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D.C. Council alters foreclosure law, adds new consumer rights

By Cezary Podkul,

The D.C. Council enacted emergency legislation Tuesday to amend a controversial clause in its foreclosure mediation law that threatened to stall the sale of foreclosed affected homes across the city.

The move came just days after The Washington Post reported that two large title insurers, which account for nearly 80 percent of the D.C. market share, stopped insuring sales of foreclosed homes because of concerns over the law.

The change will make it easier for buyers of foreclosed homes to obtain loans, because title insurance, which protects mortgage lenders from challenges to their rights to a property, is an essential ingredient in the home-buying process. That, in turn, could help stabilize District prices by speeding the sales of homes in the foreclosure pipeline.

“The issue is resolved,” said Roy Kaufmann, a lobbyist for the D.C. Land Title Association, which includes the two insurers, Fidelity National Title Group and First American Title Insurance, which withdrew from the foreclosure market.

Fidelity and First American had argued that the council’s law, which requires lenders to begin mediation with a homeowner before foreclosing on a home, was too broad and posed too much risk for them in insuring foreclosed properties.

To allay their concerns, the council took out a controversial clause, which said that any violation of the law would void a foreclosure sale, and replaced it with specific language endorsed by the D.C. Land Title Association about what constitutes a violation.

“If we can remove that uncertainty in the law, then we should,” said council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), who sponsored the emergency fix. “It’s a tweak,” she added.

The new language also includes some consumer protections, such as giving the borrower the right to sue a lender for fraud.

“It balances the interests of the consumer and the title insurance industry,” said Christopher Weaver, the city’s associate commissioner for banking. He said the District’s Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking is now working on carrying out rules for the amended law, a process he said was made easier by the council’s quick action.

Had the council waited until it returned from its summer recess in September, hundreds of homes stuck in the foreclosure pipeline could have been stalled further, making those properties linger on the market and pushing prices down.

“We were in limbo when the title insurers said they wouldn’t insure,” said Jody Krieger, a foreclosure broker with the auctioneering firm Alex Cooper. The emergency legislation “allows us to move forward,” she added.

© The Washington Post Company