New AG Olens wants power to investigate foreclosures

Newly elected state Attorney General Sam Olens said Wednesday he will push the General Assembly for the authority to launch criminal investigations of improper foreclosures.

And an expert in property law predicts that Olens’ proposal will be just one measure among several related to tightening up the state’s foreclosure laws.

“There will be a great deal of legislative attention on mortgages and foreclosures in the upcoming session,” said Frank Alexander, real estate law professor at Emory University. “The incoming attorney general’s push certainly will add momentum to that legislative package.”

Alexander, a critic of Georgia’s so-called nonjudicial foreclosure system, has proposed fundamental reforms of state laws, including requiring lenders to prove their case in court.

The ramifications of foreclosure stretch far beyond financial damage to an evicted former homeowner. Home repossessions drive down property values, reduce the property tax base and in some areas have resulted in neighborhoods riddled with vacancies and blight.

The attorney general has the power to prosecute mortgage fraud, but apparently not foreclosure fraud. Olens said he wants to change that, and he also said he might ask the State Bar of Georgia, which licenses lawyers, to look into allegations of misconduct by real estate attorneys in the mortgage origination as well as foreclosure process.

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