New York - Three Queens homeowners filed a lawsuit against J.P. Morgan Chase Bank N.A. and two of its subsidiaries, Chase Home Finance and Washington Mutual Bank, claiming that the groups illegally delayed and denied their applications for permanent foreclosure relief under the federal Home Affordable Modification Program. The lawsuit is seen as one of the first cases involving the modification program in New York City.
The lawsuit, which was filed in the Eastern District Federal Court in Brooklyn, claims that the bank violated the federal program that requires banks to provide permanent modifications to eligible homeowners who complete three months of trial payments and verify their income. Similar lawsuits have been filed against a number of other banks, such as Bank of America and Wells Fargo, in other states over the past year. Last month, a California couple reportedly sued Chase because it told them to stop making mortgage payments so they could qualify for loan modification. Chase then foreclosed on their home.
Chase declined to comment.
“Chase breached their contract,” said Carmela Huang, an attorney at the Urban Justice Center, which is representing the Queens homeowners in the case. “As far as we know, this is the first case in New York.”
Homeowners from three Queens neighborhoods—Queens Village, Fresh Meadows and Jamaica—are suing to force Chase to modify their loans and end foreclosure proceedings.
Despite making timely trial modification payments two of the homeowners were denied permanent loan modifications and their homes were foreclosed, according to the lawsuit. Chase claimed that their incomes were inadequate for the permanent loan modification, but refused to specify income qualifications, said Ms. Huang.
Similar to the California case, the third plaintiff in this lawsuit is a homeowner in Fresh Meadows who claims that the bank instructed him last month to deliberately miss payments so he would be eligible for a loan modification. The homeowner had refinanced in 2005. As a result of missing two monthly payments, the homeowner now faces foreclosure. While the homeowner was placed on trial modification last year, he was denied permanent status based on the value of his house. But the bank has not disclosed the value. The Home Affordable Modification Program requires banks to offer trial modifications as long as the value of modifying the loan is more than the value of foreclosing.
“Our clients' situation is not unique. We have been inundated by people in foreclosure,” said Ms. Huang, adding that homeowners don't have enough resources to sue banks. In this particular case, Urban Justice is providing its legal service for free. “The law is clearly on our side. We hope Chase will settle quickly.”
Loan modifications under the federal program reduce homeowners' mortgage payments to 31% of the homeowners' income by reducing the interest rate, extending the term of the loan or adjusting monthly payments. According to Chase, since the start of 2009 the bank has offered 750,000 homeowners loan modifications nationwide, 25% of those were permanent. The bank does not break down regional information.