Homeowners who lost their homes to foreclosure may need to commit perjury to get restitution payments though the settlement. That would be the deepest kind of insult on injury.
In the last blog, I explained what a homeowner who lost a home to foreclosure (from 2008 through 2011) will have to assert to get his or her small share of that $1.5 billion pot of money:
1. “Borrower lost the home to foreclosure while attempting to save the home through a loan modification or other loss mitigation effort.”
2. “Servicer errors or misconduct in the loss mitigation or foreclosure processes affected the borrower’s ability to save the home.”
While these may seem superficially sensible, in practice they are very troublesome, especially because the statements must be made under penalty of perjury.
As to the first statement, what “other loss mitigation effort” “to save the home” will be considered sufficient to be able to make that statement? Must that effort have continued right up to the foreclosure date to be considered to have “lost the home to foreclosure while attempting to save the home”? How is the former homeowner to know whether he or she can make this statement truthfully?
The second statement is even more of a problem. How can the former homeowner know whether “servicer errors or misconduct in the loss mitigation or foreclosure processes affected the borrower’s ability to save the home”? The robo-signing of foreclosure documents—mortgage servicers’ false assertions made under oath by the thousands—were only discovered through borrowers’ attorneys’ aggressive discovery efforts during litigation. In this nationwide settlement, the five banks are not admitting ANY wrongdoing or liability. (For example, see the non-admission clause in the Federal Release, Exhibit F in the Wells Fargo settlement documents, paragraph F on page F-11, which is page 232 of the 315 pages of those documents.) Presumably the banks are not now going to start admitting wrongdoing on a case-by-case basis so that borrowers can answer this statement accurately.
So to receive the restitution payment a former homeowner will have to sign a statement under penalty of perjury affirming the truthfulness of one statement that is so vague as to be in many situations meaningless, and the truthfulness of a second statement the accuracy of which is unknowable.
There may yet be a partial solution, to at least the first required statement about the extent of borrowers’ efforts to save the home. The claim form to be sent out to the borrowers’ by the yet-undesignated Settlement Administrator may give enough guidance about this. A tentative 3-page claim form has been prepared by the Monitoring Committee for possible use by the Settlement Administrator. It may create a bright line between qualifying and non-qualifying borrower efforts. We don’t know yet because although this tentative claim form is being made available for companies applying to become the Settlement Administrator (the application deadline is April 30, 2012), it is not being released to anyone else.
But even so, I see no conceivable way that the second statement about “servicer error or misconduct” can be made known to the borrowers in order for them to be able to assert that under penalty of perjury. The banks are not going to admit to wrongdoing as to two million or so homeowners in direct contradiction of their non-liability assertion in the settlement documents.
So here’s the moral irony:
1. The banks were accused by the federal government and 49 states of a long list of allegations of serious wrongdoing which take 10 pages to detail (see pages F-2 through F-11 of the Federal Release in the settlement documents referred to above). These allegations include fraud and misrepresentations of numerous kinds, including in the form of many thousands of perjured documents submitted to courts over an extended period of time. The banks do not admit to any of these allegations or to any resulting liability.
2. Now the banks have negotiated with the governmental entities to pay restitution for their extensive alleged wrongdoing, and in particular to homeowners who’ve already lost their homes to foreclosure. But as a precondition to receiving that restitution, these former homeowners will in many cases be faced with a moral dilemma: can they sign a statement under penalty of perjury asserting that their “ability to save the home” was affected by “servicer errors or misconduct” when they do not know whether such errors or misconduct happened as to their mortgage, and if so whether it had any effect on their “ability to save the home.”
3. Because the “Monitoring Committee” has made clear that the “Settlement Administrator” will not be required to get documentation from borrowers about their statements on the claim forms, borrowers are seemingly being encouraged to make statements that will in many cases be vague and factually unverifiable, while asserting the truthfulness and accuracy of those statements under penalty of perjury.
4. The banks, having admitted to no fault, having paid their modest penalty, and having foisted this moral conundrum onto the foreclosed borrowers, can now wash their hands entirely of the matter. They no longer care how each borrower handles the matter since the pot of money does not change. The money just shifts out of the hands of the perhaps more carefully honest borrowers who disqualify themselves by admitting that they cannot swear to the fact that they lost the property because of lender wrongdoing.
5. Thus this settlement process has lowered borrowers—through circumstances almost entirely outside their control—to the moral level of the original robo-signers: “just sign here and don’t worry what the statements say or what they mean.”