FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Commissioner Karen E. Positan
Union County Human Relations Commission
Foreclosure Forum Attendees Given Guidance, Free Resources, Hope
County and State Officials Provide Solid Information to Distressed Homeowners
Roselle, NJ – Free professional advocates are available to assist worried and distressed homeowners facing foreclosure, according to comments made during a public forum on foreclosure cosponsored by the Union County Human Relations Commission and Union County Foreclosure Task Force, in cooperation with the New Jersey Public Defender’s Office of Dispute Settlement and Union County Superior Court Civil Division.
One of the most important lessons stressed during the presentation on the evening of Thursday, February 20 at the Heard A.M.E. Church in Roselle was that it is never too early to seek help — and never too late. While the presenters noted that the best results are achieved when you seek help early, especially before you miss your first mortgage payment, free resources are available on the state and county level throughout the entire process.
The educational forum, “Foreclosure: Moving From Fear To Positive Action,” was designed to provide guidance to property owners fearing or facing foreclosure issues, and to help tenants in properties with foreclosure issues.
NEW JERSEY’S MORTGAGE FORECLOSURE INITIATIVE
”People in foreclosure wake up worried every day,” said Elizabeth Hulse of the New Jersey Public Defender’s Office of Dispute Settlement. “They do not know how to save their homes or how to ask for help. We want these homeowners to know that they are not alone, and that there are free resources that are available to them if they just reach out for them.”
”New Jersey’s free Foreclosure Mediation Program provides distressed homeowners with experienced advocates and neutral mediators to ensure that all possible ways of keeping their houses are explored with their lending institutions,” said Hulse.
Mediation is a process in which a neutral third party facilitates a discussion between the homeowner and lender’s representative. HUD-certified housing counselors may be available to provide free debt counseling services which help prevent potential foreclosure actions and in some cases assist homeowners submitting loan modification packages. A list of statewide HUD-approved housing counselors is available in English and Spanish at http://www.nj.gov/dca/hmfa/foreclosure/about/.
One of the difficulties, Hulse said, is that many homeowners are not aware that this program exists. “Many factors come into play, and, although it does not guarantee that a homeowner will be able to keep his or her home, it does provide an opportunity for the homeowner to explore all potential modification options with the lender who conducts a good faith review,” she said.
The three requirements to enter New Jersey’s mediation program are that the homeowner must be a borrower, the home that is in foreclosure must be the homeowner’s primary residence, and the property can only be a one- to three-family residential property. The homeowner has up to 60 days to request mediation after receiving the summons and complaint. After that, the homeowner must make a motion to the court to request mediation.
Hulse noted that in mediated settlements, many homeowners have received a resolution that allowed them to keep their homes.
For more information visit http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/civil/foreclosure/index.htm or call The Office of the Clerk of the Superior Court Customer Assistance Center at 609-421-6100.
THE UNION COUNTY FORECLOSURE TASK FORCE
Union County Freeholder Sergio Granados spoke about the Union County Foreclosure Task Force, whose mission is to share ideas and information and to coordinate action among various local entities working on foreclosure prevention and intervention.
“This Task Force was created by the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders in December 2008 as a forum for sharing ideas and information and to coordinate action among various local entities working on foreclosure prevention and intervention,” Granados said. “The Task Force includes representatives from municipal, county and state government, community and advocacy groups, legal agencies, financial institutions, faith-based organizations, and housing counseling agencies, which have assembled to address foreclosure issues.”
He noted that, since its inception, the Foreclosure Task Force has concentrated on providing both homeowners and rental tenants with a variety of foreclosure related contacts and resources, including foreclosure counseling agencies, legal services, mediation programs, rental assistance, utility assistance, security assistance and general assistance.
The Task Force is co-chaired by County Manager Alfred Faella and Frank L. Guzzo, Director of Union County’s Department of Human Services.
