As record numbers of homeowners default on their mortgages, questionable practices among lenders are coming to light in bankruptcy courts, leading some legal specialists to contend that companies instigating foreclosures may be taking advantage of imperiled borrowers.
Because there is little oversight of foreclosure practices and the fees that are charged, bankruptcy specialists fear that some consumers may be losing their homes unnecessarily or that mortgage servicers, who collect loan payments, are profiting from foreclosures.
Bankruptcy specialists say lenders and loan servicers often do not comply with even the most basic legal requirements, like correctly computing the amount a borrower owes on a foreclosed loan or providing proof of holding the mortgage note in question.
“Regulators need to look beyond their current, myopic focus on loan origination and consider how servicers’ calculation and collection practices leave families vulnerable to foreclosure,” said Katherine M. Porter, associate professor of law at the University of Iowa.
In an analysis of foreclosures in Chapter 13 bankruptcy, the program intended to help troubled borrowers save their homes,
Ms. Porter found that questionable fees had been added to almost half of the loans she examined, and many of the charges were identified only vaguely.
Most of the fees were less than $200 each, but collectively they could raise millions of dollars for loan servicers at a time when the other side of the business, mortgage origination, has faltered.
In one example, Ms. Porter found that a lender had filed a claim stating that the borrower owed more than $1 million. But after the loan history was scrutinized, the balance turned out to be $60,000.
And a judge in Louisiana is considering an award for sanctions against Wells Fargo in a case in which the bank assessed improper fees and charges that added more than $24,000 to a borrower’s loan.
Ms. Porter’s analysis comes as more homeowners face foreclosure. Testifying before Congress on Tuesday, Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Moody’s Economy.com, estimated that two million families would lose their homes by the end of the current mortgage crisis.
Questionable practices by loan servicers appear to be enough of a problem that the Office of the United States Trustee, a division of the Justice Department that monitors the bankruptcy system, is getting involved.
Last month, It announced plans to move against mortgage servicing companies that file false or inaccurate claims, assess unreasonable fees or fail to account properly for loan payments after a bankruptcy has been discharged.
On Oct. 9, the Chapter 13 trustee in Pittsburgh asked the court to sanction Countrywide, the nation’s largest loan servicer, saying that the company had lost or destroyed more than $500,000 in checks paid by homeowners in foreclosure from December 2005 to April 2007.
The trustee, Ronda J. Winnecour, said in court filings that she was concerned that even as Countrywide misplaced or destroyed the checks, it levied charges on the borrowers, including late fees and legal costs.
“The integrity of the bankruptcy process is threatened when a single creditor dishonors its obligation to provide a truthful and accurate account of the funds it has received,” Ms. Winnecour said in requesting sanctions.
A Countrywide spokesman disputed the accusations about the lost checks, saying the company had no record of having received the payments the trustee said had been sent. It is Countrywide’s practice not to charge late fees to borrowers in bankruptcy, he said, adding that the company also does not charge fees or costs relating to its own mistakes.
Loan servicing is extremely lucrative. Servicers, which collect payments from borrowers and pass them on to investors who own the loans, generally receive a percentage of income from a loan, often 0.25 percent on a prime mortgage and 0.50 percent on a subprime loan. Servicers typically generate profit margins of about 20 percent.
Now that big lenders are originating fewer mortgages, servicing revenues make up a greater percentage of earnings. Because servicers typically keep late fees and certain other charges assessed on delinquent or defaulted loans, “a borrower’s default can present a servicer with an opportunity for additional profit,” Ms. Porter said.
The amounts can be significant. Late fees accounted for 11.5 percent of servicing revenues in 2006 at Ocwen Financial, a big servicing company. At Countrywide, $285 million came from late fees last year, up 20 percent from 2005. Late fees accounted for 7.5 percent of Countrywide’s servicing revenue last year.
But these are not the only charges borrowers face. Others include $145 in something called “demand fees,” $137 in overnight delivery fees, fax fees of $50 and payoff statement charges of $60. Property inspection fees can be levied every month or so, and fees can be imposed every two months to cover assessments of a home’s worth.
“We’re talking about millions and millions of dollars that mortgage servicers are extracting from debtors that I think are totally unlawful and illegal,”
said O. Max Gardner III, a lawyer in Shelby, N.C., specializing in consumer bankruptcies.
