With the recent discovery of “robo-signers” and other paperwork problems in the mortgage foreclosure process, several prominent congressional Democrats have called for a national moratorium on mortgage foreclosures. At least one large lender has already started to implement one. A moratorium, however, would be irresponsible and harmful. And the White House is correct to oppose it.
Whatever mistakes might have been made by lenders do not change the basic fact: most foreclosures are happening because the borrower is not paying the mortgage. I recently talked to one large lender who said of their delinquent mortgages that over a fourth have not made a payment in over two years. How exactly is someone who has been getting two years of free rent a victim?
Of course, in the small number of cases where a real mistake has been made and a foreclosure is moving forward against a borrower who is current on their mortgage, the courts have the ability to stop that from proceeding. In judicial foreclosure states the easiest solution to this problem is for the judge to ask the borrower, “When was the last payment you made?” If it has been awhile, say over six months, then the foreclosure should proceed, and proceed quickly.
Its been four years since the housing market peaked. Government policy has continued to delay the needed correction in our housing market. A moratorium on foreclosures only puts off a turnaround in the housing market. And if we ever expect or hope to see private capital come back into the mortgage market, then government needs to stop threatening to steal away that capital once it’s invested. The current efforts by states to use technical mistakes by lenders to allow borrowers to remain in homes without paying could ultimately undermine the very concept of a mortgage: that it is a loan secured by property. Instead, we risk seeing mortgages turned into another form of unsecured lending, which would raise interest rates for everyone.