Maryland will receive about $88 million as part of a national settlement with one of the country’s largest mortgage servicers over allegedly questionable foreclosure practices, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler said Thursday.
Maryland is getting a cut of a $2.1 billion national agreement negotiated by state attorneys general, the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Ocwen Financial Corp. and a subsidiary, Ocwen Loan Servicing. In Maryland, Ocwen customers who are facing foreclosure are expected to receive about $85.7 million in principal reductions, and about 2,500 Ocwen borrowers who have been through foreclosure will receive payments of as much as $1,000.
“Thousands more Maryland families will be able to stay in their homes and get relief from challenging financial circumstances as a result of this latest effort to hold mortgage servicing companies accountable for the abuses that led to the foreclosure crisis,” Gansler said in a statement. “Our state was disproportionately impacted by the collapse of the housing market, which is why we worked doubly hard to make sure that the tough new servicing standards will ensure fair treatment for borrowers going forward and prevent future mortgage fraud.”
Ocwen, the nation’s fourth-largest mortgage servicer, specializes in high-risk loans. The state attorneys general and the CFPB allege that the company failed to apply borrowers’ payments to their loans, failed to maintain accurate account statements, charged unauthorized fees and provided false or misleading information to borrowers.
According to state and federal authorities, the company also failed to provide accurate and timely information to borrowers about loan modifications and improperly denied loan-modification relief to eligible borrowers.
The agreement, which awaits final approval by a federal judge, requires Ocwen and two companies acquired by Ocwen — Homeward Residential and Litton Home Servicing — to change their servicing operations. It does not protect Ocwen from criminal prosecution. The company admits no wrongdoing.
Early last year, state attorneys general announced a $25 billion nationwide settlement with five other mortgage servicers over widespread problems with the processing of millions of foreclosures. Joseph A. Smith Jr., the monitor of the national mortgage settlement, will oversee portions of the Ocwen agreement to ensure that the company complies with new mortgage servicing and foreclosure standards, Gansler said.
Mark A. Kaufman, Maryland commissioner of financial regulation, called the settlement with Ocwen “meaningful relief” for distressed homeowners Thursday.
“This settlement, which addresses servicing abuses that were similar in nature to those revealed by the prior reviews of other large servicers, is critical as Ocwen is one of the largest non-bank servicers in the industry,” Kaufman said in a statement.
As of June, more than 27,000 Maryland families have obtained relief under the 2012 settlement, said Gansler, who is also a Democratic candidate for governor.
A significant portion of the money obtained by Maryland in last year’s national settlement went to support housing counselors and legal aid organizations that work with homeowners facing foreclosure. Money also went to fund neighborhood stabilization grants.
Some homeowners and housing advocates have criticized the allocation of the 2012 settlement in Maryland for not applying more money to principal reduction. Marceline White, executive director of the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition, said she was glad that a large portion of the Ocwen settlement is going to that purpose. White was less enthusiastic about the checks going to people whose loans were foreclosed. “The good news is they’re getting $1000,” she said. “It is a recognition they had this loss, some compensation, but it is not anywhere near what they’ve lost.”
Although foreclosure activity has been decreasing nationally and the housing market has resurged in parts of the Washington area, foreclosure activity in Maryland has been increasing as banks work through a backlog of foreclosures. The backlog was created in part by a national moratorium imposed a few years ago as banks sorted through extensive paperwork problems and negotiated the 2012 settlement with state attorneys general. Maryland also has one of the nation’s longest foreclosure processes.
As of the end of September, more than 11,000 homes in Maryland were in some stage of foreclosure, the most recent state data show, an increase of nearly 180 percent from a year earlier.