Minneapolis resident Connie Gretsch was bracing to be evicted from her longtime Minneapolis home.
“I had this plan that when they came to take me out of my house that I was going to chain myself to my washer and dryer,” said Gretsch. “And when they would take me away I’d ask them to put the load in the dryer for me.”
Video by Bill Sorem, text by Mike McIntee
Gretsch then laughed at the thought. She could laugh now, because she had discovered the company trying to evict her had no right to do so. Pacifica didn’t own the mortgage on her home.
Hennepin County property tax records show the company hadn’t owned the home since at least May 15 and may have sold the home as early as February (see timeline at right.) Yet lawyers for the company signed documents on June 14, nearly a month after title on the home had changed hands, swearing to the court that the company still owned the home.
The gaffe, once discovered, may have led to the quick dismissal of eviction proceedings against Gretsch. But the case opens a whole host of questions about how foreclosure and eviction cases are handled as well as the incentives some companies have to ignore government rules and foreclose anyhow.
Lenders slow to negotiate as homeowner racks up thousands in late fees
Gretsch bought her home about 17 years ago. She refinanced in in 2006 but then lost her job in 2009. At the time, Citimortgage serviced her mortgage.
Court records show Citimortgage granted her a loan extension agreement, which lowered her monthly payments to $615 a month and put the amount she still owed back into the loan.
However, as part of the 2008 bailout of the banks, the federal government requires financial companies to modify qualified unemployed homeowners mortgages to an even lower monthly payment than Gretsch had agreed to. In April 2010, Citimortgage told Gretsch she had been accepted into the program and her monthly payments would now be $300.
Unfortunately, Gretsch said she now owed an additional $30,000 dollars on the mortgage in back payments and late fees.
Mortgage sale to Pacifica complicates matters
According to a class action lawsuit, what happened to Connie Gretsch next may have violated multiple provisions of the federal Frank-Dodd Act that’s designed to protect homeowners… including a provision that prevents mortgage companies from foreclosing on a home while the borrower is being considered for mortgage assistance.
(left) A lawyer for Pacific swears it owns Gretsch’s house. Turns out it doesn’t.
“I paid one month and they sold the loan to another company (Pacifica),” Gretsch said. “(Citimortgage) did not send any of the records and told them (Pacifica) that I had not paid anything for a year.”
Pacifica entered into a contract with Acqura Loan Services to collect the monthly payments and process the paperwork on the mortgage.
Court records say Acqura notified Gretsch it would no longer accept her payments, which Gretsch’s attorneys say “artificially and illegally caused a purported default” which they say is a violation of federal law.
Gretsch says Aquira moved to foreclose on her home instead of working with her to modify the loan as required by the federal Frank-Dodd Act. She made repeated requests for mortgage assistance to Acqura, but she says all of them were ignored or denied without notice or explanation…which is also a violation of federal law, according to her attorneys. A lawsuit filed by Gretsch says Acqura has offered no written explanation for its conduct.
Foreclosed and ready to quit
Her home was sold at Sheriff’s auction in November 2011. She says Pacifica tacked about $100,000 on to the original mortgage of $240,000 and then bought the home from itself.
“I felt that I had lost my fight. And I started looking at other places to live. My credit rating was so terrible, I couldn’t find a place to rent,” said Gretsch.
“One day I was packing and I just decided I wasn’t going to leave. And I went to the Occupy Homes meeting at the Cruz’ house on Cedar.”
It was there she found encouragement to fight back. Other foreclosed homeowners convinced her she shouldn’t be embarrassed by her situation. She used that encouragement to contact the Minnesota Attorney General’s office about Acqura’s actions.
Minnesota Attorney General’s office to the rescue
The Attorney General’s office seemed to agree with Gretsch that Acqura had not followed the rules and told mortgage owner Pacifica that in a letter. “Acqura Loan Servicing failed to respond in a proper manner to Ms. Gretsch’s request,” wrote William Gosinger, who works in the Attorney General’s consumer services division. “Ms. Gretsch now requests Pacifica Mortgage halt all foreclosure action and provide a mutually acceptable option allowing her to remain in her property.”
It was about this time that Gretsch discovered that Pacifica no longer owned the home and could not evict her. Pacifica had sold the mortgage to Citibank at least a month earlier. Two days after the Attorney General’s office sent the letter, Pacifica asked the court to dismiss the eviction proceedings against Gretsch.
It’s unclear if Pacifica asked for dismissal because of the letter or because it no longer owned the loan. Pacifica’s lawyers would not answer those questions without speaking to their clients and have yet to call The UpTake back with an explanation.
For saving her home, Connie Gretsch is sending a birdhouse to the MN Attorney General’s office.
A broken system
“It just only proves that this is not being dealt with properly. I don’t think anybody’s is being dealt with properly,” says Gretsch.
“It’s ruined people’s lives. And nobody has backed up and said we’re going to do it any differently. Gone are the days where you know your banker and you have to face the people that you do business with.”
The foreclosure business is impersonal. Gretsch recalled talking to the person who served her with an eviction notice. “I asked the server why he even does this and he says, ‘well, I have to make my money and last week I delivered one to my sister.’”
Gretsch is giving the Attorney General’s office credit for keeping her in her home. She has a small birdhouse she plans to give the office as thanks for their help.
But while the immediate threat to evict Gretsch from her home may be gone, she still has to negotiate with Citibank to either modify or give her a new mortgage on her home. Tax records say its market value is $196,000. Pacifica paid $240,000 for it before it sold it to Citibank.
Gretsch is also waiting for a judge to rule on her class action lawsuit that could impact her and as many as 50 to 100 other people who may have been wronged by Acqura, many of them in Hennepin County.
Class action lawsuit alleges loan companies have incentive to game the system
That class action lawsuit says the mortgage system makes it more profitable for third party loan servicers such as Acqura to avoid modification, keeping the mortgage in a “state of default or distress” or pushing the loan toward foreclosure. The lawsuit says that profit the loan servers make by delaying loan modification is more than the $1,000 the federal government pays to have the loan modified. Therefore, there is not enough financial incentive to modify the loan.
The lawsuit says Acqura has illegally ignored or denied loan modification requests from Gretsch and other homeowners facing foreclosure. It also says that Acqura violated federal law by not checking to see if homeowners were eligible for federal assistance before starting to foreclose on them.
Acqura is also accused of violating Minnesota laws that regulate the standards of conduct for loan servicers.
Acqura disputed Gretsch’s claim and tried to have the case moved to a federal court. That move failed and it was heard before Hennepin County Judge Susan Robiner in March. She is expected to rule on Gretsch’s class action suit by July 20.
The human toll
Gretsch is a health care worker. She says the toll foreclosures are taking on people is more than just financial.
“One area that hasn’t been really talked about, and I’m a health care provider, is the emotional and physical stress that is put on people and children. And once I get my feet on the ground and get to a point where I think I have this place saved, I want to develop some health care for people that have been totally brutalized by this system.
(Above: Connie Gretsch in front of her Minneapolis
home – photo courtesy of Occupy MN)
“People are killing themselves. And it’s not their fault.”
Links to documents and sources used for this story: