NY Times – Queens Woman Nearly Loses Home Over Bank of America Error

“Bank of America claimed, wrongly, that Ms. Roberts was a deadbeat who hadn’t made a mortgage payment since March 2008.”


“Let’s face it: Ms. Roberts got a break. Because she had a dogged lawyer, who had the wit to get a New York Times columnist interested in her case, a terrible mistake was uncovered. As a result, an unjustified foreclosure may well be reversed.

But it has to make you wonder how many other people have lost their homes because of similar mistakes. I can’t bear to venture a guess. It’s too sickening to contemplate.”


A Happy Ending to a Raw, but Common, Tale


Lilla Roberts is a 73-year-old retired physical therapist, a pleasant, engaging woman who moved to this country from Jamaica 46 years ago. In 1988, she bought a small house in Jamaica, Queens, putting down $25,000, and taking out a mortgage for around $120,000. For many years, she religiously made her mortgage payments.

Like most homes in this part of Queens, this one is a little on the ramshackle side: a small, two-story home, part brick, part faded gray siding, with a red awning out front and a large backyard. But she raised her children and several of her grandchildren in this home. Her life’s memories are in this home. It means a lot to her.

“My whole life is here,” she said on Tuesday, when I visited her. “Every penny I ever had I put into this house.”

Ms. Roberts pointed down. “I finished the basement,” she said. She pointed up. “I had to put in new windows and repair all the rotting wood,” she said, referring to an upstairs apartment she rents out.

She pointed toward the back of the house, to the yard beyond her cramped kitchen and her two crowded bedrooms. “I love my garden,” she said. She paused, and then sighed. Between her pension, Social Security and rental income, she said, “I have enough income to pay my mortgage. I would love to enjoy the rest of my life here.”

Sitting across from Ms. Roberts was Elizabeth Lynch, a 30-something lawyer who works for MFY Legal Services. Ms. Lynch is a foreclosure specialist who has spent the last few months trying desperately to keep Ms. Roberts from losing her home. In 2007, a year after a refinancing, Ms. Roberts suffered a temporary setback that caused her to stop paying her mortgage for less than a year. Given her situation — steady income, a history of reliability — you would think that she would be a perfect candidate for a mortgage modification.

Instead, her servicer, Bank of America, foreclosed on the property in late August and handed it off to Fannie Mae, which owned the mortgage. Ms. Roberts first learned this when she saw Fannie Mae’s eviction notice taped to her front door.

As part of her effort to save Ms. Roberts’ house, Ms. Lynch filed a lawsuit to undo the foreclosure, on the grounds that fraud had been committed at various points along the way. Although such suits rarely succeed, a judge agreed to hear the case in early January.

Another part of her effort, though, was to try to create some media interest, which is how I got involved. “With all of the foreclosure cases I have seen,” Ms. Lynch wrote in an e-mail, “this is the one that gets at me the most.”

Truth to tell, Ms. Roberts’s story got to me too. Even putting aside the possibility of fraud, nobody should have to endure what she’s been through. Since March 2008 — that’s right, two and a half years — she has spent nearly $30,000 trying to hold onto her home. She has had to deal with a nasty foreclosure mill law firm, with servicing employees who gave her the runaround and with a foreclosure process that took place behind her back. And she has had to deal with the anxiety of not knowing whether she would be able to keep her home.

Yes, there are people who took out mortgages knowing they could never pay the money back. Ms. Roberts is not one of them. Rather, she is one of the many Americans, mostly poor and lower-middle class, who have been devastated by a system that is as rapacious, uncaring — and sloppy — in tossing people out of their homes as it once was in foisting predatory mortgages on them.

Two days after I spoke with Ms. Roberts, Bank of America and Fannie Mae acknowledged that foreclosing on her home had been a mistake, and they vowed to give her back the house. “We are going to work with her on a loan modification,” a Bank of America spokesman promised.

Yet, while Ms. Roberts’s story has a happy ending, it is hard to get too excited — not when so many others are in the same awful place, losing homes as much because of the system’s callousness as because of their own precarious finances.

Ms. Roberts’s troubles began with the rotting wood and upstairs windows. In 2006, her longtime tenant, who paid her $600 a month, moved out; she needed to fix the apartment before she could get a new tenant. The only way she could afford it was by refinancing her home.

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3 Responses to “NY Times – Queens Woman Nearly Loses Home Over Bank of America Error”
  1. Sonya says:

    GEORGIA RESIDENTS: If you are having problems with Bank of America or BAC please contact me & lets compare notes. sonya36767@yahoo.com

    I know I can’t be the only one that is facing foreclosure even though I am not behind on my payments. I didn’t even do their home modification scam.

  2. housemanrob says:

    We all know now who they are. MY question is…. WHO is GOING to STOP THEM!!!

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