“Somebody files a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, they make all their payments, get their discharge and then three months later, they get a statement from their servicer for $7,000 in fees and charges incurred in bankruptcy but that were never applied for in court and never approved.”
Some fees levied by loan servicers in foreclosure run afoul of state laws. In 2003, for example, a New York appeals court disallowed a $100 payoff statement fee sought by North Fork Bank.
Fees for legal services in foreclosure are also under scrutiny.
A class-action lawsuit filed in September in Federal District Court in Delaware accused the Mortgage Electronic Registration System, a home loan registration system owned by Fannie Mae, Countrywide Financial and other large lenders, of overcharging borrowers for legal services in foreclosures. The system, known as MERS, oversees more than 20 million mortgage loans.
The complaint was filed on behalf of Jose Trevino and Lorry S. Trevino of University City, Mo., whose Washington Mutual loan went into foreclosure in 2006 after the couple became ill and fell behind on payments.
Jeffrey M. Norton, a lawyer who represents the Trevinos, said that although MERS pays a flat rate of $400 or $500 to its lawyers during a foreclosure, the legal fees that it demands from borrowers are three or four times that.
A spokeswoman for MERS declined to comment.
Typically, consumers who are behind on their mortgages but hoping to stay in their homes invoke Chapter 13 bankruptcy because it puts creditors on hold, giving borrowers time to put together a repayment plan.
Given that a Chapter 13 bankruptcy involves the oversight of a court, the findings in Ms. Porter’s study are especially troubling. In July, she presented her paper to the United States trustee, and on Oct. 12 she outlined her data for the National Conference of Bankruptcy Judges in Orlando, Fla.
With Tara Twomey, who is a lecturer at Stanford Law School and a consultant for the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, Ms. Porter analyzed 1,733 Chapter 13 filings made in April 2006. The data were drawn from public court records and include schedules filed under penalty of perjury by borrowers listing debts, assets and income.
Though bankruptcy laws require documentation that a creditor has a claim on the property, 4 out of 10 claims in Ms. Porter’s study did not attach such a promissory note. And one in six claims was not supported by the itemization of charges required by law.
Without proper documentation, families must choose between the costs of filing an objection or the risk of overpayment, Ms. Porter concluded.
She also found that some creditors ask for fees, like fax charges and payoff statement fees, that would probably be considered “unreasonable” by the courts.
Not surprisingly, these fees may contribute to the other problem identified by her study: a discrepancy between what debtors think they owe and what creditors say they are owed.
In 96 percent of the claims Ms. Porter studied, the borrower and the lender disagreed on the amount of the mortgage debt. In about a quarter of the cases, borrowers thought they owed more than the creditors claimed, but in about 70 percent, the creditors asserted that the debt owed was greater than the amounts specified by borrowers.
The median difference between the amounts the creditor and the borrower submitted was $1,366; the average was $3,533, Ms. Porter said. In 30 percent of the cases in which creditors’ claims were higher, the discrepancy was greater than 5 percent of the homeowners’ figure.
Based on the study, mortgage creditors in the 1,733 cases put in claims for almost $6 million more than the loan debts listed by borrowers in the bankruptcy filings.
The discrepancies are too big, Ms. Porter said, to be simple record-keeping errors.
Michael L. Jones, a homeowner going through a Chapter 13 bankruptcy in Louisiana, experienced such a discrepancy with Wells Fargo Home Mortgage. After being told that he owed $231,463.97 on his mortgage, he disputed the amount and ultimately sued Wells Fargo.
In April, Elizabeth W. Magner, a federal bankruptcy judge in Louisiana, ruled that Wells Fargo overcharged Mr. Jones by $24,450.65, or 12 percent more than what the court said he actually owed. The court attributed some of that to arithmetic errors but found that Wells Fargo had improperly added charges, including $6,741.67 in commissions to the sheriff’s office that were not owed, almost $13,000 in additional interest and fees for 16 unnecessary inspections of the borrowers’ property in the 29 months the case was pending.
“Incredibly, Wells Fargo also argues that it was debtor’s burden to verify that its accounting was correct,” the judge wrote, “even though Wells Fargo failed to disclose the details of that accounting until it was sued.”
A Wells Fargo spokesman, Kevin Waetke, said the bank would not comment on the details of the case as the bank is appealing a motion by Mr. Jones for sanctions. “All of our practices and procedures in the handling of bankruptcy cases follow applicable laws, and we stand behind our actions in this case,” he said.