THE FORECLOSURE PROCESS FROM THE COURT’S PERSPECTIVE
Sandra Thaler-Gerber, Esq., Civil Division Manager of the Union County Superior Court, and Anna Delio, Esq., also with the Civil Division, spoke about the foreclosure mediation process from the court’s perspective. Thaler-Gerber noted that the legal process and timing begins with the filing of a foreclosure complaint. She emphasized that timing is all-important when requesting mediation, emphasizing that the homeowner must request mediation no more than 60 days after receiving the summons and complaint. After that time period, the homeowner would have to file a formal motion with a court seeking to enter the mediation program.
She also noted that the judge, Sheriff’s Office and case management staff all work closely together during the mediation process. They can offer assistance, including how to stay or postpone a Sheriff’s Sale. Thaler-Gerber further emphasized that the judiciary is fully committed to the Foreclosure Mediation Program to assist homeowners at risk of losing their homes. In addition, she explained that the Union County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Program provides a reduced-cost consultation for a homeowner. They can be reached at 908-354-5984.
She urged attendees to use the Foreclosure Prevention Resources at http://www.njcourtsonline.com to gain a better understanding of the mediation program and foreclosure process.
RIGHTS OF RESIDENTIAL TENANTS LIVING IN FORECLOSED PROPERTIES
Tenants whose landlords are being foreclosed upon may not realize that they maintain certain tenancy rights, or that resources are available to them.
Alfred Donnarumma, Esq. of Central Jersey Legal Services spoke about the legal aspect of tenancy rights, and presented a brief overview of what these renters should know, and what options are available to them, including how to handle rental payments and dealing with utility shut-offs.
“The most important thing to remember is that tenants cannot be forced to leave their homes just because the landlord has been foreclosed,” he said.
“These tenants and homeowners also have resources available to them,” said Linda Flores-Tober, Executive Director of The Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless, who serves as a member of the Union County Foreclosure Task Force and is the co-chair of its Resources for Displaced Families/Legal Resources/Tenant Support sub-committee.
She emphasized that “the key is to begin requesting services as soon as you see you have a problem and not wait until you are way underwater!”
BEWARE FORECLOSURE SCAMS
Margaret Anastalos of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs emphasized that distressed homeowners should not pay one penny to anyone offering foreclosure rescue assistance, as services are available without fee from certified professionals. She also warned about the many scams asking for payments of thousands of dollars.
“Don’t sign away your home,” she said. “Don’t sell your home and lease it back without careful consideration. Don’t pay up-front fees to modify loans. Don’t sign a blank document, and don’t transfer your deed to anyone,” she added, ending with the most important ‘don’t’: “Don’t let yourself become the victim of foreclosure fraud.”
“There are a lot of nasty people out there who will pretend to be your new best friend offering help and a way out,” she warned. “Believe me, they aren’t. Trust your gut instincts. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t,” she added.
In fact, the Attorney General’s Office urges any member of the public who has been a victim of mortgage-related fraud to report it by calling the Division of Consumer Affairs’ toll-free hotline at 1-800-242-5846, or to file a complaint on the Division’s website at www.njconsumeraffairs.gov. “You’re not only helping us to help you, you are doing your part to keep other families safe,” she said.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION IN ENGLISH AND SPANISH AVAILABLE ONLINE
The Union County Foreclosure Fast Facts, in English and Spanish, provides contact information for various issues a homeowner might be facing. The Fast Facts were distributed at the Forum and are available on the County of Union’s foreclosure assistance website: http://www.ucnj.org/foreclosure.
Union County Human Relations Commissioner Karen Positan, who facilitated the event, urged attendees: “Whether you are worried about getting behind in your payments, about to get behind, or you are two years behind, don’t give up hope. There are free resources out there that can assist you. You just have to take that first step and ask.”
The Foreclosure Public Forum presentation is currently being presented in Union County, as well as other locations in the state. It was initially co-created by the Union County Human Relations Commission and the New Jersey Public Defender’s Office of Dispute Settlement, and co-presented with Union County’s Foreclosure Task Force.
For more information, contact the Union County Human Relations Commission at (908) 889-9028, or visit their website at http://www.ucnj.org/uchrc.