Battle continues over fast-track foreclosure bill despite lawmaker blessing



Florida’s fast-track foreclosure bill may have gotten the blessing of state lawmakers, but supporters and opponents are still doing battle, hoping to sway Gov. Rick Scott to let the plan become law or veto it all together.

An urgent message sent Monday by the statewide Community Advocacy Network, which supports the plan, presses members to tell Scott they back the foreclosure bill and hints it has inside information that a veto is imminent.

The proposal, HB 87, is the first substantive foreclosure legislation passed by both chambers since the housing crash.

“The emails calling for a veto of this bill continue to flow into the governor’s office and from what we’ve heard the possibility of HB 87 being vetoed is great,” wrote attorney Donna DiMaggio Berger, executive director of the Community Advocacy Network, which represents community associations. “While there is much to like about this bill even from a debtor’s standpoint, the mortgage defense attorneys have presumably decided that lengthier bank foreclosures are better for them.”

The bill, which was approved by the Senate on the final day of the 2013 legislative session after skipping its last committee stop, has yet to make it to the governor. After he receives it, he has 15 days to veto it, sign it, or let it pass into law without his signature.

Calls and emails to the governor’s office have largely been in support of the bill. As of Tuesday, nearly 400 people had expressed their hope the bill will become law, while 226 have said they oppose it.

At the same time, a petition signed by more than 1,000 people on moveon.org is in favor of a veto.

Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, who asked Scott to veto the legislation last week, said he has not heard from the governor’s office.

Foreclosure defense attorneys, who formed the Florida Consumer Justice Advocates to fight the bill, said it tramples on due process rights and could violate the state constitution.

“It encroaches on the power of the judiciary to vacate judgments,” said Greg Clark, a Clearwater defense and title attorney.

Matt Weidner, a St. Petersburg defense attorney, said if the bill becomes law the Florida Consumer Justice Advocates may hire the attorneys who successfully challenged Florida’s Personal Injury Protection law to fight the foreclosure bill.

DiMaggio Berger argues that there are constitutional issues with many laws that the state has been living with for “years and years.”

She said the good in the bill, including allowing community associations to push banks to foreclose faster, outweighs the bad. Condominium owners suffer when foreclosures linger because they don’t get association dues from those units. Often, members have to make up for the loss of those payments with special assessments or increases in their own dues.

John Damstra, treasurer of the Uno Lago No. 7 Condominium Association in Juno Beach, hasn’t received a payment from one of the 20 units in his complex since July 2008. The bank filed foreclosure papers against the unit in 2009, dismissed the case for an unknown reason in 2010, then refiled last year.

The delay has cost his community an estimated $30,000 in lost payments and legal fees, he said.

“The attorneys for the bank will not answer emails, phone calls, letters, anything,” Damstra said. “The bank is holding us hostage.”

Foreclosure defense attorneys say they are in favor of finding ways to expedite uncontested foreclosure cases, but don’t think the pending bill is the right way to do it.

“Putting defended cases into the mix for expedited processing results is a denial of due process,” said Royal Palm Beach attorney Tom Ice in response to recommendations on how to hasten the state’s foreclosure system.



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