‘Zombie’ Properties Targeted for Civil Action

New York moved closer to civil penalties for owners of abandoned properties, especially targeting large financial institutions that have been less than responsible for how they handle homes subject to foreclosure. This week, a group of 16 mayors endorsed Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman’s Abandoned Property Neighborhood Relief Act, calling on state lawmakers to vote on the proposal.

In a press release, backers of the proposal said it “… would provide critical support to communities that have been plagued by vacant and abandoned properties. Among other measures, the bill would make lenders and banks responsible for delinquent properties soon after they are abandoned – not at the end of a lengthy foreclosure process – and to pay for their upkeep. Banks or their servicers would be required to notify delinquent homeowners of their right to stay in their homes until ordered by a judge.

See the press announcement here: Mayors from 16 Cities Endorse Schneiderman Bill to Address Zombie Properties Across New York State | LongIsland.com

State Sues Feds Over Foreclosure Practices

Even if you think a huge federal agency is breaking state laws, who has the money and experience to sue them? Maybe a state? The Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley is suing the Federal Housing Finance Agency and the mortgage behemoths Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae for violating a 2012 state law aimed at stopping some foreclosures.

In effect, Massachusetts passed a law that allows for the sale of homes in foreclosure to non-profit groups that might restructure the loan and sell the property back to the homeowner. Coakley said Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have continued to block buybacks even though they lose money in the process – the companies are under the supervision of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, or FHFA.

You can read details and some of the arguments at Boston.com here: Massachusetts sues federal agency over housing law

Free Attorneys Suggested For NYC Housing Court

With nearly 30,000 families evicted from their homes in 2013, the nation’s largest city is considering providing free lawyers for resident who can’t afford legal representation. PIX11 TV is reporting that New York City Council members Mark Levine and Vanessa Gibson are pushing for the law with Levine arguing that “.. only 10 percent of tenants who head to housing court have attorneys.”

Residential evictions have become a key issue, along with family law and other “social good” classifications, for advocates of what’s called the “civil Gideon” movement, named after the landmark case that guaranteed representation in criminal cases.

Magazine Details Legal-Access Fee Challenges

THE WEEKEND READ: Legal access for civil issues, like foreclosure or family law issues, is gaining traction as a national issue, and The Atlantic has published “Is There Such a Thing as an Affordable Lawyer,” a detailed look at the fee-system problem. The report notes that a recent law review article said that “… the typical legal services consumer in the U.S. makes approximately $25 per hour, and is priced out of the services lawyers provide even at low attorney rates of $125-$150 an hour.” The the report contrasts those rates as being “… well below the standard rates shown in the 2013 Laffey Matrix—a set of fee guidelines compiled within the U.S. Department of Justice—which start at $245 for a greenhorn associate.”

It’s not exactly light reading, but the story uses both specific stories and academic theories to illustrate why the market is slow in responding to consumer needs. Then it also offers examples of change that might lower the cost of legal representation. A must-read for anyone worried about civil justice rationing: Is There Such a Thing as an Affordable Lawyer.


Courthouses Said ‘Sensitive’ In Immigration

Immigration officials have long avoided active enforcement in areas deemed “sensitive,” like places of worship, public demonstrations or medical facilities. Now advocates want to add the courthouse to that list as enforcement is being taken against people showing up for routine civil functions like paying parking tickets or vital activities, like getting a domestic restraining order.
According to a report in the New York Times, “… advocates argue that the use of courthouses by immigration officials deters undocumented immigrants from exercising their constitutional rights of due process; petitioning for redress of grievances, such as wage claims against employers; and satisfying their civic duties, such as paying traffic tickets. Joanne Lin, a legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington, said she had heard about dozens of cases since the beginning of 2013 in which immigrants have been interrogated or detained at courthouses, including while trying to attend hearings, get married or obtain a domestic violence restraining order.