Rejected Homeowners Fight Banks for Loan Mods

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More and more U.S. homeowners who were rejected for permanent loan modification programs — despite fulfilling the lender’s obligations — are fighting back. Increasingly, that means taking their cases to court — but there’s a question as to whether they stand a good chance of winning.

There are plenty of candidates for a lawsuit, if the numbers are any indication. According to the federal government, approximately 122,000 borrowers had their trial mortgage loan modifications canceled in April, a total of 277,640 rejections since the program launched in 2009. Using the April figures as a baseline, only 68,000 homeowners were granted permanent loan modifications that month.

The disparity in approvals versus non-approvals may be a big reason why more rejected HAMP applicants are headed to court. USA Today cites the case of Anthony and April Soper, a Lake Stevens, Wash.-based couple who own a home with a loan from Bank of America (Stock Quote: BAC). The couple fell behind on their home loans and managed to snag a temporary home loan modification deal from the bank.

Normally under temporary home loan modifications, if the homeowner abides by the terms of the deal, and makes the required payments, they’re usually granted “permanent” loan modification status.

But that wasn’t the case with the Sopers. Even though they made the monthly $1,826 mortgage payment (down from $4,000) that was required by Bank of America, they didn’t get that permanent loan modification deal. Soon after, the couple found themselves $8,000 in arrears under the old mortgage terms and saw their credit score drop by 100 points.

The Sopers decided to do what a growing number of struggling homeowners are doing: sue their mortgage lender for breaking the contracts on their loan mod deals. They’re joining a class action against Bank of America is a Nashville, Tenn., courtroom this month. Similar class actions suits have already been filed against JPMorgan Chase (Stock Quote: JPM) and Wells Fargo (Stock Quote: WFC).

The lawsuits state that those three-month and four-month trial modification programs are “contracts” – a label the banks reject. Banks acknowledge they must legally review a homeowner’s loan modification request, but they’re not obligated to grant a permanent loan modification deal as a result.

There is some legal precedent for homeowners not being entitled to protection under the Home Affordability Mortgage Program (HAMP). In a class action case in a Minnesota state court in 2009 (Williams v. Geithner), the judge ruled against homeowners seeking redress from their negative HAMP loan modification experiences.

According to the courtroom report, the judge concluded that loan modifications were not a right for homeowners, and that lenders did have “discretion” in granting loan modifications.

“Plaintiffs do not have a legitimate claim of entitlement to a loan modification,” said the court on page 14 of the ruling. “Thus, the HAMP does not provide Plaintiffs with a ‘protected property interest.”

That shouldn’t stop loan modification applicants who are rejected from fighting back. As lawsuits against big mortgage lenders like Bank of America wind their way through the court system, surely more disgruntled homeowners will decide to make their case in court, too.

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