There is an amazing story in the August 2009 issue of the California Bar Journal about the growing number of complaints against lawyers and law firms offering mortgage help to homeowners. From investigating nine such complaints for all of 2008, the California State Bar is now investigating 391 complaints against 140 attorneys. What is causing this huge increase in the number of borrowers complaining about attorneys?
With the rise in the foreclosure rate over the past few years, it seems that many lawyers have gone into the foreclosure assistance business. Even in states like California, where loan mitigation companies are no longer allowed to charge an up-front fee from borrowers, attorneys can still charge a multiple-thousand dollar retainer fee before any work is done for a homeowner. This makes the foreclosure business very lucrative, and very attractive for the corrupt.
Also, what happened to all of the lawyers providing mortgage services during the boom for lenders, title companies, and home buyers? Many states require that borrowers and sellers both have an attorney at closing to represent them. With the falloff in new closings and refinances, these attorneys may have decided to enter the other side of the business — helping homeowners escape the predatory loans the lawyers should have warned about in the first place.
Many homeowners were given loans that were either misrepresented to them or were simply not explained at all. Too many lawyers hired to make sure the borrowers understood the terms of the contracts did very little other than collect several hundred dollars at the closing table. The law requiring legal counsel before a real estate closing had more to do with injecting unnecessary legal fees into the housing market than creating educated borrowers.
Some of the complaints against these lawyers now providing loan modification services are the same ones homeowners routinely file against loss mitigation companies. Some of the complaints involve no service being provided, up-front fees that are collected but no work is done, no refunds even though no work is done, instructing homeowners to stop contacting their lenders, even attempting to transfer money directly out of a borrower’s bank account.
This indicates that some lawyers have entered the loan modification business essentially just to steal money from desperate homeowners. Too many companies or law firms take payments from borrowers and then never provide any work — it is one of the most common foreclosure scams around, and one that homeowners keep becoming victims of as they try to save their homes.
But none of this really explains the shocking rise in complaints against attorneys offering foreclosure help. From nine in 2008 to close to 400 in the first seven months of 2009, it seems that more factors than just legal industry corruption are involved. Or, have attorneys in large numbers made the move from other less lucrative practices into the foreclosure business, where they can prey off the huge numbers of people struggling to keep their properties?
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