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Column: Homeowners getting relief from settlement

Just as my office was on the front lines of negotiating the historic $25 billion national mortgage settlement with the country's five largest banks, we are also on the front lines of ensuring the banks' compliance with the agreement.

A few days ago, the settlement's independent national monitor announced that the banks have reported that more than 111,000 Floridians have benefited from more than $9 billion in relief, an amount that exceeds the $8.4 billion in relief anticipated when we entered the settlement.

The settlement not only provides homeowners with significant monetary relief, but it also aims to reform mortgage servicing standards and to ameliorate the effects of the foreclosure crisis. To that end, my office has worked diligently to assist homeowners by working directly with the banks on behalf of homeowners and by communicating regularly with the national monitor to ensure that all provisions of the settlement agreement are enforced.

In addition to our work on behalf of individual homeowners, Florida is one of 14 states on the settlement's Monitoring Committee, which partners with the national monitor to verify the banks' overall compliance with the settlement agreement.

As part of my office's effort to help homeowners, we created an analyst position whose sole charge is to assist Floridians seeking relief under the settlement. The analyst, in conjunction with our dedicated staff attorneys, serves as a liaison between the homeowners and the banks, working directly with the banks on behalf of the homeowners to assist them in obtaining the information or relief they are requesting.

If the analyst identifies a potential violation of the settlement terms, we ensure that the national monitor receives this information. The national monitor is charged under the consent judgment with determining whether the banks are in compliance with the servicing standards and the monetary relief provisions of the settlement.

In order to gain more insight into how the implementation of the settlement is working in Florida, this March I invited the national monitor, Joseph Smith, to come to Tampa for a roundtable discussion with legal aid attorneys and housing counselors who are assisting homeowners in distress or foreclosure. Florida is one of only six states to hold these information-gathering meetings with the national monitor, and the feedback we received in this meeting was extremely valuable.

The meeting participants informed us that there had been significant improvements by the banks in receiving and tracking customer information submitted in response to loss mitigation efforts and a marked improvement in general communications relating to servicing standards. But we also learned that more improvement is needed by the banks in managing cases once they are referred to foreclosure, and we are continuing to work with our Florida partners and the banks to resolve specific complaints and identify patterns of conduct by the banks that need to be addressed.

While we continue to make every effort to help homeowners who contact our office and to reach out to those who assist homeowners through counseling and legal aid, I encourage anyone who has a concern regarding the national settlement agreement to contact my office at 1-866-9-NO-SCAM or MyFloridaLegal.com.

To ensure that Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase, Citi and Ally/GMAC comply with all terms of the settlement agreement, we need to hear from Floridians. If you believe that you qualify under the settlement with the five big banks and have had difficulty obtaining the prompt relief contemplated by the settlement, please contact my office. I am fully committed to holding these banks accountable.

Pam Bondi is Florida's attorney general. She wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.

Column: Homeowners getting relief from settlement 05/25/13 [Last modified: Friday, May 24, 2013 1:57pm]

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