Some say foreclosure bill threatens homeowner rights

Feb 16, 2012

Florida lawmakers are working to pick the state’s sinking housing market back up. One proposal to do that would speed up the judicial process of foreclosures, but Regan McCarthy reports some worry a move like that could strip homeowners of their rights.

Florida was hit hard by the recent 2007-2008 real estate collapse. Since then, the state’s housing market has struggled to bounce back. Some say the reason for that is the state’s slow moving foreclosure process and high rate of foreclosures as the number of foreclosure related cases in the state continues to rise. Representative Kathleen Passidomo, a Republican from Naples, says she has a proposal that could help with the process.

“This bill gives the courts and the parties to a foreclosure action the tools they need to expedite the judicial proceeding, while at the same time guaranteeing the due process rights of all parties.”

But Representative Darren Soto, a Democrat from Orlando, disagrees with Passidomo on her last point. Soto says he worries the measure would “strip homeowners of their rights” in an attempt to speed the process up.

“We need to protect people’s rights and we need to protect people’s rights, and we need to have substantial resources, it is not about changing policy to make it easier. It is about making sure that we have a fair system that will move these cases through efficiently but effectively, so that if you have a claim, if you have a defense, you can be heard so that if it is one of those cases where people are looking to move on then we need to be able to do that in an efficient manner, but not in any way that’s going to trample people’s rights.”

And Representative Franklin Sands, a Democrat from Sunrise says he has similar concerns.

“For me it’s a very, very simple issue…to have people move on or move back in. So many people are out of their homes in Florida and these are very hard working people no question about it.”

Soto says his biggest worry relates to the measure’s provision that specifies how officials will determine whether a property has been abandoned. The proposal spells out certain time frames during which officials must check to see if someone is home, but Soto says just because person is not there during those hours doesn’t mean that person has abandoned their home.

“There are often times when people have to work 2 or three jobs. They’re not at home all the time so it may look like there’s an abandoned property.”

Soto says he thinks law enforcement ought to be responsible for identifying whether a property is abandoned. Representative Evan Jenne, a Democrat from Fort Lauderdale echoed Soto’s concern during a committee hearing on the bill earlier this month. He says often the reason those people might not be home is because they’re fighting to keep their house.

“Folks that are finding themselves in this situation, the ones that are trying to work their way out of it, may be working two, three jobs. I have a lot of folks in my community that quite frankly wouldn’t be home in this time frame because they’re trying to keep the roof over their head.”

But Passidomo says the provision would only apply to homes that are clearly abandoned.

“We’re talking about abandoned homes, if there’s nobody home. The doors are barred, the windows are broken out, as we see it in neighborhoods, there’s allege in the pools and grow houses in there, that’s what these provisions refer to.”

Soto does praise the fact that the bill would reduce the statute of limitations for foreclosure debt from five to two years. The measure is waiting to be heard in its final committee stop in the House. A similar measure has not yet been heard in the Senate.