New York State AG settles with Baum
New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman has announced an $4 million settlement to go to the state for penalties, costs and fees for the foreclosure abuses at Pillar Processing LLC, Steven J. Baum PC, Steven J. Baum and Brian Kumiega. The funds will go toward assisting homeowners victimized by predatory lending practices or who are up against foreclosure.
As part of the agreement, Baum and Kumiega agreed to not represent lenders or servicers in new foreclosure-related cases for at least two years. The Baum Firm was one of the largest foreclosure mills in the state until the company closed their doors at the end of 2011.
“The Baum Firm cut corners in order to maximize the number of its foreclosure filings and its profits,” said Schneiderman. “This settlement demonstrates that my office will not allow New York homeowners to face the drastic consequence of foreclosure based upon inaccurate documents filed in court. Foreclosure law firms must ensure that their client has the authority to sue and is the rightful holder or assignee of the note and the mortgage before filing cases.”
The investigation found the Baum Firm to have filed foreclosures without verifying the accuracy of cases or whether or not the plaintiff even owned the title, getting the company in hot water, particularly as whistleblower Susan Chana Lask came forward via YouTube. The AG reports an assembly line wherein non-attorneys prepared complaints without adequate attorney supervision, then the complaints were notarized without verification and signed without the notary being present. Investigators found that attorneys routinely signed complaint verifications claiming they had verified the complaints, but they had not, leading to illegal foreclosures.
Why the Baum Firm was a target
The Baum Firm has been the subject of widespread criticism and has been under investigation for nearly a year by the New York AG. They are the subject of several class-action lawsuits. State and federal courts have found cases brought by the firm frequently contained errors, especially regarding the plaintiff’s right to file foreclosure.
Last fall, a former employee of the firm leaked photos of the company’s 2010 Halloween party wherein the offices were transformed into shanty towns to mock the people that were foreclosed upon and now homeless, and employees dressed as dirty homeless people with misspelled signs mocking their excuses given before being evicted. After being leaked, the company apologized for their poorly themed party.
Around the same time, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac severed ties with the Baum Firm, announcing that mortgage servicers could no longer use the firm to handle foreclosures. Baum himself very publicly pointed the blame not at their practices or even Fannie and Freddie, but at the New York Times columnist that shared the photos of the distasteful party. “Mr. Nocera,” Baum wrote in a letter, “You have destroyed everything and everyone related to Steven J. Baum PC. It took 40 years to build this firm and three weeks to tear down.”
The $4 million agreement with the AG is not likely the last for the Baum Firm, as the founders are being sued directly from various angles, despite the company already shutting down.
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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