Mortgage Lenders

Eric The Zombie Killer

Like the Windy City, the Empire State wants to make sure that when voters complain about run-down neighborhoods, abandoned buildings, and general urban malaise, they know who to blame. No, not Teflon-coated pols. Instead, everybody’s favorite whipping boys: mortgage lenders.

The State of New York doubling down in its efforts to fight back against the rising tide of zombie properties, which are homes that are vacant or abandoned during the foreclosure process.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced on Monday that he plans to resubmit an expanded version of a bill he first introduced in 2014 to the state legislature. Schneiderman’s bill, called the Abandoned Property Neighborhood Relief Act, is designed to reduce the number of zombie homes by informing homeowners of their right to stay in their home until a court orders them to leave.

According to Schneiderman’s office, the bill will also require mortgage lenders and servicers to identify, secure and maintain vacant and abandoned properties shortly after they are abandoned. Under current state law, lenders and servicers aren’t required to secure and maintain vacant properties until the end of the foreclosure process.

The bill would also create a statewide registry of zombie properties, designed to help local governments with the enforcement of property maintenance laws.

Additionally, if Schneiderman’s bill becomes law, any fines levied against banks, lenders or servicers for violations of the state’s abandoned property laws would be directed into a fund, which would be used by local governments to hire additional code enforcement officers.

Making lenders legally responsible for properties that they do not legally own is a scam that’s been around, in one form or another, for years. It’s generally been considered a bad idea by mortgage lenders, which is an understandable reaction from a business standpoint since it increases the risk and cost of lending in areas that attempt to impose such liability. Chicago fought the FHFA in court over an ordinance that tried to do the same thing that Schneiderman’s bill would try to do. Last year, Chicago settled with the FHFA, after the FHFA won at the district court level and the city recognized that the FHFA was not legally compelled to comply with such a law. While the FHFA agreed to voluntarily register properties with the city, “the city will not require Fannie and Freddie to comply with the city’s vacant and abandoned building ordinances and will not fine the FHFA for an ordinance violation.”

Expect New York’s law, if enacted, to generate a similar reaction from the FHFA.

I just love the smell of litigation in the morning. It smells like…attorneys’ fees.

Another interesting aspect of the proposed bill is the following Catch 22.

Schneiderman’s bill requires lenders and mortgage servicers to periodically inspect properties with delinquent mortgages to determine if the property is occupied.

But the bill also makes it unlawful for a lender or servicer, or a person acting on their behalf, to enter a property that is not vacant or abandoned for the purpose of “intimidating, harassing or coercing a lawful occupant” in an attempt to get them to abandon the home.

That high wire walk, as well as the bill’s other provisions, ought to discourage lenders and/or make them price the high risk into the cost of loans made in New York. Ultimately, it’s the customer who always pays the price.

As if there weren’t enough reasons to move to Texas, Eric the Red gives New Yorkers one more.

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