D.C. homeowners facing foreclosures could soon have longer for mediation and have their rights expanded if they receive defective default notices under a plan city lawmakers are considering.
Consumer advocates, auctioneers and Mayor Vincent Gray's administration are all pressing for changes to the District's foreclosure laws, which were the target of a 2010 overhaul in the wake of the national housing crisis, and a D.C. council member said lawmakers are likely to back the modifications.
"There was some major consensus," said Ward 7 Councilwoman Yvette Alexander, who chairs the legislative panel considering the slate of updates. "This is going to move forward."
The measure lawmakers are pondering, which includes doubling the mediation period to 180 days and giving homeowners who receive defective default notices the same rights as those who receive flawed foreclosure letters, could serve as a springboard for broader changes.
"Although federal regulators have begun to take action to address the foreclosure crisis and the conduct of servicers, the District of Columbia should still be active in assisting borrowers and lenders," Christopher Weaver, an associate commissioner of the District's Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking, said last week.
Weaver suggested that lawmakers consider adding a judicial component to the city's foreclosure process -- currently, foreclosures take place outside the court system -- and strengthening the requirement that parties participate in mediation in good faith.
Those proposals have won the backing of consumer advocates, who warned that a lack of review exposes homeowners to a banking industry with a mixed record of processing foreclosure documents fairly.
"The mediation law provides no clear mechanism for homeowners to seek review," said Jennifer Lavallee, staff attorney with the Legal Aid Society of D.C., in testimony before a council committee. "Even if a lender fails to comply with key mediation requirements, if the mediation administrator nevertheless finds that the parties mediated in good faith, that determination constitutes both the first and final say allowing the lender to foreclose."
Auctioneers who sell foreclosed properties complained to lawmakers that the existing law, which they say has numerous potential pitfalls for banks, has all but frozen their industry.
"D.C. foreclosure sales are now at a standstill," said auctioneer Victoria Goldsten. "Lenders don't want to go forward."
But Lavallee said foreclosures were continuing, just at a lower rate.
"Foreclosure activity has slowed significantly," said Lavalle, who added that lenders have filed about 70 default notices in the last year, down significantly from previous years. "What those numbers reflect is not a broken system, but instead a shift from a framework in which lenders could foreclose in volume and without documentation to one in which they are held accountable for every home they try to take."
Alexander said that with lawmakers due to take a lengthy recess later this month, any changes are months away.