New foreclosures plummeted 72 percent statewide in the month after the enactment of Florida’s notorious fast-track foreclosure law while the number of cleared cases increased minimally.
In the first statewide report since the law went into effect July 1, court administrators found just 4,386 new foreclosures were filed against Florida homeowners in July, down from a monthly average of 15,434 recorded the previous year.
The Office of the State Courts, which released the report late Friday, also measured 20,552 cleared cases among Florida’s 20 circuit courts, less than a 5 percent increase from the average. Florida’s foreclosure backlog stands at about 313,005 cases, down 17 percent from June 2012.
Bank representatives said July’s massive drop off in new filings is just a matter of mortgage servicers and their lawyers getting up to speed on the new law _ the first substantive foreclosure legislation to pass in Florida since the housing crash.
But foreclosure defense attorneys who raged against the bill arguing it would hasten repossessions while sacrificing homeowner rights, now believe the law poses fundamental problems for banks and will have to be amended for some foreclosures to move forward.
“This was sold to our judges and the public as a cure all that was going to help clear the docket,” said Matt Weidner, a St. Petersburg foreclosure defense attorney who helped lead opposition to the bill. “We were ready to appeal the bill, and then said, ‘Wow, wait a minute, this is going to be a lot worse for them than us.’”
Clues that new filings were on the decline came weeks ago when individual clerks of court released their monthly foreclosure numbers. The Palm Beach County clerk found that lenders filed to foreclose on just 387 homes in July, a 61 percent decrease from June and a drop of 68 percent from July of last year.
According to Friday’s statewide report, Broward and Miami-Dade counties saw decreases of 71 percent and 79 percent, respectively, when measured against the monthly average of the 2013 fiscal year. The 19th circuit court, which includes Martin and St. Lucie counties, saw a 64 percent decrease.
Florida’s clerks of court could individually release their August foreclosure numbers this week. RealtyTrac, which measures foreclosures nationwide is scheduled to issue its monthly report Thursday. Defense attorneys said they don’t expect to see a sizeable increase in filings.
“They have to follow the rules that everyone else has had to follow in other courts and they can’t do it,” said Lynn Drysdale, an attorney with Jacksonville Legal Aide who spoke against the bill. “It’s really telling about the nature of the previous foreclosure practices.”
The new law requires banks to have specific paperwork when they file their initial complaint, including proof of loan ownership and that they are the correct party to foreclose. Affidavits are made under the penalty of perjury.
Anthony DiMarco, executive vice president and director of government affairs for the Florida Bankers Association, said the law is too new to judge its effectiveness.
“Anytime there’s something new it will inherently slow things down,” said DiMarco, noting that major lenders reviewed the bill and knew what was in it. “None of us were caught unaware of anything.”
A chief concern of bill opponents was that for the first time, any lien holder, including community associations, are allowed to request a so-called “show cause” order that requires a homeowner to muster a defense more quickly and gives the judge the ability to make a faster ruling.
But so far, Drysdale said she’s seen little evidence that banks or associations are using the request to speed the process. She attributes the small uptick in cleared cases to an internal judicial push to get more foreclosures through the system rather than the new law.
Royal Palm Beach-based attorney Tom Ice agreed.
“Any increase in the clearance rate is due to the dubiously concerted efforts of the courts _ funded with money from the (National Mortgage Settlement) _ to force cases to trial against the wishes of the banks and the homeowners,” he said. “I am one of many who believe that the greatest threat to homeowners’ due process rights is the judiciary, not the legislature.”
By Kimberly Miller