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Banks violate $25B mortgage settlement

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By The Washington Post
Wednesday, June 19, 2013, 9:03 p.m.

WASHINGTON — A new study confirms allegations made by state prosecutors that some of the nation's biggest banks are violating the terms of the $25 billion national mortgage settlement, the landmark agreement to clean up shoddy foreclosure practices.

The court-appointed monitor of the settlement on Wednesday issued a report saying Citigroup, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase have dragged their feet in processing homeowners' requests for lower monthly loan payments.

These are the same charges being lobbed against the banks by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. The two were among the 49 state attorneys general who teamed with federal agencies to broker the settlement with the top five mortgage servicers last year.

The deal was supposed to ensure that struggling home­owners would not have to endure the same miscommunication, delays and botched paperwork that was commonplace after the housing bust. But, according the monitor, it seems some things haven't changed.

Four out of five banks failed at least one of the 29 metrics the monitor used to measure their compliance with the 304 servicing standards outlined in the settlement.

The report “affirms that the pattern of violations by Wells Fargo that my office documented in New York is harming homeowners nationwide,” said Schneiderman, who threatened to sue Wells Fargo and Bank of America in May over the violations. “These flagrant violations put homeowners in New York and across the nation at greater risk of foreclosure.”

The most common problem found among the servicers, in particular at Citigroup, Bank of America and Wells Fargo, was failure to notify homeowners of any missing documents in their modification requests within five days of receipt, according to the settlement monitor, Joseph A. Smith Jr. Citigroup and Bank of America were also cited for providing inaccurate information in letters they must send to borrowers before beginning a foreclosure.

“Progress is being made in a number of areas, but other harmful practices endure,” said Shaun Donovan, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, during a call with reporters. “It is time for the banks to live up to their end of the deal . . . if they don't, we'll explore all options to remedy this situation from fining them to hauling them back into court.”

Servicers who fail to comply with the standards must put in place a plan approved by the monitor to correct the problem. If the problem reoccurs within six months, the monitor can take legal action and seek fines of up to $5 million.

“We have some more work to do, but we're better off today than we were a year ago,” Smith said. “A lot of the metrics were passed. The process has gotten better.”

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