Layton mayor fights foreclosure

Feb 18 2011 - 10:42pm

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(MATTHEW ARDEN HATFIELD/Standard-Examiner) 
Layton Mayor Steve Curtis sits in front of his home on Friday. Curtis says Bank of America offered him a reduced payment plan for his mortgage when he was out of work, then tried to foreclose on the house.
(MATTHEW ARDEN HATFIELD/Standard-Examiner) 
Layton Mayor Steve Curtis sits in front of his home on Friday. Curtis says Bank of America offered him a reduced payment plan for his mortgage when he was out of work, then tried to foreclose on the house.

LAYTON -- Two weeks before Christmas, Layton Mayor Steve Curtis found an unwelcome letter hanging on his front door -- a foreclosure notice.

That came as a shock to the Curtis family because they had worked out what they thought was going to be a loan modification with Bank of America, allowing smaller monthly payments.

"You can't write in a newspaper the thoughts that I had," Curtis said about receiving the notice.

Turns out, the Curtises are not alone.

Marco Fields, of TEEM Utah, an advocate group helping people who are dealing with wrongful foreclosure of their homes, said more than 400 families statewide in 2010 fell victim to the same problem as the Curtis family.

The Utah General Attorney's Office says the Bank of America unit foreclosing on homes in Utah is doing so illegally.

In a filing with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, the attorney general's office said ReconTrust Co. N.A. is a nondepository national bank initiating approximately 4,000 home foreclosures in Utah each year in violation of state law.

That is why state Sen. Curtis Bramble, R-Provo, is about to propose a bill dealing with wrongful foreclosures. It is one of five or six bills on the subject, Fields said.

At the state Capitol on Feb. 8, Curtis and Fields were part of a panel answering questions from state lawmakers about wrongful foreclosures.

Curtis said he is not afraid to talk about his experience because he wants to let others, especially in his city, know about the wrongful foreclosures.

"My neighborhood matters," he said.

Foreclosure has been a rising problem in Utah, with the state's foreclosure rate in 2010 up nearly 20 percent from the previous year, according to RealtyTrac, a company that tracks foreclosure filings nationally.

RealtyTrac's website states 3.44 percent of Utah's housing units -- one in every 29 homes -- received a foreclosure filing last year.

That's 32,520 housing units in the state; only Nevada (one in 11 homes), Arizona (one in 17), Florida (one in 18) and California (one in 25) had higher rates.

But not all of those foreclosures are because homeowners are delinquent in their monthly payments.

Curtis said that, about 10 months ago, when he was unemployed, he contacted Bank of America about making a lower payment and was told he could qualify for a loan modification.

He was told to make a reduced monthly payment, and after four months, he would be told if he qualified for the loan modification.

So for four months, he did just that, using the new payment coupon book Bank of America sent him.

During that time, his wife, RaeLynn, called Bank of America every other week to check their status. Curtis said she was told everything was fine and their status had not yet been determined.

After four months, nothing happened and Curtis was told to continue paying the reduced monthly payment until he heard from the bank.

He did just that.

His wife kept meticulous records of all payments and called every week to see if there was any news.

There was no news until the foreclosure notice arrived on the front door.

Curtis said he was told the adjusted payments he made for 10 months went to a different department of the bank than the original mortgage payments.

That meant some people at the bank figured he was not making payments and began the foreclosure process.

While not being able to speak specifically about the Curtis situation because of privacy policies, Bank of America spokeswoman Jumana Bauwens said there are times when the bank puts people on a trial loan-modification program and they are declined for one reason or another.

"After that, the past-due payments of the regular payments would be enough to get them in the foreclosure process," Bauwens said.

Fields said she has spoken to upper-level executives at Bank of America, Chase and Wells Fargo, and while they admit it is not right that people who make payments still face foreclosure, they tell her, "I only work here."

In December, the attorneys general in Arizona and Nevada filed coordinated lawsuits against Bank of America Corp., alleging it violated the law in its handling of troubled mortgages.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard called Bank of America "the worst in the industry" and said the company "is constantly leading homeowners along into thinking they would get a modification and then pulling the plug on them."

Fields was on the phone call with Curtis when he asked that his original loan be reinstated after he received the foreclosure notice.

When Curtis was told that was not possible, Fields told the bank representative that, in fact, Curtis was allowed to have the loan reinstated.

"It was very interesting when they realized they had someone on the line that knew their laws," Fields said.

Fortunately for the Curtis family, their house will not be sold in March as scheduled under the foreclosure.

Curtis said his loan has not yet been reinstated, but it will be. When that happens, the monthly payments will return to the original amount and he will be responsible for paying the difference between the regular payments and reduced payments he made during the 10 months.

He said that will not be a problem because he has family that can help out if needed, plus he is now employed as an account executive at Logo Concepts.

"There aren't a lot of people as fortunate," Curtis said.

Fields said one in six Utah families is facing a mortgage crisis. TEEMS Utah is about to launch a website, www.teemsutah.org, that will help those in need.

People facing foreclosure can also get in touch with www.211ut.org for additional help.

Then there are the bills being presented during this legislative session that are aimed at helping victims.

"Hopefully," Fields said, "it will be a catalyst to make the call to the banks that will make them wake up."

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