Todd Ruger

The Florida Supreme Court has reaffirmed its fight against the sloppy legal work being used to retake homes in thousands of foreclosure cases across the state.

A review of Manatee and Sarasota county cases showed attorneys for banks and lenders had widely ignored a new high court rule that requires them to verify — under penalty of perjury — the accuracy of allegations and paperwork in the foreclosure case.

When local judges started throwing out the foreclosure cases for that reason, some attorneys for lenders contended that the rule, created in February, was not yet in effect.

But the top court this week clarified that attorneys must immediately follow its verification rule as part of its overall battle against the flood of foreclosure cases clogging the court system when the housing market crashed.

The uncertainty over the high court ruling illustrates the chaos in foreclosure courts across the state. The vast majority of the state’s housing lawsuits come from Florida’s five so-called foreclosure mills, where attorneys can each handle thousands of cases.

Sloppy paperwork could mean banks and lenders foreclose on properties they are not legally entitled to retake, unfairly forcing homeowners out of their properties, attorneys say. The shoddy and incomplete filings also waste judicial resources.

The continuing problems with the foreclosure process could also affect the speed at which the housing market recovers by slowing the resale of properties, which de-stabilizes the market.

Prior to the high court rule, attorneys for banks and lenders were supposed to ensure allegations and paperwork are accurate. But many have not done that, so the rule may force them to shape up, a St. Petersburg foreclosure defense attorney said.

“It was an absurd excuse for not following a rule that was clear, that is black and white,” attorney Matthew Weidner said. “It’s just an example of the unethical conduct of these firms, and they should be sanctioned.”

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