SB 1178 will be voted on soon by the entire Senate. It’s time for all of us to make our voices heard in California to protect homeowners and to allow them to start their financial lives again.
California has protected borrowers from so called “deficiency” liability on their home mortgages since the 1930s, but the evolution of mortgage finance requires the statute to be updated.
Current law says that if a homeowner defaults on a mortgage used to purchase his or her home, the homeowner’s liability on the mortgage is limited to the property itself. The law has worked well since the 1930s to protect borrowers, ensure the quality of loan underwriting and allow borrowers who are brought down by financial crisis to get back on their feet.
Unfortunately, the 1930s law does not extend the protection for purchase money mortgages to loans that re-finance the original purchase debt — even if the re-finance was only to gain a lower interest rate. Recent years of low interest rates have induced tens of thousands of homeowners to re-finance their mortgages, yet almost no one realized that by re-financing their mortgages to obtain a lower rate, they were forfeiting their protections. These borrowers became personally liable for the balance of the loan.
Home buyers, and lenders, entered into the purchase with the idea that the mortgage would be non-recourse debt, and that the lender would look to the security (the house) itself to make good on the debt if the borrower cannot. It meets the legitimate expectation of the borrowers, who have no idea that they are losing this protection by a re-finance. Homeowners didn’t know that their re-finance exposed them to personal liability, and new tax liability, on the note. It would be unfair to allow a lender, or someone that has purchased a note from a lender, to pursue the borrower beyond the value of the agreed upon security. Current law was intended to ensure that if someone lost their home to foreclosure, they wouldn’t be liable for additional payment. Since the law was passed over 70 years ago, homeowners re-financing from the original loan to lower their interest rate has become commonplace. The 1930s legislature didn’t anticipate how mortgages would change over time.
The California Association of Realtors is sponsoring SB 1178 (Corbett) to extend anti-deficiency protections to homeowners who have refinanced “purchase money” loans and are now facing foreclosure. Most homeowners didn’t even know that when they refinanced they lost their legal protections, and now may be personally liable for the difference between the value of the foreclosed property and the amount owed to the lender.
A new market has sprung up whereby investors purchase the rights from the bank to go after the homeowner for the deficiency on the mortgage. Under current law, lenders have up ten years to collect on the additional debt after a judgment has been entered on the foreclosure. Years after a family has lost their home, they could find themselves in even more financial trouble. Lenders sell these accounts to aggressive collection agencies or even bundle them into securities. The end result will be that the banks who didn’t lend responsibly in the first place coming after families for even more money that they don’t have.
One can’t help but think, “when is enough, enough?” Banks have already foreclosed upon a family’s home and now lenders can continue to hound them for additional payment. How much more money can today’s families afford to pay when they’ve already lost their homes and most likely their jobs? Are they never to have the opportunity to begin again?