One Woman’s Path Through Foreclosure, To Fight Eviction
By: Brian Kehrl
Every foreclosure is at least slightly different, so there are no prototypical cases.
But, based on an interview with Rhonda G. Mills and a detailed review of her mortgage and legal documents, the trials she experienced match in many ways what has become the common tale of foreclosures on Cape Cod and across the country.
Ms. Mills and her then-husband received the property on Emma Oakley Mills Road from a family trust in 1998 and obtained a mortgage from a local lender for $117,500 to build a home on the undeveloped land.
The couple refinanced several times over the next few years, taking advantage of equity and increasing property values, moves that Ms. Mills said were “somewhat irresponsible.”
But after running up some debt and other financial troubles, she and her now ex-husband refinanced their home with an adjustable rate mortgage in October 2006. Less than a year later, the interest payments more than doubled the monthly payments she needed to make. From $1,500 per month, the payments increased to more than $3,000, despite what she said she had been initially told about the loan not ballooning.
“As God is my witness, the biggest mistake I made was signing on the dotted line and not knowing the product I was receiving,” she said. “It was not the loan it was supposed to be.”
She took home about $3,000 in income per month between her two jobs, earnings that were about evenly split between her part-time bus driving and specialized foster care. The foster care position involved taking care of distressed children, helping to prepare them for permanent adoption.
The foreclosure process formally began two and a half years later, in early 2009.
She tried to wade through the complicated process, but ended up struggling to communicate with a national lender that, from her perspective, seemed uninterested in helping her modify her loan.
She received questionable advice from a debt consolidation firm, including to stop paying her mortgage in order to hasten a loan modification offer, that fell short in its task of improving the lines of communication with the lender. Even the debt consolidation worker reported trouble working with the lender, telling Ms. Mills that she could not find out the last names of representatives she spoke with on the phone and so could not speak with them the next time she called back. According to e-mails from the debt consolidation specialist to Ms. Mills and now included in the eviction case file, paperwork was reported lost, and files would not be processed for weeks after they were sent. The lender declined to adjust the principal balance on the home, even though federal guidelines suggest that such a change must be one option in the modification process, according to the e-mails.
Ms. Mills was offered a loan modification in late 2008, but was told it would only cover one of the two elements of her mortgage debt she needed it to.
Her daughter moved in with several grandchildren to help pay the home’s expenses.
She tried to arrange a short sale directly to her son-in-law, but it fell through.
The foreclosure was finalized in late 2010 and early 2011. The home was sold at an auction in February.
Foreclosures in Massachusetts, other than for military service members and in other exceptions, are handled between the lender and the borrower, outside of the court system. Evictions, however, must go through the courts.
Ms. Mills said she had given up the fight as the foreclosure process was being completed. But then she received a call from her daughter that the auctioneers showed up one day unannounced, and right in front of her grandchildren, and began looking around the property.
That insult, she said, led to her decision to renew her efforts to save the home and fight eviction. “I went through hell to try to save this house. But it is not all about the house. It is about my pride. It is about family,” she said.
During the early eviction hearings, she worked with an attorney who she felt was not attentive to her situation and who recently backed out of her case, citing a personal illness during the middle of the eviction process. She has since received legal guidance from an attorney but is planning to represent herself in court on Monday.
The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council Housing Department has provided guidance and financial assistance to help fight the eviction.
The experience has wreaked immense stress for Ms. Mills, causing her physical pain in her neck and back, creating family problems, and leading her to temporarily stop her work as a specialized foster parent.
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