Mortgage relief legislation clears Senate committees

SACRAMENTO – Senate judiciary and banking committees this week passed legislation by Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland) to immediately help people affected by the mortgage crisis stay in their homes and prevent neighborhoods afflicted with foreclosures from becoming areas of blight.

“We must act in the best interests of Californians and our state’s economy,” Perata said in a written statement. “The mortgage crisis has hit like a tornado, and it’s imperative we do everything we can to prevent this cyclone from devastating more families and their communities.”

North Coast Sen. Patricia Wiggins (D-Santa Rosa) co-authored the bill.

“California is facing a serious threat to our state and local economies as a result of skyrocketing home foreclosure rates,” Wiggins, who represents Lake County in the state Legislature, said in a statement issued by her office. “I am glad to help lead legislative efforts by co-authoring Sen. Perata’s bill. Solving the mortgage crisis is critical not only for affected homeowners but for the well-being of our communities as a whole."

Seven of the nation’s 16 metropolitan areas with the highest rates of foreclosure are in California. Foreclosures are not only painful for the families who are forced from their homes but for the neighborhoods surrounding them that can see vacancies increase, properties fall into disrepair and housing values decline.

Lake County hasn't been untouched by the spike in foreclosures. Foreclosure rates in 2007 nearly doubled over 2006, as Lake County News has reported.

Perata's and Wiggins' measure, Senate Bill 926, requires lenders to meet in person with borrowers to discuss restructuring options. Borrowers must also be provided a list of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)-certified financial counselors to help them sort through their options.

The legislation steps up notice requirements, giving homeowners more advanced warning that a change in their mortgage payments is coming. To help limit the impact of a foreclosure on the surrounding neighborhood, the bill mandates that lenders maintain foreclosed properties or face a $1,000 per day fine.

SB 926 passed the Banking, Finance and Insurance Committee Wednesday and the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. The bill moves next to the Senate Appropriations Committee for consideration.

Key provisions of the bill include:

– Notice to consumers regarding resets: Loan agents must provide borrowers a notice 120, 90 and 45 days prior to a change in mortgage payments due; notices must meet certain criteria; including being in the language the loan was originally negotiated.

– Lender requirements to help borrowers avoid foreclosure: Lender must contact the borrower to provide restructuring options at an in-person meeting before a notice of default can be filed. The lender must also provide the borrower a list of HUD-certified credit counselors available to assist the borrower. The notice of default must include a sworn statement that the lender met with the borrower or tried with due diligence to contact the borrower for an in-person meeting. The notice must also include the terms of the existing loan, including the reset amount and the restructuring options that were offered.

– Notice to property residents that the foreclosure process has begun: Require a party filing a notice of foreclosure sale to also mail a notice to tenants in order to alert them that the property owner is facing foreclosure and that the tenant may lose their ability to live in the house.

– Give tenants additional time to move from a foreclosed property: Increase the current notice required to be given to residential tenants of foreclosed properties to 60 days prior to eviction.

– Require maintenance of foreclosed properties to diminish the impact on the value of the neighboring homes: Failure to maintain a foreclosed property is a nuisance and violators shall be subject to civil fines and penalties of up to $1,000 per day. “Failure to maintain” includes failure to adequately care for the property including but not limited to, permitting excessive foliage growth that diminishes the value of surrounding properties, allowing trespassers or squatters, or permitting mosquito larva to grow in standing water. Fines and penalties collected pursuant to this section shall be directed to local nuisance abatement programs. These provisions shall not preempt stronger local ordinances.

– This is an urgency measure.

– All provisions will sunset on December 31, 2012.

For more information on the crisis and the bill, go to Senator Perata’s Web site, at Visit Wiggins' Web site at