Foreclosure bill is bad law

Foreclosure bill is bad law

May 13th, 2011 in Opinion Times

It's pretty obvious that the Republican-dominated Tennessee General Assembly puts the interests of banks ahead of those of the average Tennessean. Why else would legislators be in such a rush to approve a law that would significantly reduce the advance warning home-owners receive before their property is foreclosed? The only plausible explanation is that legislators are far more willing to do the bidding of the well-heeled bankers and their lobbyists than to properly serve and protect those who elected them to office. The proposed foreclosure legislation should be stopped.

If passed, the legislation would reduce the number of foreclosure notices lenders are required to publish in newspapers from three to two. It also would reduce the amount of information in the notice. There's no need to do either.

Lenders already have a fast track to foreclosure in Tennessee. It's one of only five states that allows banks to foreclose without judicial oversight, which means that people don't have to be taken to court in a foreclosure proceeding. Consequently, state lenders already have one of the cheapest and easiest foreclosure systems in the United States. The process should be toughened, not weakened. That's the best way to help homeowners who are struggling to hold on to their property in difficult economic circumstances.

Those who promote the legislation argue that reducing the number and content of foreclosure notices will save consumers and banks money. That's not necessarily true. Consumers usually don't bear the cost of the ads - an average of $200 each across the state rather than amounts 10 times more claimed by some in the legislature. Profitable banks certainly can afford a relatively small expense to make sure that property owners have ample notice to safeguard investments of hundreds of thousands of dollars, undoubtedly the biggest investment in their lives. The newspaper foreclosure notices are a form of consumer protection that serves the public interest.

Homeowners rely on them for information that directly affects them. The published notices also serve others with a financial or other interest in a property involved in a possible foreclosure. That includes neighbors concerned about property values and relatives and community or religious groups that might be able to provide useful advice or assistance to homeowners if they knew in advance about a foreclosure. Newspapers, of course, do have a financial stake in foreclosure notices, but the greater issue is the legal and moral obligation of government and others to provide public notice and access to information that directly affects community life.

Bankers conveniently ignore that issue in their zeal to secure approval of self-centered legislation.

If the bill is approved, Tennessee will rank last with West Virginia among the states for ease of foreclosure against homeowners. State legislators should aim higher. Rather than race for the bottom, they should work to make foreclosure procedures more equitable and consumer friendly. The first step in that direction is to beat back the effort to reduce the number of published foreclosure notices required in Tennessee.