In Texas, a United States trustee has asked for sanctions against Barrett Burke Wilson Castle Daffin & Frappier, a Houston law firm that sues borrowers on behalf of the lenders, for providing inaccurate information to the court about mortgage payments made by homeowners who sought refuge in Chapter 13. Michael C. Barrett, a partner at the firm, said he did not expect the firm to be sanctioned.
“We certainly believe we have not misbehaved in any way,” he said, saying the trustee’s office became involved because it is trying to persuade Congress to increase its budget. “It is trying to portray itself as an organ to pursue mortgage bankers.”
The Court sanctioned Barretts’ foreclosure mill $75,000 in sanctions in the William Allen Parsley Bankruptcy case, read part II below.
NOV. 6, 2007 (New York Times)
Nobody wins when a home enters foreclosure — neither the borrower, who is evicted, nor the lender, who takes a loss when the home is resold. That’s the conventional wisdom, anyway.
March 30, 2008 | The New York Times
The reality is very different. Behind the scenes in these dramas, a small army of law firms and default servicing companies, who represent mortgage lenders, have been raking in mounting profits.
These little-known firms assess legal fees and a host of other charges, calculate what the borrowers owe and draw up the documents required to remove them from their homes.
As the subprime mortgage crisis has spread, the volume of the business has soared, and firms that handle loan defaults have been the primary beneficiaries. Law firms, paid by the number of motions filed in foreclosure cases, have sometimes issued a flurry of claims without regard for the requirements of bankruptcy law, several judges say.
Much as Wall Street’s mortgage securitization machinery helped to fuel questionable lending across the United States, default, or foreclosure, servicing operations have been compounding the woes of troubled borrowers.
Court documents say that some of the largest firms in the industry have repeatedly submitted erroneous affidavits when moving to seize homes and levied improper fees that make it harder for homeowners to get back on track with payments. Consumer lawyers call these operations “foreclosure mills.”
“They get paid by the volume and speed with which they process these foreclosures,” said Mal Maynard, director of the Financial Protection Law Center, a nonprofit firm in Wilmington, North Carolina.
John and Robin Atchley of Waleska, Georgia, have experienced dubious foreclosure practices first hand. Twice during a four-month period in 2006, the Atchleys were almost forced from their home when Countrywide Home Loans, part of Countrywide Financial, and the law firm representing it said they were delinquent on their mortgage.
Countrywide’s lawyers withdrew their motions to seize the Atchleys’ home only after the couple proved them wrong in court.
The possibility that some lenders and their representatives are running roughshod over borrowers is of increasing concern to bankruptcy judges overseeing Chapter 13 cases across the country.
The United States Trustee Program, a unit of the Justice Department that oversees the integrity of the nation’s bankruptcy courts, is bringing cases against lenders that it says are abusing the bankruptcy system.
Joel B. Rosenthal, a United States bankruptcy judge in the Western District of Massachusetts, wrote in a case last year involving Wells Fargo Bank that rising foreclosures were resulting in greater numbers of lenders that “in their rush to foreclose, haphazardly fail to comply with even the most basic legal requirements of the bankruptcy system.”
Law firms and default servicing operations that process large numbers of cases have made it harder for borrowers to design repayment plans, or workouts, consumer lawyers say.
“As I talk to people around the country, they all unanimously state that the foreclosure mills are impediments to loan workouts,” Mr. Maynard said.
Last month, almost 225,000 properties in the United States were in some stage of foreclosure, up nearly 60 percent from the period a year earlier, according to RealtyTrac, an online foreclosure research firm and marketplace.
These proceedings generate considerable revenue for the firms involved: eviction and appraisal charges, late fees, title search costs, recording fees, certified mailing costs, document retrieval fees, and legal fees.
The borrower, already in financial distress, is billed for these often burdensome costs. While much of the revenue goes to the law firms hired by lenders, some is kept by the servicers of the loans.
Fidelity National Default Solutions, a unit of Fidelity National Information Services of Jacksonville, Fla., is one of the biggest foreclosure service companies. It assists 19 of the top 25 residential mortgage servicers and 14 of the top 25 subprime loan servicers.
Citing “accelerating demand” for foreclosure services last year, Fidelity generated operating income of $443 million in its lender processing unit, a 13.3 percent increase over 2006. By contrast, the increase from 2005 to 2006 was just 1 percent. The firm is not associated with Fidelity Investments.
Law firms representing lenders are also big beneficiaries of the foreclosure surge.
