A new form of bank fraud is sweeping the land.
Zombie Foreclosures: Borrowers Stuck With Debts That Won't Die
Borrowers are discovering that their foreclosed homes are coming back to haunt them, long after they have moved out.
In these "zombie foreclosures," borrowers move out after their bank schedules a foreclosure auction only to learn months or years later that the auction never took place or the bank never transferred the deed. That means the borrower still technically owns the house and is on the hook for property taxes, fees and homeowners' association dues.
Since the housing bubble burst seven years ago, almost two million properties have started but never completed the foreclosure process, according to RealtyTrac. While no one knows the exact number, it's estimated that tens of thousands could be zombie foreclosures.
Many of these homes are in low-income communities where foreclosures are so difficult to sell that lenders sometimes delay taking possession to save on taxes and other costs that then stay under the borrower's name. Those debts can then go unpaid for years because the borrower is unaware they owe them, further slamming their credit score and making life after foreclosure even harder.
Bill Purdy, a real estate attorney in Soquel, Calif., said borrowers can't always trust lenders to file foreclosure paperwork properly. In November 2011, when his client Christopher Warner's Felton, Calif., home was auctioned off, his mortgage debt was fully extinguished -- standard practice based on California law.
Warner's lender, however, recorded $120,000 on its books as debt -- the difference between what he owed and what the house sold for -- and gave it to a collection agency.
In a $25 billion settlement with the state attorneys general last spring, the nation's five largest mortgage lenders agreed to inform borrowers of any decision to forgo or delay a foreclosure. But victim's attorneys said the banks have not been careful about following that policy.