Thursday, October 8, 2015         


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Homeowners need shield from lenders' mistreatment


Hawaii's home foreclosure rate has declined in recent months but repairs of the mortgage system are needed to protect homeowners from lenders' mistreatment.

The problems arose primarily from mainland lenders, and Congress is considering remedies, but that should not deter the Legislature from improving the foreclosure process in Hawaii.

The total of 691 foreclosure filings in March was the lowest in nearly two years and down from 1,629 in August. That amounts to one in every 746 homes, down from one in every 371 households. But experts attribute this dip to lenders scaling back cases to correct processing deficiencies.

So while foreclosures are likely to drop in the long run as the economy improves, expect them to increase first — so changes are needed.

Nationally, 2 million households are in foreclosure and another 2 million are near it.

Federal regulators reported last week that banks did a poor job of handling the many foreclosures over the last several years. Fourteen mortgage servers were quick to respond by making consent agreements promising changes, including new oversight procedures, but systemic reforms are what is needed.

That is what state legislation would do, implementing recommendations by a state foreclosure task force created by last year's Legislature, headed by Stephen H. Levins, commerce and consumer affairs director in the Lingle administration, and comprised of a broad makeup of players.

At the heart of its proposal is that more nonjudicial foreclosure cases be allowed to transfer to the state court system; and that homeowners be allowed face-to-face dispute resolution with their mortage lenders, overseen by a professional mediator, before foreclosure is completed.

Some banks were found last year to have filed false documents, signed by a notary, that are required in many states to go to court with foreclosures. In Hawaii, those documents are required by the lender before it can advertise the house for sale without going through the courts at all.

In many instances, those papers were prepared by untrained bank employees acting as "robo-signers."

Bills before Hawaii's Legislature would put homeowners on improved notice of impending foreclosures so they can challenge them outside of court or through the court system. How many homeowners may decide to go to court is a matter of conjecture but of concern to the Judiciary.

Rodney A. Maile, administrator of the state court system, expressed concern to lawmakers that the change without sufficient funding to the courts could create "a backlog of thousands of cases and further frustration and delay, prolonging an already stressful situation for borrowers and all those involved."

Lenders will need to change their ways in response to the new rules, and state lawmakers can aid frustrated consumers in this regard. Maile does have a point, and legislators should be prepared to address the backlog problem if it arises.

That concern, however, should not preclude following the task force's recommendations, for the good of homeowners who need help.

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