“Innovative” city suits against foreclosing lenders

by Walter Olson on May 14, 2008

City governments, sometimes in league with private counsel working on contingency fee, “have started suing banks and mortgage companies to recoup their costs” on such services as “fire departments, police, code enforcement or even demolition” in blighted neighborhoods. “The lawsuits were filed in recent months under different theories, in state and federal court. Cleveland and Buffalo filed suits under public nuisance laws. Minneapolis’ suit was brought on consumer fraud grounds, while Baltimore took the unusual approach of filing suit in federal court under alleged Fair Housing Act violations.” Bank of New York says it was included in Buffalo’s suit against 39 lenders even though it neither originated nor purchased loans, but merely acted as trustee. (Julie Kay, “Empty Homes Spur Cities’ Suits”, National Law Journal, May 9).

{ 1 comment }

1 Todd Rogers 05.14.08 at 11:39 pm

In a previous life I was a code enforcer here in the midwest. Let me offer that while I am absolutely in favor of strong and limited government, mortgage lenders in our city are in no hurry to do anything to any blighted homes. Homes would become uninhabited for a number of reasons. The bank would take possession, and within a week or two the dwelling would begin to show blight. Though it was beyond the scope of my duties, I would call the REO departments and politely remind them of their responsibilities and the impact such homes have on the surrounding communities. Not until they received a summons and the cost of defense exceeded lawn service or boarding contractors, for example, would they take any action. It is so common that enforcers develop a sense of apathy. This was prior to the current “Housing Crisis” as Brian Williams calls it. So the collective inventory that banks had to manage was minute in comparison. Sadly, even the VA backed homes were treated as such. VA REO homes are typically managed by a private third party (usually a bank REO department – no names) but I can assure you, even in these cases, blight begins in about two weeks. Take my advice kids. If a house in your neighborhood goes empty, don’t just watch the grass grow and the newspapers collect. Take it upon yourselves to police the property. The banks are not in the business of property management…neither is the city. This article is nothing new and not necessarily a bad thing. I’m all for businesses making a generous profit. But the banks have no concern at all for their assets’ impact on their surroundings. And it costs the tax payers a lot of money, time, and lost property value when said banks try to sweep their vacant REOs under the rug until a flipper or rehabber will take it off their hands.

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