How to Find the Owner of Your Mortgage
Concerns continue about parties filing foreclosures when they do not own the note. Florida recently enacted a rules requiring plaintiffs in foreclosure to verify ownership of the note. (Here's a brief article on the rules, with the original subheading "Bankers Don't Like It"). While these concerns may be interesting for those of us who understand civil procedure, standing, and the importance of the rule of law, the practical problem looms for homeowners who want to know who owns their note. Particularly, in non-judicial foreclosure states or for those families who are not in foreclosure, they do not have the option to ask the judge to order the plaintiff (foreclosing lender) to prove ownership.
John Rao, an attorney at the National Consumer Law Center and Credit Slips guest blogger, wrote a great short piece in the National Association of Bankruptcy Trustees publication this winter called "Six Ways to Find Out Who Owns and Services the Mortgage." I can't seem to find an online version, so I'll give the short story here. For ownership (rather than servicing), the best options that John identifies are:
1) Send a request to the servicer asking it to tell you (the borrower) who the actual holder of the mortgage is, and to provide the address and telephone number of the owner of the obligation. These requests are authorized by Truth in Lending section 1641(f)(2). Importantly, the Helping Families Save Their Homes act of 2009 amended the Truth in Lending Act to provide a remedy for non-compliance. Borrowers can recover actual damages, statutory damages, costs and fees.
2) Review the transfer of ownership notices that are required to be sent as of May 20, 2009 and thereafter under the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act. This one won't help for loans bought and sold long ago, but at least Congress heard the message that tracking down ownership is a problem.
3) Send a "qualified written request" under the Real Estate Servicing Procedures Act (RESPA). While this statute primarily is aimed at servicers, John Rao points out that because the servicer acts as an agent for the owner of the mortgage, the request is related to the servicing. The servicer has 60 business days to comply, which may be too long for families facing foreclosure. Actual damages, costs and attorneys fees are available for violation. HUD provides a little information on how to make a qualified written request on its website.
It's important to note what is NOT on this list: the old-fashioned method of searching the land records. John includes that method in his list of six ways, but cautions not to rely solely on the registry of deeds because many assignments are not recorded. I think in a world of MERS, and missing paper, the land record system needs a hard look. The point of that system is to provide a public record of security interests in land, but it's clearly no longer serving that function in the way it historically has. In what ways is the land record system failing? How should we fix it? Do we need penalties for not recording assignments? Or federal regulation of MERS? Or something else entirely?