The Foreclosure Defense Group of Occupy Nevada County will hold a rally at Wells Fargo Bank on Wednesday, May 9, to support a local family in their struggle to resist eviction until their federal case against Wells Fargo and US Bank for unlawful foreclosure is resolved.
Billi Vogan and Lee Traupel invested $100,000 to buy their Penn Valley home in 2004. They paid their conventional mortgage for 6 years, but in 2010 their income was reduced and they applied for a loan modification. Thus began a long and convoluted process that resulted in their home being foreclosed last November. The couple currently has a case pending in Federal Court against US Bank and Wells Fargo charging that this was an unlawful foreclosure. Wells Fargo lawyers sought to have the case dismissed, but the federal judge declined to dismiss and found ten of the causes against Wells Fargo to be valid.
In spite of this precedent-setting case, the couple is facing an Unlawful Detainer hearing before a local judge on May 14, after which they and their son could be evicted. Earth Justice Ministries, a local nonprofit, is working with the Occupy group to organize an Interfaith prayer vigil in front of the courthouse at 2 pm. on that day.
The Foreclosure Defense Group is calling on Wells Fargo to negotiate directly with Billi and Lee. They are asking Wells Fargo and US Bank to postpone their eviction and allow them to pay rent at fair-market-value until the federal case is decided. An online petition supporting the family can be signed at http://www.change.org/petitions/us-bank-wells-fargo-let-us-have-our-day-in-court#. A video interview with Billi Vogan explaining their situation is at www.youtube.com/watch?v=6jhSz_8YxlU.
The rally will be held at the Wells Fargo branch at 707 Sutton Way on Wednesday, May 9, at 4 p.m. There will be signs, visual displays, speeches, and songs related to the foreclosure crisis. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 265-5976.
Billi Vogan and Lee Traupel's Story
Penn Valley, California - We bought our home in 2004, saved for years and had $100,000 to invest in our first home. We got a conventional loan with Wells Fargo (WF) and never missed a payment for 6 years. In 2010 my husband's consulting business slowed so much that we knew we needed to try and reduce our mortgage payments if possible. By this time we couldn't qualify for a refinance and had heard that banks were modifying home loans for people in our situation.
When we spoke with WF loan consultants they said that as long as we were current with our mortgage there is no way we would be considered for a loan mod. So, feeling like we were jumping off a cliff, we decided to default on our loan. We gathered the many documents WF requested and faxed in our app. for a loan mod. Six months later, we were still faxing, sending hundreds of docs and being told that, "We don't understand why you are being denied a loan mod., your numbers should make you qualified."
Around this time we heard about a WF loan modification workshop in Sacramento. Being publicized as an opportunity to meet face to face with loan specialists, we jumped on the chance and made an appt. We had all of our documents to substantiate our income and our explanation of hardship, thus allowing us to prove we should be able to get the loan mod we needed. After about 10 minutes the loan specialist said, "I have some bad news, your loan is an MBS, and these "investors" don't participate in loan modifications, I'm sorry, there is not much we can do." Why weren't we told this at the beginning of our application process? Perhaps we would have never gotten so far behind in our payments had we known a loan mod was out of the question for us.
Because of our situation, I immediately knew what it meant to have an MBS loan. The Massachusetts Supreme Court had ruled in favor of a homeowner in January of 2011, US Bank National Trustee v. Ibanez, that the securitization of the loan that took place made it impossible to know who actually had clear title to the house in question. At that point I did more research and discovered our loan was the exact same as the parties for the Massachusetts now famous case, US Bank National and Wells Fargo. At this point we realized that our mortgage had been turned into a stock and it was unclear to us who we were actually supposed to be making mortgage payments to. There is a reason for laws regarding the transfer of title to protect homeowners. The banks in their rush to make money completely trampled the proper procedures for our real estate laws. Time to hire an attorney.
We found an attorney in LA, Deborah Gutierrez, of Proper Law, that specializes in such cases and is very passionate about the wrong doing that these banks have done, not just to homeowners, but their practices have greatly contributed to our whole financial meltdown. There are so many issues that have been discovered about the unscrupulous practices of banks to cover up their misdeeds. Robo signers, anyone? Robo signers are individuals that have no qualifications or correct documentation to sign what they attest to be signing. The reason for this is the banks don't have the proper paperwork to foreclose, so they illegally falsify documents in order to foreclose on people. Our state is a non-judicial state, so the only way to defend your self from wrongful foreclosure is to file a case with the state or federal courts. We filed a lawsuit in March of 2011 in our Superior Court here in Nevada County and also asked for a Temporary Restraining Order to postpone the sale of our house, but the Nevada County Court allowed the foreclosure to go through without reviewing our lawsuit. US Bank National bought our home on the courthouse steps in July of 2011. Our attorney decided we had reason to file our suit in Federal Court, so we decided to file our lawsuit there in August of 2011.
We are now in Federal Court. Our case was heard in November of 2011 and the Federal Court judge ruled that there was cause to move the case forward, he did not dismiss our case as the WF and US Bank National attorneys assumed he would do. The legal council for WF and US Bank were quite surprised. Part of what our case is about is that there are laws and regulations governed by the NY Stock Exchange. Banks did not abide by those laws that govern these investments as stated in the Pooling and Servicing agreements that these MBS are in. I am told by Deborah Gutierrez that our case has made it into cases all over the country, so we are setting precedent in this case.
