Dismissals May Cloud Foreclosure Picture

Florida remains near the top in the country in foreclosure filings. A recent report released by Florida's Office of the State Court's Administrator (OSCA) showing a marked decrease in its backlog of court foreclosure cases does not mean that the crisis is easing.

South Florida experienced a drop of 8.9 percent in its foreclosure case load in the final three months of 2010, while Miami-Dade and Broward Counties saw a drop of 44.2 percent from the last quarter in the disposition of foreclosure cases. None, however, were dismissed via trial, and 62 percent were dismissed without prejudice, meaning that the lenders who brought the cases can and may refile them. Additionally, about half as many foreclosures were disposed of in state courts as in the previous quarter.

Orlando had the ninth-highest foreclosure filing rate in the country in 2010, although its filings were down 14 percent from 2009 but up 31 percent from 2008. Home sales increased in Orlando in 2010, a good sign of possible recovery, though the foreclosure rate is still five to 10 times higher than normal in this market.

The slowdown in foreclosure disposition is attributed to the legal chaos lenders and banks faced following the robo-signing scandal. The public learned that thousands of mortgage and foreclosure documents were invalid and had been signed en masse by workers hired by the lenders for that very purpose. Banks were unable to prove in court that they owned many of the mortgages upon which they were foreclosing.

After courts began dismissing foreclosure proceedings due to lack of adequate documentation, the attorneys general in all 50 states took action to investigate the foreclosure scandal. Banks imposed a moratorium on foreclosures to give homeowners in jeopardy of losing their houses some relief.

Keep Your Home

By filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, a debtor may be able to keep his or her home. The debtor, however, would still be obligated to make regular monthly payments as well as make current during the repayment period any payments overdue.

Legislation has been proposed to allow bankruptcy judges to modify the terms of a mortgage and even to reduce the loan's principal. Until changes to the Bankruptcy Code are implemented or lenders take a serious look at modifying loans on their own, the rate of foreclosure filings could soon see a surge.