California homeowners have filed a class action lawsuit against Bank of America claiming the lending giant is intentionally withholding government funds intended to save homeowners from foreclosure, announced the firm of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro. The case, filed in United States District Court in Northern California, claims that Bank of America systematically slows or thwarts California homeowners' access to Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds by ignoring homeowners' requests to make reasonable mortgage adjustments or other alternative solutions that would prevent homes from being foreclosed.
"We intend to show that Bank of America is acting contrary to the intent and spirit of the TARP program, and is doing so out of financial self interest," said Steve Berman, managing partner of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro.
Bank of America accepted $25 billion in government bailout money financed by taxpayer dollars earmarked to help struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure. One in eight mortgages in the United State is currently in foreclosure or default. Bank of America, like other TARP-funded financial institutions, is obligated to offer alternatives to foreclosure and permanently reduce mortgage payments for eligible borrowers struck by financial hardship but, according to the lawsuits, hasn't lived up to its obligation.
According to the U.S. Treasury Department, Bank of America services more than one million mortgages that qualify for financial relief, but have granted only 12,761 of them permanent modification. Furthermore, California has one of the highest foreclosure rates in the nation for 2009 with 632,573 properties currently pending foreclosure, according to the California lawsuit.
"We contend that Bank of America has made an affirmative decision to slow the loan modification process for reasons that are solely in the bank's financial interests," Berman said.
The complaints note that part of Bank of America's income is based on loans it services for other investors, fees that will drop as loan modifications are approved. The complaints also note that Bank of America would need to repurchase loans it services but has sold to other investors before it could make modifications, a cumbersome process. According to the TARP regulations, banks must gather information from the homeowner, and offer a revised three-month payment plan for the borrower. If the homeowner makes all three payments under the trial plan, and provides the necessary documentation, the lender must offer a permanent modification.
Named plaintiffs and California residents Suzanne and Greg Bayramian were forced to foreclose their home after several failed attempts to make new arrangements with Bank of America that would reduce their monthly loan payments. According to the California complaint, Bank of America deferred Bayramian's mortgage payments for three months but failed to tell them that they would not qualify for a loan modification until 12 consecutive payments. Months later, Bank of America came back to the Bayramian family and said would arrange for a loan modification under the TARP home loan program but never followed through. The bank also refused to cooperate to a short-sale agreement saying they would go after Bayramian for the outstanding amount.
"Bank of America came up with every excuse to defer the Bayramian family from a home loan modification which forced them into foreclosure," said Berman. "And we know from our investigation this isn't an isolated incident."
The lawsuits charge that Bank of America intentionally postpones homeowners' requests to modify mortgages, depriving borrowers of federal bailout funds that could save them from foreclosure. The bank ends up reaping the financial benefits provided by taxpayer dollars financing TARP-funds and also collects higher fees and interest rates associated with stressed home loans.
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