Courts in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and elsewhere have repeated this phrase quite a bit since the mortgage crisis began in 2009. Distressed homeowners burdened by mortgages that had become unaffordable complained of unfair lending practices, both inside and outside of bankruptcy court. While not unsympathetic to their plight, most judges were very reluctant to grant legal relief, absent extraordinary circumstances. However, all the stars aligned for two Madison homeowners in Washington v. Specialized Loan Services and The Bank of New York – Mellon (In Re Washington). What happened in this case, and what does it mean for your family?
In 2007, the Washingtons purchased a three-family home on Walnut Street. They failed to make the installment payment due on July 1, 2007, and their 30-year adjustable rate mortgage loan has been in default ever since then. The bank accelerated the note in May and filed a foreclosure complaint in December 2007. These dates become very important later.
A provision in the Fair Foreclosure Act of 2009 places a six-year statute of limitations on a mortgage foreclosure proceeding. In other words, the bank has six years from the date of filing to either take the property or formally reinstate the loan.
Probably because the case slipped through the cracks, the court dismissed the foreclosure action because the bank did not pursue the action, and its six years expired in December 2013. The bank tried to argue that a thirty year statute of limitations applied, but the court was unconvinced.
After “gargl[ing] to remove the lingering bad taste,” Bankruptcy Judge Michael Kaplan ruled that the statute of limitations had expired and that the mortgage was void. The Washingtons are also immune from a deficiency judgment or any other action on the note. Hello, free house.
The ruling only applies when the statute of limitations has expired prior to the commencement of a foreclosure case. Such instances are quite rare, but not unheard of. The same thing happened in Texas in 2001!
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