By Gary Blankenship
The controversial push to streamline foreclosures in Florida continued as the Senate legislation to shorten the process, SB 1666, cleared the Judiciary Committee on April 15.
Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, sponsor of the bill, made several amendments, including dropping a provision that would have required one of the two required public notices on a foreclosure sale to be on an Internet site maintained by the local court clerk, instead of in a printed publication that would also be repeated online.
Latvala said there was too much opposition to that change, although he continued to believe it was appropriate.
Other amendments clarified that homeowners who occupied a property in foreclosure did not have to continue making mortgage payments during the pendency of the foreclosure and that judges will apply summary judgment standards when they preside over the speeded-up show cause hearings allowed in the bill.
The bill provides that an innocent, third-party buyer of a foreclosed home could not be dispossessed of the home if the foreclosure was later found out to be fraudulent.
The foreclosed owner in those cases would be limited to monetary damages from the foreclosing bank.
Sen. Darren Soto, D-Kissimmee, offered an amendment that would allow the foreclosed owner to regain the property, saying that was needed because of the widespread fraud in foreclosure documents. But he withdrew the amendment after Latvala objected.
“One of the good features of this bill is it provides that once an innocent buyer buys a property that’s been foreclosed, then they are not at risk of losing that property and it maintains the ability of an injured party to get financial damages,” he said.
Speakers criticized the bill, saying it was a radical departure from the right of a party wrongfully deprived of property to get that property back.
They also said it would not cure the problem of fraudulent documents being used in foreclosures.
The foreclosure bills have divided the legal community with the Bar’s Real Property, Probate and Trust Law Section supporting them but a coalition of attorneys who represented foreclosed property owners opposing them.
SB 1666 passed 6-2 and next goes to the Appropriations Committee and then the Rules Committee. Its House counterpart, HB 87, cleared the House Appropriations Committee on April 17 and was ready for consideration on the House floor.
At the House committee, sponsor Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, amended the bill to remove a provision which would have waived the one-year waiting period before judges who retire could return as senior judges to hear foreclosure cases. Passidomo said eliminating the one-year wait would have cost the state’s pension system $1 million.
The bill does not block using retired judges after the one-year period and committee Chair Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, noted that the House has provided money for hiring more retired judges to handle foreclosures in other legislation.