These include Barrett Burke Wilson Castle Daffin & Frappier, a 38-lawyer firm in Houston;
McCalla, Raymer, Padrick, Cobb, Nichols & Clark, a 37-member firm in Atlanta that is a designated counsel to Fannie Mae;
and the Shapiro Attorneys Network, a nationwide group of 24 firms.
While these private firms do not disclose their revenues, Wesley W. Steen, chief bankruptcy judge for the Southern District of Texas, recently estimated that Barrett Burke generated between $9.7 million and $11.6 million a year in its practice.
Another judge estimated last year that the firm generated $125,000 every two weeks — or $3.3 million a year — filing motions that start the process of seizing borrowers’ homes.
Court records from 2007 indicate that McCalla, Raymer generated $10.4 million a year on its work for Countrywide alone. In 2005, some McCalla, Raymer employees left the firm and created MR Default Services, an entity that provides foreclosure services; it is now called Prommis Solutions.
For years, consumer lawyers say, bankruptcy courts routinely approved these firms’ claims and fees. Now, as the foreclosure tsunami threatens millions of families, the firms’ practices are coming under scrutiny.
And none too soon, consumer lawyers say, because most foreclosures are uncontested by borrowers, who generally rely on what the lender or its representative says is owed, including hefty fees assessed during the foreclosure process. In Georgia, for example, a borrower can watch his home go up for auction on the courthouse steps after just 40 days in foreclosure, leaving relatively little chance to question fees that his lender has levied.
A recent analysis of 1,733 foreclosures across the country by Katherine M. Porter, associate professor of law at the University of Iowa, showed that questionable fees were added to borrowers’ bills in almost half the loans.
Specific cases inching through the courts support the notion that figures supplied by lenders are often incorrect. Lawyers representing clients who have filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, the program intended to help them keep their homes, say it is especially distressing when these numbers are used to evict borrowers.
“If the debtor wants accurate information in a bankruptcy case on her mortgage, she has got to work hard to find that out,” said Howard D. Rothbloom, a lawyer in Marietta, Georgia, who represents borrowers. That work, usually done by a lawyer, is costly.
Mr. Rothbloom represents the Atchleys, who almost lost their home in early 2006 when legal representatives of their loan servicer, Countrywide, incorrectly told the court that the Atchleys were 60 days delinquent in Chapter 13 plan payments two times over four months. Borrowers can lose their homes if they fail to make such payments.
After the Atchleys supplied proof that they had made their payments on both occasions, Countrywide withdrew its motions to begin foreclosure.
But the company also levied $2,793 in fees on the Atchleys’ loan that it did not explain, court documents said. “Every paycheck went to what they said we owed,” Robin Atchley said. “And every statement we got, the payoff was $179,000 and it never went down. I really think they took advantage of us.”
The Atchleys, who have four children, sold the house and now rent. Mrs. Atchley said they lost more than $23,000 in equity in the home because of fees levied by Countrywide.
The United States Trustee sued Countrywide last month in the Atchley case, saying its pattern of conduct was an abuse of the bankruptcy system. Countrywide said that it could not comment on pending litigation and that privacy concerns prevented it from discussing specific borrowers.
A generation ago, home foreclosures were a local business, lawyers say. If a borrower got into trouble, the lender who made the loan was often a nearby bank that held on to the mortgage. That bank would hire a local lawyer to try to work with the borrower; foreclosure proceedings were a last resort.
Now foreclosures are farmed out to third-party processors who hire local counsel to litigate.
Lenders negotiate flat-fee arrangements to try to keep legal bills down.
An unfortunate result, according to several judges, is a drive to increase revenue by filing more motions. Jeff Bohm, a bankruptcy judge in Texas who oversaw a case between William Allen Parsley, a borrower in Willis, Tex., and legal representatives for Countrywide, said the flat-fee structure “has fostered a corrosive ‘assembly line’ culture of practicing law.”
Both McCalla, Raymer and Barrett Burke represented Countrywide in the matter.
Gee Aldridge, managing partner at McCalla, Raymer, called the Parsley case unique. “It is the goal of every single one of my clients to do whatever they can do to keep borrowers in their homes,” he said. Officials at Barrett Burke did not return phone calls seeking comment.
In a statement, Countrywide said it recognized the importance of the efficient functioning of the bankruptcy system. It said that servicing loans for borrowers in bankruptcy was complex, but that it had improved its procedures, hired new employees and was “aggressively exploring additional technology solutions to ensure that we are servicing loans in a manner consistent with applicable guidelines and policies.”
