Bank of America (BOA) is facing an onslaught of litigation, with plaintiffs accusing it of everything from wrongfully foreclosing on their homes to failing to comply with loan modification obligations.
The bank received some unwanted attention last week when a California woman filed suit, saying her home had been wrongfully repossessed. When she returned from a ski trip to her home in Truckee, Mimi Ash found that the locks had been changed. And once she finally managed to get inside, Ash discovered that all of her possessions had been swept from the house -- furniture, clothing, even her son’s ski medals and her deceased husband’s ashes.
“This is in essence a burglary, but when a burglar goes in, they don’t take your photos and your husband’s ashes,” Ash told the New York Times, adding that the house had turned into a “sad reminder that 22 years of my history vanished.”
Ash’s story, though nightmarish, was far from unique. Last October, BOA foreclosed on a Pittsburgh house, incorrectly labeling it as vacant and in default. The bank cut power and water lines, poured antifreeze down the drains, and took a macaw that was living inside.
And a Texas resident found his paid-up home padlocked with the power shut off, leaving 75 pounds of frozen fish to slowly roast in the southern heat. Both homeowners filed suit.
The bank is also facing at least three suits claiming that it reneged on duties it undertook by accepting $25 billion under the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).
The suits, filed by the attorneys general of Nevada and Arizona, and by private plaintiff Susan Fraser of Missouri, say that, by accepting TARP money, Bank of America agreed to engage in a TARP-authorized foreclosure prevention program.
Fraser alleges that in April 2009, the bank promised the U.S. Treasury Department that it would comply with provisions in the Treasury Department Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) relating to loan modifications and other foreclosure prevention methods. She contends that the bank reneged on that obligation out of a desire to maximize its profit margin.
“Under HAMP, the federal government incentivizes participating servicers to make adjustments to existing mortgage obligations in order to make the monthly payments more affordable,” Fraser’s complaint alleges. “However, this incentive is countered by a number of financial factors that make it more profitable for a mortgage for a mortgage servicer such as Bank of America to avoid modification and to continue to keep a mortgage in a state of default or distress and to push loans towards foreclosure.”
Litigious year at BofA
It has been a busy -- and litigious -- year for Bank of America. In February, the bank was hit with a suit accusing it of duping shareholders when merging with Merrill Lynch. That suit, filed by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, alleged that the bank failed to disclose Merrill’s huge losses in order to complete the deal more quickly. And in June, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan charged that the bank discriminated against minority borrowers when making lending decisions.
The latest suits suggest that BOA wasn’t entirely serious when it committed in January to redouble its loan modification efforts. At that time, the bank announced the launch of its “Second Lien Modification Program,” which was intended to reduce the monthly payments on qualifying home equity loans and lines of credit under certain conditions, such as completion of a HAMP modification on the first mortgage on the property.