Delaware AG files suit against MERS
Delaware Attorney General Joseph R. “Beau” Biden, III has filed suit against the Mortgage Electronic Registration System (MERS) alleging that the company has repeatedly violated the state of Delaware’s Deceptive Trade Practices Act and knowingly obscured information from borrowers as well as provided inaccurate information.
Biden said in a statement, “Since at least the 1600s, real property rights have been a cornerstone of our society. MERS has raised serious questions about who owns what in America. A man or woman’s home is not just his or her largest investment, it’s their castle. Rules matter. A homeowner has the obligation to pay the mortgage on time, and lenders must follow the rules if they are seeking to take away someone’s house through foreclosure. The honor system won’t work.”
The lawsuit claims that MERS continues to intentionally confuse homeowners, investors and various players in the mortgage finance system and has deeply damaged the integrity of land records, causing foreclosure abuses. According to the Delaware Attorney General, the abuses are separated into three categories:
- MERS, through its private mortgage registry, knowingly obscures important information from borrowers and the information that MERS does provide to borrowers is frequently inaccurate. The opacity of MERS’ mortgage registration database makes it difficult for consumers to know of or challenge inaccuracies in the MERS System.
- MERS often acts as an agent without authority from its proper principal. Because the MERS System was both unreliable and frequently inaccurate, MERS often does not know the identity of its proper principal. Where the name of the owner of the mortgage loan recorded in the MERS System does not reflect the true owner, any action MERS takes on behalf of the purported owner is without authority.
- MERS is effectively a “front” organization that has created a systemically important mortgage registry, but fails to properly oversee that registry or enforce its own rules on its members that participate in the registry. Rather than maintaining an adequate staff to provide MERS’ services, MERS operates through a network of over 20,000 deputized non-employee corporate officers who cause MERS to act without any meaningful oversight from anyone who works at MERS.
How MERS came to be
MERS was established by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac just over 15 years ago in conjunction with several major banks as a means to expedite the loan recording process as it used to be done through individual county clerk offices which was slow. “The founders went ahead even though no state laws authorized them to bypass the required filing with clerks,” according to Reuters.
Testimony was uncovered from 2009 where MERS employees noted they “did little but maintain the computer database” and that “For a $25 fee, employees of any of the 3,000 loan servicers that belonged to MERS could get themselves designated as a MERS “vice president” or “assistant secretary,” authorized to sign official documents on behalf of MERS.”
The Delaware complaint uses a recent local foreclosure as an example in which MERS foreclosed on a loan in which it had no interest and without naming the real party in the interest, and the entity upon whose behalf MERS was seeking foreclosure had dissolved many months prior. MERS’ own records did show numerous transfers in and out of MERS but those transfers were not reflected in the county records despite MERS’ own rules to report. This single record revealed “inaccurate records associated with this mortgage are not an isolated instance of bad record keeping by MERS,” says Biden’s office in a statement.
The Delaware AG specifies that MERS violated Delaware’s Deceptive Trade Practices Act in the following ways:
- Hiding the true mortgage owner and removing that information from the public land records.
- Creating a systemically important, yet inherently unreliable, mortgage database that created confusion and inappropriate assignments and foreclosures of mortgages.
- Operating MERS through its members’ employees, who MERS confusingly appoints as its corporate officers so that such employees may act on MERS’ behalf.
- Failing to ensure the proper transfer of mortgage loan documentation to the securitization trusts, which may have resulted in the failure of securitizations to own the loans upon which they claimed to foreclose.
- Assigning and foreclosing upon mortgages for which MERS did not possess authority to act because the mortgage loan was never properly transferred.
- Initiating foreclosures in the name of MERS without authority to do so or without appropriate controls to ensure the actions were being carried out by the actual owner of the mortgage.
- Allowing the entry and management of data by those MERS members who are identified as owners or servicers in the MERS System, instead of controlling entry and management itself.
- Initiating foreclosure actions in which the real party in interest was hidden, thus preventing homeowners from ascertaining who owned their mortgage in order to challenge whether or not they had a right to foreclose and limiting their legal defenses.
- Purporting to act as an agent without knowing the identity of its principal and therefore if it acted within the scope of its agency or not.
- Encouraging reliance on the MERS System when MERS knew the system was unreliable and by allowing its members to cause MERS to act beyond the scope of its authority in reliance on such unreliable data.
- Taking instructions from entities who, despite being listed as note holders in the MERS system, were not the proper principals to cause MERS to act under MERS’ rules.
- Assigning mortgages without authority to do so where MERS purports to act for the wrong entity or where the requisite signature of a MERS signing officer is not actually executed by that officer.
We anticipate that Texas, Ohio and Delaware are just the first three in a long line of entities that will line up to sue MERS, despite its being associated with government-run agencies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. A recent study claims MERS has destroyed the chain of title, made ownership of over half of all mortgages unclear, and ultimately hurt homeownership and housing, so it is highly likely that more Attorneys General are preparing their own cases against MERS.
Is the real estate industry endorsing Carson’s nomination to HUD?
(BUSINESS NEWS) Ben Carson’s initial appointment to HUD was controversial given his lack of experience in housing, but what is the pulse now?