We are now facing an eviction hearing very soon here in our Superior Court. My husband and I are trying to defend ourselves, as our funds are exhausted and our attorney is only working on our Federal Case. It is very challenging to represent oneself in court without an attorney, and the banks are well aware of this. Most people in these financially challenging times don't have money to hire an attorney. I am told these cases are "rubber stamped" and judges don't usually rule in favor of the defendants. I am convinced that WF and Us Bank illegally foreclosed on our home because they did not follow the law when it came to assigning the deeds, as per their pooling and servicing agreement, and making sure the chain of title was correctly recorded among other illegal practices. What really is aggravating about all this is the way the banks want to make sure we have all our paperwork in perfect order during the loan mod process. In court we were recently fined to pay US Bank attorney fees regarding the eviction case, because we mistakenly did not send the attorneys all the documents they wanted for our upcoming hearing.
The other part of this that is distressing is that these issues are complex and I don't think the courts understand that many of these cases are about much more than deadbeat home owners who don't make their payments. There are many cases throughout our country in which homeowners are having success, but it is an uphill battle.
I would not recommend this battle to anyone, but I will never regret standing up for what I think is right. We feel that we will be forced out of our home shortly, but I know we will be ok. I have learned so much along the way and when I really think about our situation I would still rather be us than them.
Background on the Foreclosure Crisis In Nevada County
By the Foreclosure Defense Group of Occupy Nevada County
The Foreclosure Defense Group of Occupy Nevada County is made up of community members concerned about the high rate of foreclosures in our community. We are learning how to search county records for fraudulent assignments, and our research has revealed many improprieties by banks and loan servicers. We have witnessed many foreclosure auctions held on the steps of the Nevada City Courthouse, and have demonstrated against the seizure of homes by the very banks that caused the foreclosure crisis in the first place. We started a Foreclosure and Eviction Support and Empowerment Group, which meets Wednesdays at the Nevada City United Methodist Church. Community members who are going through foreclosure are now searching us out and we are trying to support them.
According to Realty Trac, over 5,000 homes in Nevada County have been foreclosed since 2008. There are currently 877 Nevada County homes listed for foreclosure.
In addition to the tragedy of personal loss, the foreclosure crisis has devastated Nevada County as a whole. Foreclosures provoke further decline in home prices, resulting in dramatic decreases in property tax revenue and drastic cuts to county jobs and services. Foreclosed homes cause neighborhood blight, crime, and public safety issues.
Estimated costs of the foreclosure crisis to Nevada County, including loss in home values, property tax loss, costs to local government, along with the methods of calculating these costs, can be found at the following website: http://dig.abclocal.go.com/kgo/PDF/Home-Wreckers-Report.pdf
Over the last two years incontrovertible evidence has emerged around the country that the loan servicers of the five largest banks have filed and recorded millions of fraudulent documents to illegally foreclose on homeowners. In February, 2012, San Francisco County Recorder Phil Ting announced that an audit of foreclosure documents in his office revealed that 99% of the sampled foreclosures had "suspicious activities" and 84% had "at least one clear violation of the law." Most of these foreclosures contained more than one class of violation and some had up to six. In almost all cases these violations were related to chain of assignment issues, largely resulting from mortgage securitization, and the inability of foreclosure servicing agencies to demonstrate legal standing to foreclose.
In Nevada County the percentage of foreclosures has been much higher than in San Francisco County (5000 foreclosures in much-smaller Nevada County compared to 12,000 in San Francisco County). A thorough audit by the Nevada County Clerk-Recorder's office would almost certainly reveal a similar proportion of suspicious activities and violations of law.
One problem for California counties, including Nevada County, is that banks are using the MERS (Mortgage Electronic Registry System) to transfer and assign mortgages. MERS is like a opaque "black box" that allows banks to obscure the chain of title on individual properties and avoid County recording fees. This has deprived the Nevada County Clerk Recorder's Office of needed funds and has resulted in a significant reduction of staff. The system makes it very difficult for homeowners (and others) to track the various assignments and to uncover who is the legitimate owner of the loan (to whom they should be making payments). Audits of the MERS system have revealed widespread fraud. While banks require home buyers to be transparent, fill out mounds of paperwork, and pay recording fees, MERS enables the banks themselves to avoid doing so.
In short, there is little or no oversight of the foreclosure process, particularly in non-judicial foreclosure states like California. Our counties and homeowners are suffering the consequences.
There needs to be a state-wide and nation-wide solution to this problem. California Attorney General Kamala Harris is calling for a "Homeowner Bill of Rights," comprised of a series of bills designed to protect homeowners from abusive mortgage practices and to help devastated communities recover from the foreclosure crisis. Among the other provisions in Harris' bills are requirements that lenders prove to homeowners that they have a right to foreclose on a property before doing so.i The legislation she supports is currently stalled in committee due to heavy lobbying by banking interests.ii
Our group has formed an Eviction Response Team, to support foreclosed families or tenants of foreclosed homes on an emergency basis if their rights are not being observed or if they are being harassed. (Yes, it happens here.)
We have formed a Fraud Investigation Team, to explore the extent of fraudulent assignments and other mortgage-related documents in the County Clerk-Recorder's office.
We have also been exploring the legality of the foreclosure auctions taking place on the steps of the County Courthouse. Their courthouse location implies that they are lawful and sanctioned by the County. These auctioneers will not even give their names. According to the California Secretary of State, some of the foreclosing companies they represent are not licensed to do business in the State of California.