WASHINGTON — Bank of America is suing itself for foreclosure.
“It’s crazy,” housing data analyst Michael Olenick told HuffPost. “They shouldn’t be suing themselves.”
Over the past two years, the nation’s largest banks and the Obama administration have repeatedly vowed to clean up the foreclosure fraud mess. In February, banks agreed to pay $25 billion and overhaul their foreclosure processes as part of a 50-state investigation into bank wrongdoing, resulting from practices that included robo-signing.
But in Florida’s Palm Beach County alone, Bank of America has sued itself for foreclosure 11 times since late March, according to foreclosure fraud activist Lynn Szymoniak, who forwarded one such foreclosure filing, dated March 29, 2012, to The Huffington Post. (A white-collar crime expert, Szymoniak was recently awarded $18 million for her work helping the government recover $95 million as a result of bank foreclosure problems in North Carolina.)
In the March 29 filing, Bank of America is seeking to foreclose on a condominium and names the condo owner and Bank of America as defendants in the suit. The company is literally seeking damages from itself in order to foreclose on the condo owner.
“We are servicing the first mortgage on behalf of an investor and we own the second mortgage,” Bank of America spokeswoman Jumana Bauwens told HuffPost. “Naming the second-lien holder in the suit is necessary to eliminate the junior interest,” Bauwens said.
“This just strikes me as classic robo foreclosure,” Professor Alan White of Valparaiso University Law School told HuffPost. White, a predatory lending expert who tracks and analyzes data on loan modifications and foreclosures, said that lawyers for the bank likely performed an electronic title search to see if any other liens on the property existed and simply wrote down the name of whatever bank came up in the search. Lawyers and paralegals who perform these tasks typically fill out dozens of such forms a day, White told HuffPost.
“I’m sure the paralegal who did this did 100 others that day,” he said.
Banks have been caught suing themselves before. In 2009, Dow Jones columnist Al Lewis uncovered a case in which Wells Fargo had sued itself in connection with a foreclosure in Florida’s Hillsborough County. The bank owned both the first and second liens on the property and ended up hiring two separate attorneys to deal with the snafu — one to bring the lawsuit and another to defend itself.
The Bank of America self-suits seems to have emerged from a scenario that investors have complained about for years involving home equity loans. Big banks like Bank of America service mortgages on behalf of other investors. Bank of America processes payments, negotiates with borrowers and operates the foreclosure process but does not actually own the loan. Many properties from the housing bubble had an additional home equity loan, or second lien. Banks could charge higher interest rates on these second liens because they were riskier loans — the second lien is supposed to eat losses before anything happens to the first lien.
When a bank brings a foreclosure case in court, it has to notify whoever owns the second lien that it is taking action. In this case, Bank of America owns the second lien.
But meticulous attorneys would not ordinarily let their clients sue themselves. “It is a little bit mindless on the part of the lawyer,” White said. “They don’t need to sue themselves.”