Monday, November 30, 2009

U.S. Law Prof Advocates 'Strategic' Walkaways from Underwater Mortgages

An L.A. Times article questions the ethics of commentary by University of Arizona law school professor, Brent T. White, on his recent paper, Underwater and Not Walking Away: Shame, Fear and the Social Management of the Housing Crisis:
"Homeowners should be walking away in droves," White said. "But they aren't. And it's not because the financial costs of foreclosure outweigh the benefits."

Sure, credit scores get whacked when you walk away, he acknowledges. But as long as you stay current with other creditors, "one can have a good credit rating again -- meaning above 660 -- within two years after a foreclosure."

Better yet, homeowners can default "strategically": Buy all the major items they'll need for the next couple of years -- a new car, even a new house -- just before they pull the plug on their current mortgage lender.

"Most individuals should be able to plan in advance for a few years of limited credit," White said, with minimal disruptions to their lifestyles.

What kind of law school professorial advice is this? Aren't mortgages legal contracts? In so-called anti-deficiency states such as California and Arizona, mortgage lenders have limited or no legal rights to pursue defaulting homeowners' assets beyond the house itself, White said. In other states, lenders may decide that it is not worth the legal expense to pursue walkaways, or consumers may be able to find flaws in the mortgage documents, disclosures or underwriting to challenge the original contract

- Garry J. Wise, Toronto

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