Thursday, January 27, 2011

Money may derail Foreclosure Mediation in Washington

I don't know about you, but I used ride trains everywhere.  Of course, not in the US because our mass transit sucks, but in Japan.  Trains are cool, they are powerful, can transport enormous amounts of people and goods, and if you have a Japanese conductor, they are efficient.  The only problem is that they ride on a rail, permanently attached to the ground and if the train ever leaves that rail, well, buckle-up buttercup, cause you will be needing a personal injury attorney.

Yesterday, I attended the House and Senate hearings on the new legislation which is termed Foreclosure Mediation.  The previous posts went into detail on the legal ramifications of the bills (HB 1362 and SB 5275) and I continue to support them.  However, yesterday's Senate Hearing which was Chaired by Senator Steve Hobbs chimed an unfortunate reality, money.

Senator Hobbs pointed out that the fiscal note (link here) that this bill would cost WA taxpayers $3.3 million to implement.  Well, that said, there are some enormous issues with that number, and there is alternative financing that should make the impact to the general budget a net of zero. First of all, the fiscal note assumes that WA will see 40,000 foreclosures next year.  The number is likely accurate, or accurate enough for an estimate as the baseline that the industry experts were throwing out yesterday was somewhere in the vicinity of 30,000 and a recent Realty Track estimate had it at 50,000.  Both numbers are skewed by faulty data because they look at different measures such as the number of notices of default that are filed.  Well, in my practice I have forced one bank to file three notices of default on my one client because the bank is an abject screw up.

The second issue with the foreclosure number is that it includes all foreclosures.  Foreclosure impacts every type of property, whether it is bare land, commercial, industrial, investment, or residential owner-occupied.  The bill only targets the properties that are owner occupied.  So there will only be a percentage of the foreclosures that even qualify for the the program. Since only a percentage qualifies, the expenditures should be quite a bit lower because the government will not be looking at the entire cost for 40,000 foreclosures.

The last issue is that there is a funding mechanism of a $30 surcharge being attached to each notice of default filed with the state.  This fee alone should pay for the project, but that is not all.  Each mediation will cost $400, to be split by the parties.  To enhance the overall effectiveness, a lobby from coalition of 20 mediation clinics in the state said that they were already equipped to handle the mediation and have alternate funding sources already accounted for in the State budgets.  Thus no additional cost.

There was some testimony that County Auditors believe that this $30 fee is not a recording fee, but in actuality a tax which is not properly apportioned, can anyone say Health Care Reform?  This is a valid point which will likely be litigated at some point, but I believe the fee is limited in scope and in actuality is a fee.  I am sure that some Big Law lackey will take up the put-upon bank's sob story and dog and pony show it in front of the court but I believe it is a losing argument.

So the action item from this post, is let Senator Hobbs know that the budget office got it wrong, that the bill is right and good, and don't let tactical delay from the big banks derail good legislation.

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