I published a short article in the California Real Property Law Reporter, Sloppy, Sloppy, Sloppy: The State of the Mortgage Market, as part of a broader discussion of Foreclosures Following Problematic Securitizations. The other contributors were Roger Bernhardt, who organized the discussion, as well as Dale Whitman, Steven Bender, April Charney and Joseph Forte. My article opens,
Much of the discussion about the recent California Supreme Court case Yvanova v New Century Mortgage Corp. (2016) 62 C4th 919 has focused on the scope of the Court’s narrow holding, “a borrower who has suffered a nonjudicial foreclosure [in California] does not lack standing to sue for wrongful foreclosure based on an allegedly void assignment merely because he or she was in default on the loan and was not a party to the challenged assignment.” 62 C4th at 924. This is an important question, no doubt, but I want to spend a little time contemplating the types of sloppy behavior at issue in the case and what consequences should result from that behavior.
Sloppy Practices All Over
The lender in Yvanova was the infamous New Century Mortgage Corporation, once the second-largest subprime lender in the nation. New Century was so infamous that it even had a cameo role in the recently released movie, The Big Short, in which its 2007 bankruptcy filing marked the turning point in the market’s understanding of the fundamentally diseased condition of the subprime market.
New Century was infamous for its “brazen” behavior. The Final Report of the National Commission on the Causes of the Financial and Economic Crisis in the United States (Jan. 2011) (Report) labeled it so because of its aggressive origination practices. See Report at page 186. It noted that New Century “ignored early warnings that its own loan quality was deteriorating and stripped power from two risk-control departments that had noted the evidence.” Report at p 157. And it quotes a former New Century fraud specialist as saying, “[t]he definition of a good loan changed from ‘one that pays’ to ‘one that could be sold.” Report at p 105.
This type of brazen behavior was endemic throughout the mortgage industry during the subprime boom in the early 2000s. As Brad Borden and I have documented, Wall Street firms flagrantly disregarded the real estate mortgage investment conduit (REMIC) rules and regulations that must be complied with to receive favorable tax treatment for a mortgage-backed security, although the IRS has let them dodge this particular bullet. Borden & Reiss, REMIC Tax Enforcement as Financial-Market Regulator, 16 U Penn J Bus L 663 (Spring 2014).
The sloppy practices were not limited to the origination of mortgages. They were prevalent in the servicing of them as well. The National Mortgage Settlement entered into in February 2012, by 49 states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government, on the one hand, and the country’s five largest mortgage servicers, on the other, provided for over $50 billion in relief for distressed borrowers and in payments to the government entities. While this settlement was a significant hit for the industry, industry sloppy practices were not ended by it. For information about the Settlement, see Joint State-Federal National Mortgage Servicing Settlements and the State of California Department of Justice, Office of the Attorney General, Mortgage Settlements: Homeowners.
As the subprime crisis devolved into the foreclosure crisis, we have seen those sloppy practices have persisted through the lifecycle of the subprime mortgage, with case after case revealing horrifically awful behavior on the part of lenders and servicers in foreclosure proceedings. I have written about many of these Kafka-esque cases on REFinBlog.com. One typical case describes how borrowers have “been through hell” in dealing with their mortgage servicer. U.S. Bank v Sawyer (2014) 95 A3d 608, 612 n5. Another typical case found that a servicer committed the tort of outrage because its “conduct, if proven, is beyond the bounds of decency and utterly intolerable in our community.” Lucero v Cenlar, FSB (WD Wash 2014) 2014 WL 4925489, *7. And Yvanova alleges more of the same.