Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson filed six new lawsuits in Hennepin County District Court against foreclosure consulting companies that charged Minnesota homeowners up to $2,375 to save their homes but failed to provide promised assistance that would help them retain home ownership.
The lawsuits were filed against: (1) National Foreclosure Relief, Inc., a Nevada corporation with a California business address; (2) Lewis Loss Mitigation, Inc. of Alabama, which also does business as Stop Foreclosure Center and Lewis and Associates Consulting; (3) D.R. Financial Services Corp. of California, which also does business as D.R. Financial and Superior Home Loans; (4) American Foreclosure Specialists, LLC, an Oklahoma limited liability company; (5) Mortgage Default Assistance, LLC, a Florida limited liability company; and (6) Home Assure, LLC, a Florida limited liability company that claims it has offices in the Empire State Building.
The suits allege that these companies used websites, targeted mailings, and/or the telephone to solicit homeowners by assuring that the companies could stop the foreclosure process. Consumers who contacted these companies were charged an immediate fee before any services were performed, in violation of Minnesota law. Homeowners have complained that these companies failed to deliver on promises of assistance after collecting these up-front fees.
The suits allege that these companies violated a 2004 Minnesota law barring “foreclosure consultants” from charging any compensation until after the foreclosure consultant has “fully performed each and every service the foreclosure consultant contracted to perform or represented he or she would perform.” The law also requires entities that charge borrowers fees to assist in stopping, avoiding, or postponing a foreclosure, to have a written contract containing certain safeguards. All six lawsuits seek injunctive relief, restitution, civil penalties, and attorneys fees.
“We do not tolerate mortgage foreclosure consultants taking advantage of struggling homeowners who are already between a rock and a hard place in the worsening mortgage meltdown,” Swanson said.
The Minnesota Attorney General’s Office has published a consumer guide, entitled “Facing Mortgage Foreclosure,” which offers tips for borrowers facing mortgage default or foreclosure, and warns homeowners to be on the lookout for potential scams. Among other things, Swanson provides the following guidance to homeowners facing default:
-Take immediate action to contact the lender if you are having trouble paying a loan. The lender may be willing to work out a repayment plan, loan modification, forbearance, reinstatement, etc. Don’t wait to contact the lender, as delays may jeopardize your options.
-Contact a reputable mortgage counselor. Borrowers may find legitimate counselors by contacting the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency (“MHFA”) or the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”).
-Don’t agree to pay money in advance to a “foreclosure consultant.” Minnesota law bans foreclosure consultants from collecting a fee until after they deliver their services.
In December of 2007, Attorney General Swanson filed lawsuits against Foreclosure Assistance Solutions, LLC and American Housing Authority, Inc./American Housing Financial, Inc. over similar allegations. Prior to her inauguration, Swanson created a predatory lending study group that proposed legislation to reform predatory lending practices such as loans made without regard to a borrower’s ability to repay the loan and issuing adjustable rate mortgages without verifying that the borrower can pay not just the initial teaser rate, but also the fully amortized rate after the teaser period expires. The recommendations of the study group became law in 2007. Swanson has advocated for similar regulation at the federal level, testifying before the United States House of Representatives Financial Services Committee and the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.