By Sarah Portlock / The Star-Ledger The Star-Ledger
Published: Monday, August 15, 2011, 9:52 PM Updated: Tuesday, August 16, 2011, 10:44 AM
TRENTON — Four of the country’s biggest banks can now resume their uncontested residential mortgage foreclosures in state court, a Superior Court judge ruled today.
The decisions come nearly nine months to the day after New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner cracked down on more than 30 residential mortgage lenders and servicers over fears judges had inadvertently “rubber-stamped” files with inadequate or inaccurate paperwork and people were unnecessarily put out of their homes.
Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo were among six financial institutions that filed more than 40 percent of foreclosures in state court last year. They were also selected for a document review because testimony nationwide indicated that the companies had previously encountered “robo-signing,” when employees of mortgage lenders sign foreclosure claims without any personal knowledge of the application’s contents.
Today’s decisions mean the banks — most of which have effectively stopped filing new foreclosures since December because of the court’s actions — can now go forward with thousands of pending and future cases.
Under the court’s order, the banks were required to submit paperwork explaining how they process foreclosures, including how they review documents, train employees and keep records.
Going forward, the banks will also be subject to a monitoring process to ensure that the servicers’ processes and procedures are effective and are being followed, wrote retired Judge Richard Williams, the special master who is reviewing the banks’ paperwork.
Based on their submissions, Williams determined the banks had met the court’s standards in individual reports to the judge overseeing the case, Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson.
For Bank of America’s Home Loan Servicing division, Williams wrote that the company’s submissions showed “that it has processes and procedures in place” to ensure the information it submits in foreclosure cases is based on personal knowledge of the relevant records, “which were made in the regular course of business.”
“Bank of America makes every effort to reach out to delinquent customers to offer home retention options as well as foreclosure avoidance programs,” said Jumana Bauwens, spokeswoman for Bank of America Home Loans. “Foreclosure is always our last resort.”
Wells Fargo spokesman Kevin Friedlander said the bank works with its customers to help retain their homes in times of financial distress, but in some cases “no reasonable, investor-approved options are possible.”
“When that happens, it is important for the surrounding community that banks move forward with foreclosure sales to prevent problems with vacant and unkempt homes,” Friedlander said in a statement.
Williams, the special master, has not yet completed or submitted his reports about two remaining lenders in the case, Ally Financial and OneWest Bank, said court spokeswoman Winnie Comfort.
As of July, foreclosure filings are down 83 percent compared to last year at this time, according to court figures. Only about 6,100 cases have been filed since January, compared with nearly 35,000 this time last year.
Uncontested foreclosures represent nearly 95 percent of all foreclosure cases with the court, Rabner has said.