Foreclosure rates and problems with home loans soared from 2008-2013. Washington has been in the top 15 states in foreclosure activity. While foreclosure rates are beginning to drop, foreclosure rates are still significantly higher than normal. As a result, many Washington residents have found themselves struggling to maintain ownership of the homes and enforce their rights against large financial institutions. The Economic Justice Project, formerly the Foreclosure Working Group of the Working Families Project at Columbia Legal Services, helps protect families who face the loss of their home due to foreclosure. The group employs a variety of advocacy strategies including policy advocacy and litigation. CLS advocates were instrumental in drafting and negotiating the 2011 Foreclosure Fairness Act, as well as the subsequent amendments. Now, as recipient of funds from the National Mortgage Settlement, the Foreclosure Working Group is litigating cases on behalf of homeowners. These cases generally deal with implementation of the Foreclosure Fairness Act and homeowner rights under the Deed of Trust Act.
In one recent case, he Economic Justice Project helped one family save their home and hold a predatory attorney accountable for his actions. When the homeowners faced the prospect of foreclosure, they sought assistance from a “foreclosure relief” attorney. He charged them a large, upfront cash retainer and promised he would work to save their home.
Once paid, the attorney filed an initial complaint but did not represent the homeowners any further. Court deadlines went unheeded, standard discovery requests went unanswered, and the attorney did nothing. Besides the threat of the loss of their home by this inaction, these missed deadlines escalated into court orders and thousands of dollars in sanctions were assessed against the homeowners due to the grossly negligent conduct of their lawyer. The Economic Justice Project intervened in the case and convinced the court to reverse the sanctions. The case was later dismissed in federal court. The homeowners then filed in state court, where the homeowners were eventually able to modify the loan agreement and stay in their home.
“We were awestruck by the cooperation and level of performance of Columbia Legal Services,” the clients said. “Their help allowed us to keep our home and to continue providing care to the foster children who stay at our home.”
The homeowners also gave permission for the Economic Justice Project to report the malfeasance of this attorney to the Washington State Bar Association. Their report to the bar was one of many reports that eventually resulted in the “foreclosure relief” attorney’s resignation from the bar.