MN AG Asks Mortgage Lenders to Halt Foreclosures

Lori Swanson has asked Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase, Minneapolis-based GMAC Mortgage, and 12 other major lenders to voluntarily stop foreclosures within the state until they can prove that they are following a fair and accurate process.

Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson on Wednesday asked 15 of the country's largest mortgage lenders to voluntarily stop home foreclosures in Minnesota until they demonstrate that they are adhering to the proper legal process.

The group of lenders includes Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase, and Minneapolis-based GMAC Mortgage, Ben Wogsland, a spokesman for the Minnesota Attorney General's office, confirmed Thursday.

The names of the other 12 mortgage lenders and servicers are not being released, Wogsland said, citing the Minnesota Data Privacy Act. The office named three of the lenders because allegations of their wrongdoing have already been widely reported across the United States.

What Swanson aims to ensure is that mortgage firms aren't allowing employees to sign off on foreclosure affidavits without fully reviewing them or verifying that the information within them is accurate. Some firms across the country have been accused of “robo-signing”-or letting individuals sign off on as many as 10,000 affidavits within a month.

“It's not humanly possible” for those individuals to follow the correct process with such a large number of documents, Wogsland said. “As a state, we need to make sure that the process is fair and that there's clarity and accuracy in those documents. We're trying to ensure a fair process.”

Wogsland added that the allegations are not occurring in a vacuum. “The industry we're talking about here has a very spotty track record over the past few years in terms of documentation and verifying information,” he said, adding that lenders are among those responsible for the economic meltdown.

Swanson asked for detailed information from GMAC on September 23 and from Bank of America and J.P. Morgan Chase on Monday, Wogsland said. After hearing from the lenders that it was going to take them some time to gather the requested information, she decided to ask them to halt foreclosures until they can provide it.

Among the information Swanson requested: the number of foreclosures that have been signed off on in Minnesota, the safeguards that are in place to ensure a fair and accurate process, and staffing levels at the firms, Wogsland said.

Should the three identified lenders comply with Swanson's request, those decisions will greatly impact the U.S. housing market. Together, the three lenders account for more than a third of the mortgage servicing market nationwide. The other 12 firms would likely increase that ratio substantially.

As allegations against mortgage lenders have arisen across the country, some of the firms have indicated that their staffing levels are too low, but “that argument doesn't hold water now in year four of the housing crisis,” Wogsland said, adding that there are plenty of unemployed people who they could hire.

According to RealtyTrac, Inc.-which tracks foreclosures across the nation-one in every 670 housing units in Minnesota received a foreclosure filing in August.

Regulators in at least a handful of other states are also in the process of investigating allegations of mortgage lender wrongdoing.