ST. PETERSBURG — J. Thomas Wood is showing just how tough it can for a lender to foreclose, even on a homeowner who hasn't made a payment in more than three years.
In 2006, when his condo in Bayway Isles was valued at $261,000, Wood refinanced for $180,000. It didn't seem to matter to Countryside Home Loans that he was in bankruptcy at the time.
"I wondered why they'd give us a loan in the first place," said Wood, a retired art teacher.
Now, investors in the package of mortgages that included Wood's want the condo. Wood has kept the foreclosure at bay with several challenges right out of the "stay in your home" playbook. He argues that:
• He wasn't told he was getting an adjustable rate loan when he refinanced, even though he defaulted on the payments before the rate rose.
• He wasn't appropriately notified of the foreclosure lawsuit. The bill from the process server says the first attempt was made the day before the case was filed. The process server also indicated the home was unoccupied — though Wood was living there — and that it was a mobile home, instead of a sixth-floor condo unit.
• It's unclear who owns his loan. An admitted Bank of America robo-signer put her signature on the document that assigned Wood's mortgage from MERS, the mortgage industry's electronic database, to Bank of New York, trustee for the investors. All Wood knows for sure is that he got the loan from Countrywide, that Countrywide was acquired by Bank of America in 2008 and that Bank of America is supposed to be collecting his payments.
"It bothers me that I can't go into the bank and discuss it with them," said Wood, who made his last mortgage payment in August 2007.
In the daisy-chain of modern mortgage financing, the Bank of America branch on the corner doesn't communicate with Bank of America's mortgage servicer in Plano, Texas which is supposedly carrying out the orders of investors represented by a trustee at the Bank of New York through a law firm in Tampa.
The upshot: With so many parties involved, an easy resolution is impossible when the borrower defaults. Cases drag on in the court. And savvy homeowners can use the confusion to their advantage, living rent-free.
In December, Wood attended court-ordered mediation, but the parties were unable to agree on a loan modification. With fees and charges, he now owes $228,745 and counting.
The next move: Wood's lawyer will challenge the court's routine use of retired judges to handle the backlog of foreclosure cases, saying to do so violates his client's constitutional rights.