Proponents of Florida’s Speedy Foreclosure law a/k/a Florida’s Foreclosure Fast Track program have recently touted its successes. Many media outlets have reported that the Florida’s foreclosure numbers are at their lowest rates in years. As a result, most believe the law to be a success and a contributing factor to an improving Florida economy. What the proponents and the media are missing, however, is the impact of the Fast Track Program on and zombie title cases.
Zombie title issues occur when a homeowner/borrower believes their home has been foreclosed because a final judgment of foreclosure has been entered by the court. These homeowners have wiped their hands of the house and moved on with their lives. However, many times, the bank cancels the sale unbeknownst to the borrower, and title never transfers out of the borrower’s name. The end result is that the property remains vacant, and in the owner’s name; leaving the borrower/owner liable for anything that occurs on the property. Further, because title never transfers, the homes sit vacant and decay, bringing property values down and hurting neighborhoods. This is a huge problem for Tampa and Florida homeowners that is going to linger around for many years. Even worse, the Foreclosure Fast Track Program is increasing the number of instances of zombie title.
When foreclosure filings hit record highs, the Florida legislature created foreclosure divisions within the state’s twenty circuit courts. To address the huge number of cases, retired/senior judges were appointed to handle the caseload. Unfortunately, many of these judges are not accountable to the voters and have grown weary of the foreclosure process. Senior judges deal with hundreds of foreclosures per day and their attention to the matter is sometimes lackluster. When the Florida Legislature passed the Fast Track Program, many foreclosure judges took it as a directive to push foreclosures through the system as quickly as possible, at any cost.
As a result, the banks and borrowers have largely been taken out of the judicial foreclosure process. (While this is clearly an overstepping of due process, we will save that topic for another day). The negative effects of this judicial activism have far reaching impacts. Many times, cases are pushed to trial and final judgments even when the bank is not ready to proceed. The result is that cases move towards judicial sale before the bank can get all of the required paperwork together. Ultimately, once the judgment is entered, the case is out of sight and out of mind for the judicial system. However, because they were forced forward too quickly, banks will regularly cancel a judicial sale before it goes to auction. If the bank cannot get the paperwork squared away, the sale date may never be re-set and thus title never transfers. This action alone has lead to thousands of cases of zombie title.
So what can be done about the problem? First, any borrower affected by a foreclosure should always consult an attorney regarding their case. Many times, borrowers have left homes, but learn that the title is still in their name, so they move back into the home. For others, having representation can ensure that the title to the property is transferred to a third party so that the borrower no longer remains liable for the property. The far reaching impacts of zombie title can be devastating, and any foreclosed homeowner should speak with a Tampa attorney regarding their case.
If you have questions about a zombie title issue, or a foreclosure call the experienced Tampa Real Estate Lawyers at DeWitt Law Firm to discuss.