The nation’s biggest banks wrongfully foreclosed on more than 700 military members during the housing crisis and seized homes from roughly two dozen other borrowers who were current on their mortgage payments, findings that eclipse earlier estimates of the improper evictions.
Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo uncovered the foreclosures while analyzing mortgages as part of a multibillion-dollar settlement deal with federal authorities, according to people with direct knowledge of the findings. In January, regulators ordered the banks to identify military members and other borrowers who were evicted in violation of federal law.
The analysis, which was turned over to regulators in recent days, provides the first detailed glimpse into the extent of wrongful foreclosures amid the collapse of the housing market. While lenders previously acknowledged that they relied on faulty documents to push through foreclosures, the banks claimed borrowers were rarely evicted by mistake, including military personnel protected by federal law.
That thesis, which underpinned the government’s response to the financial crisis, helps explain why homeowners languished for years without relief. The revelations of more pervasive harm could provide fresh ammunition for Wall Street critics and prompt regulators to adopt a tougher stance.
Housing advocates say the findings also underscore the broader flaws with the settlement. In the latest negotiations, according to people briefed on the talks, the banks secured favorable terms for doling out some aid, a deal that could diminish the relief to homeowners.
Dan Petegorsky, national outreach manager with an advocacy group, the Campaign for a Fair Settlement, described the terms as a “step backwards” for homeowners.
“Our initial reaction was stunned disbelief,” he said.
Complaints that active military personnel and National Guard members were losing their homes while deployed in war zones set off national outrage and prompted Congressional hearings in 2011. The case of Sgt. James B. Hurley, a disabled veteran whose home outside Hartford, Mich., was sold two months before he returned from Iraq, dragged through the courts for years, highlighting the devastating effect of foreclosures.
In 2011, JPMorgan settled claims that it inappropriately foreclosed on 18 military service members and overcharged 6,000. Bank of America and Morgan Stanley also struck a pact with the Justice Department to settle claims they foreclosed on 178 military members between 2006 and 2009. Sergeant Hurley has since reached a settlement with Deutsche Bank in his case.
But the problems are more extensive than the wave of cases indicated.
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