Maryland’s Foreclosure Mediation Law Takes Effect
Maryland homeowners at risk of foreclosure now have the legal right to request court-supervised mediation with their lender, according to a new law, signed in May, that took effect Thursday. The new law requires lenders notifying homeowners about possible foreclosure to also provide information about loan modification programs such as the federal Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). Servicers must give homeowners a 45-day notice of “intent to foreclose” before initiating the process. During the 45-day period, the servicer must look into loss mitigation options. It must also file a court affidavit stating a reason for any denial of such programs. Homeowners who disagree with the affidavit now have a right to court-supervised mediation by paying $50, according to the new law. Lenders pay $300 for the mediation. “It gives borrowers the information they need at an early stage, and gives every Maryland family the right to have access to their lenders when they feel they are unfairly denied a loan modification or other mitigation option,” Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley said, after signing the legislation this spring. “This legislation will help keep more Marylanders in the homes they worked hard to purchase.” But the Center for American Progress, a pro-mediation think tank that came out with a report evaluating mediation programs nationwide earlier this week, has criticized the new law for its short time frame for requesting a mediation. At the point that loss mitigation is denied, the homeowner only has a 15-day window to request mediation and just 30 days before a foreclosure can potentially occur, the center said in its report. “We find Maryland’s timetables troubling. As an initial matter, homeowners need more than 15 days to digest, complete and return a request for foreclosure mediation, particularly when faced with the simultaneous, imminent need to secure housing if mediation does not yield a settlement. Second, and perhaps more important, pushing foreclosure mediation to the very end of the foreclosure process may very well hobble the effort. By then, a servicer is an inch away from a foreclosure sale and will have little incentive to deal," the report said. Nationally, foreclosure filing rates are on the decline. But Maryland ranked 10th nationally for the most monthly foreclosure filings in May, according toRealtyTrac, which tracks foreclosure data nationwide. There were 5,852 total foreclosures in Maryland in May, skyrocketing 65 percent from the year-ago period. Of those, 932 were REOs, 2,325 were Notices of Trustee sales and 2,595 were lis pendens, or lawsuits pending in the foreclosure courts. One in every 398 properties in Maryland received a foreclosure filing notice in May, according to RealtyTrac data. Write to Kerry Curry.