The backlog of foreclosure cases in Florida’s courts dropped below 300,000 in August for the first time since November 2008, but the milestone may be fleeting.
Although judges have been working overtime with added personnel and resources to clear their dockets, the rate of purged cases statewide has been only slightly higher than averages measured during the 2012-2013 fiscal year.
It’s more likely that the dip to 299,055 cases was largely the result of a new foreclosure law enacted July 1 that has stalled new filings and given the judiciary a chance to catch up.
The courts cleared 41,547 cases in July and August with only 11,431 new foreclosures added to the system — 4,386 in July and 7,045 in August. Last year, on average, 15,434 new foreclosures were filed each month.
Palm Beach County’s foreclosure backlog stood at 25,697 in August, a 22 percent decrease from about the same time in 2012.
“This is an artificial number,” said Tampa-area foreclosure defense attorney Matt Weidner about the reduced backlog. “It does not reflect the number of properties in default or the fact that the banks reduced their filings because they can’t comply with basic requirements of litigation.”
Under the new law, banks must have specific documents when they file a foreclosure case. It’s a change that has required a revamp of their procedures.
The Office of the State Courts Administrator released its August foreclosure report Monday. Florida’s estimating conference group still predicts that 427,800 additional foreclosures will be filed statewide between 2014 and 2018.
About $21 million became available July 1 to hire additional case managers, magistrates and senior judges and to increase the use of technology to streamline Florida’s protracted foreclosure process.
The money is a portion of the state’s share of the $25 billion National Mortgage Settlement.
“The courts are really ramping up the processing of existing foreclosure cases,” said Wellington foreclosure defense attorney Malcolm Harrison. “Files that have been dormant for years are now being worked actively.”
In August, Florida’s courts cleared 20,984 cases, about 1,300 more than the monthly average last year.
“I hope the numbers continue to go down but it’s subject to a lot of uncertainties,” said Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Richard Oftedal, who oversees the foreclosure division. “I’ve been led to believe the recent drop is temporary.”
Weidner said cases would move faster if judges didn’t have to spend so much time hearing procedural foreclosure pleadings, such as sale cancellations or changes in attorneys, instead of issuing final judgments.
“It’s like the judges are walking in on the remains of a drunken frat party every morning,” Weidner said.
Pending foreclousre cases as of Aug. 31
Palm Beach County, 25,97
Broward County, 36,040
Miami-Dade County, 31,978
Indian River, Martin and St. Lucie counties, 9,358
By Kimberly Miller