NAR strongly backs Dr. Carson’s nomination
When President-Elect Donald Trump put forth Dr. Ben Carson’s name as the nominee for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, NAR President William E. Brown said, “While we’ve made great strides in recent years, far more can be done to put the dream of homeownership in reach for more Americans.”
At the time of nomination, the National Association of Realtors (the largest trade organization in the nation) offered a positive tone regarding Dr. Carson and said the industry looks forward to working with him. But does that hold true today?
The confirmation hearings yesterday were far less controversial than one would expect, especially in light of how many initially reacted to his nomination. Given his lack of experience in housing, questions seemed to often center around protecting the LGBT community and veterans, both of which he pledged to support.
In fact, Dr. Carson said the Fair Housing Act is “one of the best pieces of legislation we’ve ever had in this country,” promising to issue a “world-class plan” for housing upon his confirmation…
Job openings hit 14-year high, signaling economic improvement
The volume of job openings is improving, but not across all industries. The overall economy is improving, but not evenly across all career paths.
Job openings hit a high point
To understand the overall business climate, the U.S. Labor Department studies employment, today releasing data specific to job vacancies. According to the department’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLT) for April, job openings rose to 5.38 million, the highest seen since December 2000, and a significant jump from March’s 5.11 million vacancies. Although a lagging indicator, it shows strength in the labor market.
The Labor Department reports that the number of hires in April fell to 5 million, which indicates a weak point in the strong report, and although the volume remains near recent highs, this indicates a talent gap and highlights the number of people who have left the labor market and given up on looking for a job.
Good news, bad news, depending on your profession
That said, another recent Department report notes that employers added 221,000 jobs in April and 280,000 in May, but the additions are not evenly spread across industries. Construction jobs rose in April, but dipped in professional and business services, hospitality, trade, and transportation utilities. In other words, white collar jobs are down, blue collar jobs are up, which is good or bad news depending on your profession.
Additionally, the volume of people quitting their jobs was 2.7 million in April compared to the seven-year high of 2.8 million in March. Economists follow this number as a metric for gauging employee confidence in finding their next job.
If you’re in the market for a job, there are an increasing number of openings, so your chance of getting hired is improving, but there is a caveat – not all industries are enjoying improvement.
If you’re hiring talent, you’ll still get endless resumes, but there appears to be a growing talent gap for non-labor jobs, so you’re not alone in struggling to find the right candidate.
Economists suspect the jobs market will continue to improve as a whole, but this data does not pertain to every industry.
Gas prices are down, so are gas taxes about to go up?
Do low gas prices mean higher gas taxes are on the way? Budgeting for 2015 just got a bit more complicated, if some politicians have their way.
Gas taxes and your bottom line
Many industries rely heavily on time in their vehicle, not just truck drivers and delivery trucks. Sales professionals hop in their vehicles throughout the day, as do many other types of professionals (service providers like plumbers, and so forth). For that reason, gas prices and taxes are a relevant line item that must be budgeted for 2015, but with politicians making the rounds to push for higher gas taxes, budgeting becomes more complicated.
Gas prices are down roughly 50 cents per gallon compared to a year ago, which some analysts say have contributed to more money in consumers’ pockets. Some believe that this will improve holiday sales, but others believe the timing is just right to increase federal taxes on gas. The current tax on gas is 18.40 cents per gallon, and on diesel are 24.40 cents per gallon.
Supporters and opponents are polar opposites
Supporters argue as follows: gas prices are low, so it won’t hurt to increase federal gas taxes, in fact, those funds must go toward improving our infrastructure, which in the long run, saves Americans money because smoother roads mean better gas mileage and less congestion.
Gas taxes have long been a polarizing concept, and despite lowered gas prices, the controversial nature of the taxes have not diminished.
While some are pushing for complete abolition of federal gas taxes, others, like former Pennsylvania Governor, Ed Rendell (D) tell CNBC, “Say that cost the average driver $130 a year. They would get a return on that investment” in safer roads and increased quality of life, he added.
The Washington Post‘s Chris Mooney points out that federal gas taxes have been “stuck” at 18 cents for over 20 years, last raised when gas was barely a dollar a gallon and that the tax must increase not only to improve the infrastructure, but to “green” our behavior, and help our nation find tax reform compromise.
Is a gas tax politically plausible?
Mooney writes, “So, this is not an argument that a gas tax raise is politically plausible — any more than a economically efficient tax on carbon would be. It’s merely a suggestion that — ignoring politics — it might be a pretty good idea.”
Rendell noted, “The World Economic Forum, 10 years ago, rated us the best infrastructure in the world,” adding that we “need to do something for our infrastructure, not in a one or two year period, but over a decade.”
Others would note that this rating has not crumbled in just a few years, that despite many bridges and roads in need of repair, our infrastructure is still superior to even the most civilized nations.
Regardless of the reasons, most believe that Congress won’t touch this issue with a ten-foot pole, especially leading up to another Presidential campaign season starting next year.
“I think it’s too toxic and continues to be too toxic,” Steve LaTourette (the former Republican congressman best known for his close friendship with his fellow Ohioan, Speaker John Boehner) tells The Atlantic. “I see no political will to get this done.”
Whether the time is fortuitous or not, and regardless of the positive side effects, many point to a fear of voters’ retaliation against any politician siding with a gas hike, so this matter going any further than the proposal stage is unlikely.
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