By Kathleen Haughney, Tallahassee Bureau
8:26 p.m. EST, February 7, 2013
TALLAHASSEE — An attempt to speed up foreclosures in Florida sparked outcry from both consumer advocates and bankers at a meeting in Tallahassee on Thursday.
Lawmakers passed a measure that would attempt to hasten the foreclosure process, which now takes 853 days on average, by making a number of changes to the civil procedures governing the law.
The proposal, HB 87, would give lenders only one year — instead of the current five — to pursue a judgment against the homeowner if the sale of the foreclosed home didn't make up what was still owed on the loan. It would also require lenders to have all paperwork, such as loan notes, ready when they file a foreclosure complaint.
"We start with the complaint," said state Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, the bill's sponsor. "It's got to be done right. We're telling the lenders, don't bother filing the complaint unless you've got it right. You've got all the cards there so the courts can look at it."
Passidomo's proposal also tries to remedy a thorny legal issue where the bank that brings the foreclosure action isn't the true holder of the mortgage note, but the house is eventually foreclosed on and sold to a new owner. In that case, the issue must be settled between the banks, and not the person who has bought the new home.
"This ability to pursue the lender for whatever mistakes they've made is a really good deal for the borrower," Passidomo said.
But neither consumer advocates nor lenders seemed completely satisfied with Passidomo's proposal.
Several lawyers and consumer advocates voiced concerns that some of the changes could result in cases being rammed through the court system without borrowers understanding the whole process. Some say the bill would allow a foreclosure hearing to occur as soon as 45 days.
Roy Oppenheim, a Weston-based foreclosure defense lawyer, said Passidomo is "hellbent" on getting the bill passed into law.
"There is a cost, and that's the due-process rights of property owners in the state of Florida," Oppenheim said.
Sunrise real estate lawyer Gary Singer said a bill to quicken the foreclosure process is no longer necessary. "I think this would have been a great idea in 2009," he said.
Janet Varnell, a lawyer who has taken on foreclosure cases for free, said the foreclosure system can be complicated for homeowners and that the 45 days could pass quickly without homeowners even having a lawyer.
Attorneys have become almost essential to untangle some of these cases and not all are willing to take them because of potential expense and time.
"There's zero incentive for lawyers to help people with meritorious defenses," she said.
On the flip side, bankers say that certain provisions are unfair to their business. Anthony DiMarco, a lobbyist for the Florida Bankers Association, called the provision to reduce the number of years banks can pursue a judgment "draconian," but said that the group was continuing to meet with Passidomo in hopes of a compromise.
DiMarco said the group wants at least two years to pursue those judgments.
The bill passed the House Civil Justice Subcommittee by a 10-3 vote.
Staff Writer Paul Owers contributed to this report.
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