Minn. Lawmakers Work to Remodel Homeowners Bill of Rights

Posted at: 03/19/2013 4:36 PM
Updated at: 03/20/2013 6:52 AM
By: Mark Albert

A "Homeowners Bill of Rights" to strengthen foreclosure protections for struggling homeowners in Minnesota is under construction at the Capitol and, like many remodeling jobs, this one is requiring compromise and patience.

As one foreclosure bill came up for committee debate Tuesday afternoon, a person involved in the crafting of legislation in both legislative chambers described the current coalition as "fragile" but holding, and one that is proving so far to be bipartisan.

Rep. Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park), is authoring a bill (HF1377; companion SF1276 by Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, DFL-Minneapolis) which would codify federal protections - such as prohibiting "dual-tracking" where banks simultaneously foreclose on a home while in loan modification talks with the homeowner - into Minnesota law.

"It doesn't make you feel very good," explained Rep. Hortman in an interview, "if you find out that your home has been taken but your bank really should have complied with some federal rule in Washington DC."

"My objective is to make it so you stay in that house," she said.

Rep. Joe Hoppe (R-Chaska), the top Republican on the House Commerce and Consumer Protection Finance and Policy, told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS he would vote for the DFL-sponsored bill in committee, calling it "a pretty good bill," and adding, "I hope it helps a little."

Other proposals, like a moratorium on bank foreclosures, do not appear to have enough support from lawmakers to make it into legislation that can pass this session.

There were 17,895 foreclosures in Minnesota last year, a 16 percent decrease from 2011, according to figures from the Minnesota Homeownership Center.

Foreclosures peaked in Minnesota in 2008, when lenders foreclosed on 26,265 properties, the data showed.

Occupy Homes activists, including Cat Salonek, who are holding vigil at a foreclosed south Minneapolis home to prevent Wells Fargo, which owns the home, from evicting a mother of four who moved into the vacant home in February, criticized the current direction of talks at the Capitol as insufficient.

"It's difficult to compete with well-paid lobbyists," Salonek said. "I believe that homeowners at this point have a right to principal reduction, I believe that our government should impose a moratorium on the banks until they can prove that their unjust banking policies are not kicking families out of their homes."

In a statement regarding the south Minneapolis property, Wells Fargo said:

"The trespassing at this property is counterproductive to addressing real housing issues. The property lacks running water and there are a number of other hazards, making it unfit for habitation by anyone, especially children.  Wells Fargo works hard to provide real support to communities that have experienced high rates of foreclosure. We've given $10 million annually to Minnesota nonprofit organizations, community groups and local schools. In 2011 alone, Wells Fargo provided $71.9 million in community development loans and investments for affordable housing in Minnesota. We're proud of our ongoing support for the local community."