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Bill expediting foreclosures heading to Gov. Scott

3:23 PM, May 10, 2013   |    comments
A foreclosure sign in Tigard, Ore.(Photo: Don Ryan, AP file)
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida currently has about 350,000 foreclosure cases backlogged in the court system.

The cases take an average of two-and-a-half years. That's twice the national average.

Now Florida lawmakers have passed legislation to speed up the foreclosure process.

The bill reduces the amount of time that homeowners have to put together a defense explaining why they should be allowed to stay in the house.

It also shortens the time that banks can seek an unpaid mortgage from a defaulting homeowner.

Opponents are urging Gov. Rick Scott to veto the bill.

Alice Vickers of the Florida Consumer Action Network said the measure would take away people's property rights and unfairly force them to defend against foreclosure without enough time to prepare.

"Our concern is that homeowners who do wish to defend against their foreclosure and do have defenses will not have adequate time to prepare those defenses. In many cases, they're very complex. They require depositions and other forms of discovery to flesh out the defenses and there won't be time to do this."

The group Florida Realtors supports the bill.

Spokesman Trey Goldman said expediting foreclosure cases will stabilize Florida's housing market, boost the economy and help clear up the blight in many neighborhoods with foreclosed properties.

"Currently in Florida it takes over 800 days on average to foreclose a residential property and this is roughly over twice the national average. So it's something in terms of the economic recovery of Florida we'd like to see."

Goldman said the bill includes important consumer protections that entitle homeowners to all kinds of compensatory damages if they're forced out of a home fraudulently or by mistake.

"The person who was erroneously foreclosed on, they would be entitled to all kinds of punitive damages, consequential damages, statutory damages, compensatory damages. So they really will be in a good place but they just won't be in their home."

Vickers argues those damages may not always cover a homeowner's loss. Plus, she believes the bill could actually exacerbate the backlog of foreclosure cases in the courts.

"We think that it will hurt homeowners. We think that it could in fact lengthen the foreclosure process and just flood our courts even more with hearings than they currently have."

Florida is still distributing millions of dollars from a national foreclosure settlement to homeowners hurt by the foreclosure crisis. State lawmakers recently approved a bill directing $200 million toward foreclosure relief.

Vickers said Florida should give those relief programs a chance to work before taking action to expedite the foreclosure process.

Dave Heller

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