One risk to investors when notes remain with sellers acting as custodian is that an acquirer or creditor of those companies could walk in and take the notes, the banks that disclosed the practice in mortgage-bond prospectuses warned.
By Prashant Gopal and Jody Shenn
Linda DeMartini, a team leader in the company’s mortgage- litigation management division, said during a U.S. Bankruptcy Court hearing in Camden last year that it was routine for the lender to keep mortgage promissory notes even after loans were bundled by the thousands into bonds and sold to investors, according to a transcript. Contracts for such securitizations usually require the documents to be transferred to the trustee for mortgage bondholders.
In the case, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Judith H. Wizmur on Nov. 16 rejected a claim on the home of John T. Kemp, ruling his mortgage company, now owned by Bank of America, had failed to deliver the note to the trustee. That could leave the trustee with no standing to take the property, and raises the question of whether other foreclosures could similarly be blocked.
Following the decision, the bank disavowed the statements by DeMartini, whom it had flown in from California to testify. It was the policy of Countrywide Financial Corp., acquired by Bank of America in July 2008, to deliver notes as called for in its securitization contracts, according to Larry Platt, an attorney at K&L Gates LLP in Washington designated by the bank to answer questions about the case.
“This particular employee was mistaken in what she said,” Platt said in a telephone interview.
Wizmur’s ruling is being scrutinized by lawyers for borrowers seeking to stall repossessions as a way to press lenders to modify their debt. Attorneys for homeowners have already won cases by calling into doubt the legitimacy of affidavits used to take back properties.
“If this is correct, many, many, many foreclosures already occurred in which this plaintiff didn’t have the note,” said Bruce Levitt, the South Orange, New Jersey, attorney representing Kemp. “This could affect thousands or hundreds of thousands of loans.”
Companies that service loans, including Bank of America, temporarily halted home seizures in the wake of disclosures that they relied on employees to sign thousands of affidavits without reading them, a practice that has become known as robo-signing. The attorneys general of all 50 states are jointly investigating foreclosure practices of servicers.
Bank of America, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, is the largest U.S. mortgage servicer, overseeing $2.09 trillion of loans as of Sept. 30, according to industry newsletter Inside Mortgage Finance.
The Kemp case is also being examined by lawyers for investors in mortgage-backed securities. Owners of the bonds have been cooperating in an effort to force sellers to take back loans, saying they were misled about their quality. The Wizmur ruling may give investors an additional opportunity to push for mortgage buybacks on grounds that the bonds weren’t created in keeping with securitization contracts.
“It may mean investors who think they bought mortgage- backed securities bought securities that aren’t backed by anything,” said Kurt Eggert, a professor at Chapman University School of Law in Orange, California.
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