The September 2006 issue of “The Summit”, an in-house promotional publication of Fidelity National Foreclosure Solutions, another unit of Fidelity, trumpeted the efficiency of its 18-member “document execution team.” Set up “like a production line,” the publication said, the team executes 1,000 documents a day, on average.
Other judges are cracking down on some foreclosure practices. In 2006, Morris Stern, the federal bankruptcy judge overseeing a matter involving Jenny Rivera, a borrower in Lodi, N.J., issued a $125,000 sanction against the Shapiro & Diaz firm, which is a part of the Shapiro Attorneys Network.
The judge found that Shapiro & Diaz had filed 250 motions seeking permission to seize homes using pre-signed certifications of default executed by an employee who had not worked at the firm for more than a year.
In testimony before the judge, a Shapiro & Diaz employee said that the firm used the pre-signed documents beginning in 2000 and that they were attached to “95 percent” of the firm’s motions seeking permission to seize a borrower’s home.
Individuals making such filings are supposed to attest to their accuracy. Judge Stern called Shapiro & Diaz’s use of these documents “the blithe implementation of a renegade practice.” Nelson Diaz, a partner at the firm, did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Butler & Hosch, a law firm in Orlando, Fla., that is employed by Fannie Mae, has also been the subject of penalties. Last year, a judge sanctioned the firm $33,500 for filing 67 faulty motions to remove borrowers from their homes. A spokesman for the firm declined to comment.
Barrett Burke in Texas has come under intense scrutiny by bankruptcy judges.
Overseeing a case last year involving James Patrick Allen, a homeowner in Victoria, Tex., Judge Steen examined the firm’s conduct in eight other foreclosure cases and found problems in all of them. In five of the matters, documents show, the firm used inaccurate information about defaults or failed to attach proper documentation when it moved to seize borrowers’ homes.
Judge Steen imposed $75,000 in sanctions against Barrett Burke for a pattern of errors in the Allen case.
A former Barrett Burke lawyer, who requested anonymity to avoid possible retaliation from the firm, said, “They’re trying to find a fine line between providing efficient, less costly service to the mortgage companies” and not harming the borrower.
Both he and another former lawyer at the firm said Barrett Burke relied heavily on paralegals and other nonlawyer employees in its foreclosure and bankruptcy practices.
For example, they said, paralegals prepared documents to be filed in bankruptcy court, demanding that the court authorize foreclosure on a borrower’s home.
Lawyers were supposed to review the documents before they were filed. Both former Barrett lawyers said that with at least 1,000 filings a month, it was hard to keep up with the volume.
This factory-line approach to litigation was one reason he decided to leave the firm, the first lawyer said.
“I had questions,” he added, “about whether doing things efficiently was worth whatever the cost was to the consumer.”
James R. and Tracy A. Edwards, who are now living in New Mexico, say they have had problems with questionable fees charged by Countrywide and actions by Barrett Burke.
In one month in 2002, when the couple lived in Houston, Countrywide Home Loans withdrew three monthly mortgage payments from their bank account, Mrs. Edwards said, leaving them unable to pay other bills. The family filed for bankruptcy to try to keep their home, cars and other assets.
Filings in the bankruptcy case of the Edwards family show that on at least three occasions, Countrywide’s lawyers at Barrett Burke filed motions contending that the borrowers had fallen behind. The firm subsequently withdrew the motions.
“They kept saying we owed tons and tons of fees on the house,” Mrs. Edwards said.
Tired of this battle, the family gave up the Houston house and moved to one in Rio Rancho, N.M., that they had previously rented out.
Countrywide tried to foreclose on that house, too, contending that Mr. and Mrs. Edwards were behind in their payments.
Again, Mrs. Edwards said, the culprit was a raft of fees that Countrywide had never told them about — and that were related to their Texas home. Mrs. Edwards says that she and her husband plan to sue Countrywide to block foreclosure on their New Mexico home.
Pamela L. Stewart, president of the Houston Association of Debtor Attorneys, said she has become skeptical of lenders’ claims of fees owed. “I want to see documents that back up where these numbers are coming from,” Ms. Stewart said. “To me, they’re pulled out of the air.”
An inaccurate mortgage payment history supplied by Ameriquest, a mortgage lender that is now defunct, was central to a case last year in federal bankruptcy court in Massachusetts.
