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GMAC's 'Robo-Signers' Draw Concerns About Faulty Process, Mistaken Foreclosures

“Robo-signers,” employees at mortgage servicers that sign thousands of foreclosure documents without review, have brought attention to long-running problems with the foreclosure process.

Several states have ordered a freeze on foreclosures by Ally Financial’s GMAC mortgage unit, which has come under fire in court for using “robo-signers” who signed off on thousands of foreclosures attesting to the accuracy of the documents without having much personal knowledge of what they contained.

Several other states are investigating GMAC after the company said last week it was suspending foreclosure evictions and sales in 23 states due to “a procedural error” that could require the servicer to “take corrective action in connection with some foreclosures.

One robo-signer, Jeffrey Stephan, has signed off on as many as 10,000 foreclosures a month, according to court records. The foreclosure affidavits, which established basic facts such as a bank’s ownership of a mortgage, were also required to be signed in the presence of a notary public. That didn’t always happen, either. (Since then, other GMAC employees have also been flagged as possible robo-signers.)

GMAC, however, seems to believe that this lack of review didn’t result in real consequences for homeowners. Its statement from Friday, as reported by the Charlotte Observer:

We are working to resolve the situation expeditiously, and we are confident that the processing errors did not result in any inappropriate foreclosures and that the substantive contents of the affidavits in question were factually accurate.

GMAC is a subsidiary of Ally Financial, of which the U.S. Treasury currently owns about 56 percent. (GMAC was renamed Ally after its rescue.) "The entire situation is unfortunate and regrettable and GMAC Mortgage is diligently working to resolve the situation," Ally Financial said in a statement.

GMAC has stopped foreclosure evictions in states that are known as “judicial” states, meaning they require a court order to foreclose. Similar procedural errors may have also been made in non-judicial states, but foreclosures there were not halted by GMAC.

Since news of GMAC’s review spread, JPMorgan Chase has been the next to come under such scrutiny, based on statements made in May by a Chase mortgage supervisor.

In a court deposition, Beth Ann Cottrell said she was among eight managers who together signed about 18,000 documents a month — documents that she was expected to have personal knowledge of. Bloomberg quoted from her deposition:

Asked how they were prepared, she said she relied on other people at the firm.

“My review is more or less signing the document unless it’s questionable,” she said. That means, “somebody has a question and brings it to me and says, ‘Beth, can you take a look at this?’”

JP Morgan, the nation’s third-largest servicer, declined to comment ($) to the Financial Times on the matter.

Problems with the paperwork behind foreclosures aren't exactly new, but are now starting to get more attention. Here’s Bloomberg:

Judges overseeing foreclosures in the wake of the housing crisis are growing skeptical of banks, said Christopher L. Peterson, a professor at the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney College of Law. A surge in proceedings has helped expose a variety of paperwork lapses, he said in an interview.

“Early in the process the judges were very cavalier and they just took the financiers’ word,” Peterson said. “Now there are enough disputes out there about ownership of loans that the judges are starting to feel like they need to hold the financial institutions to the basic rules of evidence.”

The nation’s top five mortgage servicers — Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan, Citigroup, and GMAC — have a combined 71 percent share of the market, Bloomberg reported.

These problems with the underlying processes mortgage services are using to speed foreclosures are separate but related to the disorganization that causes servicers to make mistakes such as foreclosing on the wrong house.

As we’ve reported, breakdowns in communication between different parts of the banks — the part that forecloses and the part that tries to help homeowners avoid foreclosure — have exacerbated these problems.

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