Three frustrated homeowners in New York City are suing JPMorgan Chase over the bank's failure to permanently modify their mortgages under the Obama administration's plan to help homeowners avoid foreclosure.
The complaint, filed in federal court in New York, says the plaintiffs, who are represented by attorneys with the nonprofit Urban Justice Center, relied on promises by Chase that they could have their loans modified if they made reduced payments per the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). Despite making payments on time, they've received foreclosure threats but no modifications.
One of the plaintiffs, Alex Lam, a 35-year-old restaurant manager, alleges Chase told him to actually stop making payments in order to be eligible for help. In early 2009, Lam contacted Washington Mutual (since absorbed by Chase) about a modification after his adjustable-rate mortgage blew up in his face. He was told he didn't qualify for help because he was current on his payments.
"Mr. Lam was specifically told that if he stopped making payments for several months, he could be considered for a modification," the says the complaint.
The next big surprise came in December, when, after making trial payments of $1,568 for the previous six months, Lam was told he owed the bank $12,000. When he protested, Chase relented and told Lam to apply once again for a mod, this time under HAMP. He made his payments until March, when Chase told him he'd failed HAMP's opaque "Net Present Value" test, meaning the bank determined the investors who owned the loan would make more money via foreclosure than modification. Lam alleges Chase used bogus inputs for the NPV test and that Chase refuses to show its work.
Lam called the situation "very upsetting" in an interview with HuffPost. "I trusted them because they're a big bank. I did whatever they asked me to."
HuffPost asked Lam what he wanted from suing Chase.
"Just to get a modification, that's all I'm asking for," he said. "Since day one, that's all I'm asking for."
HAMP lawsuits have been flying. Last week a 91-year-old veteran of three wars named Peter Ruplenas sued Bank of America over mortgage mod malfeasance in West Virginia.
In April, Faiz and Khadija Jahani of California sued Chase for reasons similar to Lam's -- the bank told them to stop making payments to qualify for help, then foreclosed. A similar case is brewing in Seattle.
Homeowners are supposed to be eligible for HAMP mods if they're having trouble making monthly payments, owe less than $729,750, took out the loan before January 2009, and if their payment on their first mortgage is more than 31 percent of their income. In theory, if homeowners make reduced payments (typically $500 cheaper) for three months, they are put in "permanent" modifications that last for five years.
But the banks voluntarily participating in HAMP have given permanent mods to just 230,000 homeowners in the program's first year, a far cry from the three to four million officials said HAMP would help. Meanwhile, frustrated homeowners' stories of lost paperwork, dishonesty, and incompetence by banks are piling up.
A Chase spokesman declined to comment on the lawsuit.