Time to Get Tough on Crime: Let’s Nail the Banksters Who Have Stolen Millions of Homes
There are calls in this election season for establishing a moratorium of some sort on home foreclosures, and a number of large banks have even voluntarily stopped, at least until after Election Day, on foreclosing on houses. That’s fine as far as it goes, but what about the millions of homes that have already been lost or stolen over the past several years?
Behind the talk of a legal moratorium on foreclosures, and the voluntary pause announced by some banks, lies the reality that many if not most of the mortgages in question are legally dubious. The homeowner getting a foreclosure notice frequently has no idea who the actual holder or holders of a mortgage may be, and banks that are trying to foreclose often themselves have no idea who actually holds title to the papers. This is because with the securitization of mortgages, they have been traded and re-traded, and often have even been diced up into pieces of mortgage-backed securities, so that the paper trail of ownership has been lost, perhaps irrevocably.
In some cases and some jurisdictions, federal bankruptcy courts have been tossing out foreclosure cases, saying that the foreclosing bank has no proof of ownership of the mortgage and thus cannot claim the property. It’s a little like the person who is caught speeding and shows up in court to contest the charge only to have it tossed out because the ticketing officer didn’t show up in court to make her or his case.
The truth is that there is nothing particularly virtuous about the moratorium that Bank of America and some other national banks have announced on foreclosures. They are probably only holding off because they know that they are in trouble for fraudulently signing and processing foreclosure documents claiming title to properties that they actually cannot prove they have any claim to. (It has even been suggested that the banks are temporarily halting foreclosures because they are afraid that the glut of foreclosed homes will depress the value of other properties which are in their mortgage portfolios, hurting their own balance sheets.)
But the real question is, why is nobody mentioning the over 9 million homes that have been foreclosed on already in this longest and deepest recession since the 1930s.
If it is the right thing to do to put a stop to foreclosures until banks can prove ownership, then it is equally right to reverse, or pay damages for all those foreclosures that already occurred--1.3 million in 2007, 2.3 million in 2008, 2.8 million in 2009 and 1.6 million in just the first six months of this year--where there was bank fraud in the signing of documents, or where there is simply no paper trail to prove the bank in question owns the mortgage. (A difficulty is that if a foreclosed property was later sold, reversing the transaction could mean displacing another family that made a good-faith purchase from the bank, meaning that a compensation payment to the wronged first owner would be a better option.)