David Lowery, president of the Chicago Far South Suburban NAACP, kept seeing the same problem over and over again.
"Our members were coming to us. They were complaining that they hadn't even missed payments and were being foreclosed on," said Lowery. "Some of the people that were being foreclosed on, they didn't even know the company that they owed money to. Once we started looking into the paperwork, we saw so many false signatures, it was shocking."
Enter Illinois House Bill 5665, a new law written by Lowrey and his organization and sponsored by 34th District state Rep. Constance Howard. If passed, it would make foreclosure fraud a felony and allow victims to sue for damages. Lowrey says the bill would level the playing field and allow homeowners to get some justice after an illegal foreclosure.
"We're not allowed to go into the court with false documents. They'd throw you in jail," said Lowrey. "Why are the banks being allowed to bring false documents in and the courts not put them in jail? "
HB5665 would make it a class 4 felony to move forward with a foreclosure if a person knows or has reason to know that a document is forged or groundless, or if somebody signs, notarizes or files such a document. A pattern of making such false representations would be a class 3 felony. The attorney general could file a civil suit against anyone found perpetrating an illegal foreclosure, punishable with a $5,000 fine, and the homeowner could also sue to recover damages.
"This bill will help the homeowners and it will make the judges accountable, to make them look at the paperwork before they make these decisions," said Lowery. "It will help the community, not just the black community, but everyone who has a foreclosure."
But even though HB5665 was approved unanimously in the House Judiciary Committee, it has stalled on the floor. Lowery said an informal vote was taken in the House last week, and it only received 49 of the 60 votes it needed to pass.
Not one Republican member voted for it.
What is the opposition? Lowery says banks and title agencies are lobbying against the bill. The Illinois Bankers Association says on its website that it's opposed to HB5665, but spokewoman Debbie Jemison told The Chicago Reporter she could not currently elaborate on why the organization is against it.
We called Representative Tom Cross, leader of the Republican caucus in the House, to find out why Republicans opposed the bill, but Cross has not yet returned our call.
Lowery says people need to call their state representatives and demand that HB5665 be passed. Without public support, he says, the banking and legal lobby will make sure the bill is defeated.
"These judges know that the banks are practicing illegal foreclosures with false documents," said Lowery. "The banks have deep pockets. They give a lot of money to judges' campaigns. That's why they're looking the other way."
The bill is similar to Nevada's AB284, which took effect October 1 of last year. Lowery notes that just one month after that bill went into effect, foreclosures dropped sharply in the state. Some say that law hasn't stopped foreclosures from happening, just stalled them.
Several notaries who allegedly signed false documents have been charged.
What's the status of HB5665? The House has postponed consideration of the bill, and it hasn't yet been placed on the calendar.
"Citizens need to start calling their state reps, saying we want this bill passed," said Lowry. "If the politicians don't stand behind this bill, they're telling the taxpayers who voted them in that they don't want to help them."
Photo credit: morisius cosmonaut on flickr
© Community Renewal Society 2012