“Ameriquest is simply unable or unwilling to conform its accounting practices to what is required under the bankruptcy code,” Judge Rosenthal wrote. He awarded the borrower $250,000 in emotional-distress damages and $500,000 in punitive damages.
Fidelity National Information Services has also been sued. A complaint filed on behalf of Ernest and Mattie Harris in federal bankruptcy court in Houston contends that Fidelity receives kickbacks from the lawyers it works with on foreclosure matters.
The case shines some light on the complex relationships between lenders and default servicers and the law firms that represent them.
The Harrises’ loan servicer is Saxon Mortgage Services, a Morgan Stanley unit (sold to Ocwen in 2011), which signed an agreement with Fidelity National Foreclosure Solutions. Under it, Fidelity was to provide foreclosure and bankruptcy services on loans serviced by Saxon, as well as to manage lawyers acting on Saxon’s behalf. The agreement also specified that Saxon would pay the fees of the lawyers managed by Fidelity.
But Fidelity also struck a second agreement, with an outside law firm, Mann & Stevens in Houston, which spelled out the fees Fidelity was to be paid each time the law firm made filings in a case. Mann & Stevens, which did respond to phone calls, represented Saxon in the Harrises’ bankruptcy proceedings.
According to the complaint, Mann & Stevens billed Saxon $200 for filing an objection to the borrowers’ plan to emerge from bankruptcy. Saxon paid the $200 fee, then charged that amount to the Harrises, according to the complaint. But Mann & Stevens kept only $150, paying the remaining $50 to Fidelity, the complaint said.
This arrangement constitutes improper fee-sharing, the Harrises argued. Texas rules of professional conduct bar fee-sharing between lawyers and nonlawyers because that could motivate them to raise prices — and the Harrises argue that this is why the law firm charged $200 instead of $150.
And under these rules, sharing fees with someone who is not a lawyer creates a risk that the financial relationship could affect the judgment of the lawyer, whose duty is to the client. Few exceptions are permitted — like sharing court-awarded fees with a nonprofit organization or keeping a retirement plan for nonlawyer employees of a law firm.
“If it’s fee-sharing, and if it doesn’t fall into those categories, it sounds wrong,” said Michael S. Frisch, adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University.
Greg Whitworth, president of loan portfolio solutions at Fidelity, defended the arrangement, saying it was not unusual for a company to have an intermediary manage outside law firms on its behalf.
The Harrises contend that the bankruptcy-related fees charged by the law firms managed by Fidelity “are inflated by 25 to 50 percent.” The agreement between Fidelity and the law firm is also hidden, according to their complaint, so a presiding judge sees only the lender and the law firm, not the middleman.
Fidelity said the money it received from the law firm was not a kickback, but payments for services, just as a law firm would pay a copying service to duplicate documents.
In response to the complaint, Fidelity asserted in a court filing that the Harrises’ claims were “nothing more than scandalous, hollow rhetoric.”
But the Fidelity fee schedule shows a charge for each action taken by the law firm, not a fee per page or kilobyte. And Fidelity’s contract appears to indemnify Saxon if the arrangement between Fidelity and its law firm runs afoul of conduct rules.
Mr. Whitworth of Fidelity said that the arrangement with Mann & Stevens did not constitute fee sharing, because Fidelity was to be paid by that law firm even if the law firm itself was not paid.
He also said that by helping a servicer manage dozens or even hundreds of law firms, Fidelity lowered the cost of foreclosure or bankruptcy proceedings, to the benefit of the law firm, the servicer and the borrower. “Both parties want us to be in the middle here,” Mr. Whitworth said, referring to law firms and mortgage servicing companies.
The Fidelity contract attached to the complaint also hints at the money each motion generates. Foreclosures earn lawyers fees of $500 or more under the contract; evictions generate about $300. Those fees aren’t enormous if they require a substantial amount of time. But a few thousand such motions a month, executed by lawyers’ employees, translates into many hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue to the law firm — and the lower the firm’s costs, the greater the profits.
“Congress needs to enact a national foreclosure bill that sets a uniform procedure in every state that provides adequate notice, due process and transparency about fees and charges,” said O. Max Gardner III, a consumer lawyer in Shelby, North Carolina. “A lot of this stuff is such a maze of numbers and complex organizational structure most lawyers can’t get through it. For the average consumer, it is mission impossible.”