New Website to Help Widowed Homeowners

A new website, launched in California, will help widowed and widower homeowners who are trying to work with their mortgage servicers after the death of their loved one who was the only person listed on the mortgage.

The website, www.survivorbillofrights.org, also explains how a new state bill in California will help widows, widowers, heirs, and other heirs as they navigate trying to work with their mortgage servicers after the death of a loved one.

SB 1150, The Homeowner Survivor Bill of Rights, was introduced by Senators Mark Leno and Cathleen Galgiani. Senator Leno explained in a press release:

“Grieving family members who have the financial ability to remain in their homes following a loved one’s death shouldn’t have to face the added stress of a lender’s red tape,” said Senator Leno, D-San Francisco. “Widowed spouses are being consumed by a labyrinth of processes in an attempt to assume or modify existing home loans after the primary mortgage holder passes away. This has led to preventable foreclosures and worsened the suffering of families already thrown in personal crises.”

California led the nation in providing foreclosure protections for homeowners with enactment of the Homeowners’ Bill of Rights (HBOR).  HBOR requires a single point of contact (SPOC) at a servicer and prohibits so-called “dual-tracking,” a practice where lenders foreclose on a home while the owners are simultaneously seeking a loan modification. Shockingly, mortgage servicers have argued that surviving family members who are not named on the mortgage are not protected by HBOR.

The new website, www.survivorbillofrights.org includes a number of real stories of impacted widows, widowers, and other heirs.

Survivors report that lenders are refusing to communicate with them or fail to provide factual information about loan details and foreclosure avoidance programs. As a result, many families have endured unnecessary foreclosures- so called “red-tape foreclosures,” called that because servicer red tape is pushing people in foreclosure.

Housing counselors and attorneys in California report the majority of their clients who are surviving homeowners have faced difficulties working with their mortgage servicers and faced foreclosure as a result.

“After the death of my husband, it took me two stress-filled years and help from an attorney to keep our family home,” said Blanche Robles, a homeowner in Madera. “It was clear that my mortgage servicers were confused about the process for somebody in my situation, and helping me was not a priority. Even worse, after two years of working with Chase, I had to restart the process with a new servicer when my mortgage was suddenly transferred. I’m glad something is being done to protect families like mine.”

SB 1150 is sponsored by the California Alliance for Retired Americans, Housing and Economic Rights Advocates and California Reinvestment Coalition. It is also supported by a number of leading California nonprofits, including:

  • California Association of Retired Americans (co-sponsor)
  • Housing and Economic Rights Advocates (co-sponsor)
  • California Reinvestment Coalition (co-sponsor)
  • AIDS Legal Referral Panel
  • Capital Impact Partners
  • Consumer Federation of California
  • CRLA Foundation
  • Institute on Aging
  • Justice in Aging
  • National Center for Lesbian Rights
  • Nehemiah Corp
  • Public Counsel
  • Neighborhood Housing Services of LA County
  • Public Law Center
  • Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center
  • United Domestic Workers of America, AFSCME Local 3930, AFL-CIO
  • Western Center on Law and Poverty

In the past three years, attorneys from Housing and Economic Rights Advocates (HERA) have helped nearly 50 people caught in this predicament,” explains Maeve Elise Brown, executive director of HERA. “While we’ve helped them, we know many more are falling through cracks because they don’t have access to a lawyer.”

“The status quo cannot continue,” comments Kevin Stein, associate director at the California Reinvestment Coalition. “SB 1150 is a common-sense solution that would make a world of difference for families who are already going through a tough time and shouldn’t have to hear from their mortgage servicers that they need to have an authorization signed by their deceased spouse.”

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