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March 1, 2012
Foreclosure bill advances

A bill to streamline Florida’s mortgage foreclosure process has advanced in the House, although consumer critics said the measure might not leave homeowners time to respond to a foreclosure notice before it goes before a judge.

HB 213 passed the House Economic Affairs Committee February 8, after an extensive but hurried discussion on its merits.

Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Ft. Lauderdale, said he was concerned homeowners who work two or three jobs and who let their yards get messy could have their homes wrongly considered abandoned if process servers can’t catch them at home. The bill allows an even faster procedure when properties have been determined to be abandoned.

“I’m just worried about the thoroughness and the truthfulness of some of this,” Jenne said.

Rep. Kathleen Passidomo Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, one of the bill’s sponsors, said there are safeguards to ensure a property is truly abandoned, including that the lender must check with utility companies to see if those have been discontinued.

Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, asked why the bill was retroactive.

Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, the other bill sponsor, said it would not apply to already decided cases, but it would apply to pending cases. He added the rights of defendants in those cases are not affected.

“The judges that I have talked to in my district . . . support reform in the judicial arena because of the need to move these cases along,” Steube said.

Representatives also noted the bill would allow homeowners associations, condominium associations, and others with liens on the property to initiate foreclosure proceedings. It reduces from five years to two years the time lenders have to file for a deficiency judgment after a foreclosure and strengthens safeguards to ensure foreclosure paperwork is accurate and properly executed.

Consumer representatives said they were concerned because an initial hearing in a foreclosure case — where the homeowner has the burden to show the case should not be expedited through a fast track process created by the bill — can come as little as 20 days after the homeowner is notified.

“The homeowner has to try the case as if it was the final trial within 20 days of the service of process without any discovery,” said Alice Vickers of the Florida Consumer Action Network.

Passidomo and Steube said they will continue to work with those who have reservations about the bill as it moves through the Legislature. It passed the committee by a 12-4 vote and was next scheduled to go before the Judiciary Committee. If the bill passes there, it will go to the House floor.

A similar bill in the Senate, SB 1890, has not yet been heard in any committee.

[Revised: 09-23-2013]