California’s bankers have decided that the state’s homeowners don’t need any bill of rights after all, and state legislators show signs of going along with the banks.
In February, California’s attorney general, Kamala Harris, garnered publicity for packaging several modest foreclosure reform measures together as a homeowners’ bill of rights.
Harris was attempting to get state legislators to permanently outlaw several of the most noxious of the banks’ practices during the foreclosure process, which about a half a million Californians now face.
Among the measures was one that would have outlawed the widespread practice of “double-tracking,” in which banks foreclose on homeowners while they are in the process of working out loan modifications. Another measure would have banned the widespread practice of “robo-signing,” in which the bankers hired low-level employees to sign off on stacks of key foreclosure documents without reading them or verifying their accuracy – a practice which the big bankers have supposedly already agreed to stop as part of a 49-state settlement of foreclosure fraud charges against the biggest banks.
But the settlement apparently only requires the biggest bankers to quit their robo-signing ways for three years; Harris’ proposal would make the ban on robo-signing permanent and apply it to other financial institutions not covered by the settlement.
Other parts of the “bill of rights” package would have imposed a $25 fee on banks when they file a default and required banks to establish a single point of contact for homeowners seeking a loan modification.
Harris, a close ally of President Obama, has even been touted as a possible choice for a U.S. Supreme Court. But she’s been overmatched by the combined forces of the California Bankers’ Association and the California Chamber of Commerce, which has labeled some parts of the package “job killers.” They’ve also spread a lot of cash around the legislature over the past 5 years, more than $33 million, so they’ve got legislators pretty well trained.
It would hardly be the first time that California’s legislators have balked at enacting sensible measures to protect homeowners, as well as taxpayers, from bearing the costs of bankers’ misdeeds during the state’s foreclosure crisis. In recent years, legislators also failed to enact proposals that would have required bankers to mediate with homeowners before foreclosure, and another that would have required banks to post a $20,000 for each foreclosure they file, to cover the costs to communities of abandoned, bank-owned property.
Harris was scheduled to testify before a legislative committee on the bills earlier this week when the head of the committee, Assemblyman Mike Eng, a Democrat, withdrew the bills.
The Sacramento Bee reports that the legislation is now headed for a conference committee made up of legislators from the state Assembly and Senate.
According to the Bee, this is a maneuver to get a vote on the legislation without having to go through Eng’s committee, Assembly Banking and Finance, which is apparently split on it.
If you live in California, now would be a good time to call your legislator and remind them that they don’t work for the bankers and the chamber. They work for you.