Jacksonville Area Legal Aid strongly suggests seniors proceed with caution when considering a reverse mortgage.

 

Regulations are not necessarily bad for business — they are just bad for bad business.

Over the past few years, it has become easier for seniors to obtain reverse mortgages that are initially sold as a good idea (no more mortgage payments, no more headaches, etc.).

But during this same time period, legal aid lawyers and advocates for Florida’s elderly population have also seen a sharp rise in the number of reverse mortgage foreclosures that are bad for the seniors who thought they had piece of mind — but now find themselves homeless.

First of all, reverse mortgages are not cheap: the senior is only able to “borrow” a very small percentage of the equity in their home — and every month the bank adds interest and fees to the amount owed.

Nothing is left for survivors, since they will usually not be able to pay off the entire expensive loan, extra charges and all, unless they have the funds to pay 95 percent of the current appraised value —and the servicer actually speaks to the survivors.

Wrongful reverse mortgage foreclosures are at a crisis stage, and there are very few if any protections from the bad practices of the servicers. And the lack of any meaningful oversight from HUD only makes things even more dangerous for seniors.

Here are just some of the reverse mortgage horror stories that have been experienced by Florida’s elderly population:

• A mortgage company filed a mortgage foreclosure against a 92-year-old woman for failure to pay 27 cents after first suing, claiming wrongly she did not live in her home of 40 years.

• An 80-year-old homeowner agreed to a repayment schedule for missed insurance payments — but foreclosure was filed anyway

• A 76-year-old homeowner repaid insurance and tax payments, yet the bank found a new reason to foreclose.

• An 84-year-old homeowner was accused of not living in his home when he is wheelchair-bound and almost never leaves it.

The widower, who has extreme difficulty hearing because of his age and health issues, was sued based on a wrongful allegation that he no longer lived in the home. The bank would not accept an affidavit from him and his daughter/caretaker as proof he lived in the property and insisted on taking the case to trial, further wasting judicial resources.

The case was eventually dismissed.

• An 82-year-old homeowner was accused of not living in his home during the time a separate department of the same bank was in regular communication with him.

• A 75-year-old widow faced foreclosure for purportedly no longer occupying the property. Her bank demanded she fill out and return an “occupancy letter” — which she did. She was also in regular contact with the bank regarding her insurance. Despite all of this, the homeowner was sued anyway.

• A 73-year-old widow lost her home to foreclosure because one word was missing from one page of her loan documents. She and her husband took out a reverse mortgage; her husband wanted to safeguard the family home after he passed away. Instead, because the word “borrower” was missing from one page of dozens of mortgage documents, she lost her home.

Jim Kowalski is the CEO of Jacksonville Area Legal Aid.