase MSBs and CDOs, by banks and pension funds throughout the world, left the banks and pension funds virtually empty?  Could this explain the rush to Capital Hill for huge infusions of Bailout Money?  Did banks and pension funds lose everything on their bad bets?  If you watch the PBS NOW program referenced above, it seems that is a strong possibility.  They lost their money gambling on products said to be gold that were, in fact, junk.  Good grief!

The bundles of MBSs and CDOs couldn’t have been so quickly created without the electronic power of MERS.

….What many people refuse to admit is that because of the so-called MERS paperless “system” many of the so-called mortgage backed security trusts do not actually hold the promissory notes which evidence the debts that are supposed to be backing the bonds purchased by these investors.

The situation is reminiscent of the great Great Olive Oil Scandal in the late 1800’s when banks were duped into investing millions of dollars into Olive Oil only to later discover that the tanks which were supposed to be holding millions of gallons of olive oil backing their investments were mostly empty.

This problem with the missing trust assets/promissory notes manifests itself each time MERS and/or the trustees for the bondholders brings a legal action to collect on a debt through foreclosure.  Because neither MERS nor the bondholders trustees are holding the notes, they lack proof of standing to maintain their legal actions and the actions are subject to dismissal.

Many foreclosure actions have been dismissed based upon lack of standing. This a problem that it is a direct result of MERS “system”….

THERE IS HOPE HERE.  PASS THIS TO ANYONE FACING FORECLOSURE with MERS on their paperwork, PLEASE.  

The details are found in the two sites listed in the INTRO.

Together we may be able to help families avoid so much suffering.

…….One informed lawyer who represents homeowners in Florida, April Charney, had foreclosure proceedings against 300 clients dismissed or postponed in 2007 for lack of standing. She is quoted as saying that “80 percent of them involved lost-note affidavits”. . .

They raise the issue of whether the trusts own the loans at all,” Charney said. “Lost-note affidavits are pattern and practice in the industry. They are not exceptions. They are the rule.” Ms. Charney, started challenging MERS and it members lost note affidavits after becoming skeptical of the a lender could possibly lose hundreds of promissory notes.

At least two Florida judges shared Ms. Charney’s skepticism regarding the copious amounts of MERS lost note affidavits and they issued show cause orders, sua sponte, challenging MERS to show proof that it held and/or lost notes in numerous actions. After evidentiary hearings these two alert judges dismissed twenty nine (29) MERS actions to foreclose for lack of standing. One judge struck MERS pleadings as being sham.

A South Carolina court dismissed a MERS action to foreclose for lack of standing even though MERS filed an affidavit wherein a person claiming to be an officer of MERS claimed that MERS was holding a promissory note. The South Carolina court vetted the MERS affidavit claim that it was the holder of the note after being apprised of the fact that MERS had previously told the Nebraska Court of Appeals that it never held promissory notes.

In late 2007 three Federal Court Judges in Ohio dismissed over fifty law suits brought by trustees of mortgage backed trusts where they could not produce the original promissory notes.

Following these decisions the Bankruptcy Court in Los Angelas, California adopted a rule of practice which requires all foreclosing trustees or other plaintiffs to produce the original promissory note when bring an action to foreclose a debt or face sanctions for not doing so. Several court in New York have been routinely dismissing foreclosure actions brought by MERS or its memebers because they continually fail to produce promisssory notes.

Here is a possible way to fight MERS or any foreclosure if they don’t have the proper, original documentation:

……To make matters worse many of the debts evidenced by these undelivered promissory notes were supposed to be secured by mortgage liens. However in place of mortgages being executed in favor of the original lender many of these mortgages were executed in favor of MERS. Because MERS never holds these notes or owns a debt it is not a creditor. MERS has no legal standing to enforce a debt, or so it told the Nebraska Court of Appeals in 2005. However this lack of standing defense must be raised by property owners who are sued.

The most effective economic way to raise this lack of standing defense is by bringing a motion to dismiss in response to the complaint to foreclose. In many states and in federal court this is called a Rule 12 motion. This motion is brought in place of answering the complaint. An honest attorney in most areas of the country should be willing to prepare and bring such a motion for $500.00 to $1,500.00 for a distressed homeowner. Or you might be able to find a lawyer to do it for you pro bono and perhaps a legal aid attorney. At least five judges around the country have dismissed these actions for lack of standing sua sponte, which means they did it on their own volititia. Perhaps more judges will feel the duty to do the same thing in the future.

http://loanworkout.org/…

Lastly, what might be disconcerting.  Who at Fannie and Freddie Mac played along?  Democrats?  Republicans?  Both?  If both, now what?

Or did the likes of CountryWide play Fannie and Freddie?  Playing within the rules?  Could they have succeeded without inside help?

ADDITIONAL WEBSITES OF INTEREST:

1999 MERS plans for future foreclosures, in place at launch.
http://www.mersinc.org/…

MERS list of Shareholders or a list of people getting bailout money:
http://www.mersinc.org/…

How to buy a foreclosed home from HUD for $1.00, yes One Dollar:
http://www.hud.gov/…

A very informative website sharing the methods used to steal homes from HOMEOWNERS:
http://www.msfraud.org/

In conclusion, defenders of MERS says it is just an easy way to pass paper.  Fine.  However, when MERS took a Trustee position on deeds filed with Registry of Deeds, the problems escalate.  Imagine, in the old days, listing your fax number as the Trustee on a deed, just because that is how the paper work was forwarded.  How can a homeowner, facing foreclosure, work out a deal with a fax machine or its fax number?

For fun, here is Bush launching the Housing Crisis:

 

 

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2008/11/24/114621/44/351/665802