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Adam Levitin, a Georgetown University Law professor who specializes in, among many other financial regulatory issues, mortgage finance. Levitin says the documentation problems involved in the mortgage mess have the potential "to cloud title on not just foreclosed mortgages but on performing mortgages."
Real estate law requires real paper transfer of documents and titles, and a lot of the system went electronic without much regard to that persnickety rule. Mortgages and property titles are transferred several times in the process of a home purchase from originators to securitization sponsors to depositors to trusts. Trustees hold the note (which is the IOU on the mortgage), the mortgage (the security that says the house is collateral) and the assignment of the note and security instrument.
The issue is in that final stage getting to the trust. The law demands that when the papers get moved around they are "wet ink," that is, real signatures on real paper. But Prof. Levin tells me that's not the worst of it. Affidavits assigned to the notes and security instruments are supposed to be endorsed over to the trust at the time of sale, but in many foreclosure scenarios the affidavits have been backdated illegally.
But I thought that financial innovation was supposed to benefit both the producers and the consumers!
So with the chain of documentation now in question, and trustee ownership in question, here is one legal scenario, according to Prof. Levitin:
"The mortgage is still owed, but there's going to be a problem figuring out who actually holds the mortgage, and they would be the ones bringing the foreclosure. You have a trust that has been getting payments from borrowers for years that it has no right to receive. So you might see borrowers suing the trusts saying give me my money back, you're stealing my money. You're going to then have trusts that don't have any assets that have been issuing securities that say they're backed by a whole bunch of assets, and you're going to have investors suing the trustees for failing to inspect the collateral files, which the trustees say they're going to do, and you're going to have trustees suing the securitization sponsors for violating their representations and warrantees about what they were transferring."