Why Foreclosure Fraud Is So Dangerous to Property Rights
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There seems to be a misunderstanding as to why the rampant and systemic foreclosure fraud is so dangerous to American system of property rights and contract law. Some of this is being done by people who are naked corporatists (i.e., the WSJ Editorial Board) excusing horrific conduct by the banks. Others are excusing endemic property right destruction out of genuine ignorance.
This morning, I want to explain exactly why this RE fraud is so dangerous, and explain the significance of the rights that are currently being trampled. I also want to demonstrate that the only way the nation could have the quantity and magnitude of errors we see is by willful, systemic fraud.
Perhaps this commentary will allow for a more intelligent debate of this issue, and focus on what can be done to fix the problems, rather than the blind parroting of talking points.
The process of purchasing a home in America culminates with an event called “the Closing.” It is an hour plus long contract signing that ensures the buyer is legitimately taking title, possession and legal ownership of a unique parcel of land and any structures upon it. The process gives any buyer specific rights to that property that cannot be abrogated under the laws of the United States.
At the closing, buyers sign and initial numerous documents. The goal is to accomplish the following:
1) Papers are signed that will be filed with the County Clerk (or appropriate officer) along with recording fees, for the official transfer of title from the prior owner to the new owner. The enabling purchase loan (i.e., mortgage note) is also filed with the Clerk.
2) The buyer receives title (ownership) of the land;
3) The mortgage lender establishes a new interest in that property contingent upon their mortgage note;
4) All other claims, liens, tax obligations and prior mortgages, home equity lines or second notes are satisfied and extinguished before title passes to the new owner.
5) Third party claims of any interest in that property superior to the buyer are eliminated;
6) Title Insurance is purchased and issued so the buyer has a recourse in case of defects in ownership occurs.
Every step of the process is designed to protect the property rights of all parties. The result is more than a mere transaction selling property from one party to another; rather, this has created a system where ownership interests are clearly defined; where title history can be reviewed going back decades and centuries. There is a certainty to the purchasers of this property against all future claims.
Everything about this process has been created to make sure the transfer goes off perfectly. In a nation of laws, contract and property rights, there is no room for errors. Indeed, even small technical flaws can be repaired via a process called “perfecting title.”
As we noted previously, esteemed economists such as Hernando de Soto have identified that the respect for title, proper documentation, contract law and private property rights are the underlying reason capitalism works in Western nations , but seems to flounder elsewhere.
We cannot have free market capitalism without this process. So what does it mean if banks have been systemically, fraudulently and illegally undermining this process?
The closing process described above took place with all parties participating voluntarily. The buyer wants the house, the seller wants the transaction, the financing bank wants to make the mortgage loan.
What happens during a proper foreclosure? The prior closing is essentially reversed, only its done involuntarily. The process requires another RE closing, only this time, the Note holder is exercising their right to repossess the house if the borrower has failed to uphold the terms of the mortgage note. It typically states that if a borrower fails to make the requisite payments, they become delinquent. After an extended period of delinquency, they go into default. That allows the note holder to exercise their rights to foreclose on the property, and take title and possession.