More and more homeowners in the United States are facing foreclosure. Bloomberg reports an alarming 22% year-over-year spike in the number of foreclosures filed in the first quarter of 2023. If you are facing the risk of foreclosure in South Florida, it is normal to feel stressed, frustrated, and unsure of what to do next—especially if you just received a foreclosure summons. 

Mortgage lenders do not have the unilateral right to take your home. At Jacqueline A. Salcines, PA, we are committed to helping homeowners in Florida protect their rights and their interests. Our Coral Gables foreclosure defense attorney provides a comprehensive overview of your legal rights and your legal options for responding to a foreclosure summons in Florida. 

Florida is a Judicial Foreclosure State

As background information, it is crucial to understand that Florida is a judicial foreclosure state. That is not true in every jurisdiction—U.S. foreclosure laws differ from state to state. In Florida, a mortgage lender/mortgage company must go through the court system to reclaim property from a homeowner who is allegedly in default. As a general rule, the process starts with the filing of a lawsuit by the lender. In a judicial foreclosure—including in Florida—a homeowner will receive a foreclosure summons. It is a legal document formally notifying you about the lender’s lawsuit. In other words, if you have received a foreclosure summons, it means that your lender/mortgage company has filed a lawsuit in a Florida court. 

A Foreclosure Summons is a Legal Complaint 

To be clear, a foreclosure summons is not just a simple notification. It is a legal complaint served by the lender who is seeking to foreclose on your property. It includes details about the alleged breach of the loan contract, the amount owed, and the lender’s intention to sell the property to recover the outstanding loan amount.

When you receive a foreclosure summons, it is essential not to dismiss it. The document outlines the deadlines for your response, typically within 20 to 30 days, depending on the specifics of your case. Failure to respond within the designated time frame might result in a default judgment in favor of the lender, leading to the foreclosure of your property.

How to Effectively Respond to a Foreclosure Summons South Florida 

You are not required to respond to a foreclosure summons at all in Florida. You cannot be arrested or charged with a civil offense because of your failure to do so. However, not responding to a foreclosure summons is a major mistake. What happens if you ignore the foreclosure summons in Florida? You will almost certainly lose your case in default. The mortgage company will show up at the court and get a default judgment that allows them to take (and sell) your home. You will miss out on any opportunity to raise a defense. Exercise your right to respond to a foreclosure summons. How do you do so effectively? Keep the following things in mind: 

  • Hire a Florida Foreclosure Defense Attorney: Given the complexity of foreclosure laws, an experienced Florida foreclosure defense attorney can provide invaluable assistance. They can help you navigate the process, protect your rights, and possibly negotiate with your lender.
  • Draft an Answer: Your answer is your formal response to the summons. It should address each allegation in the complaint, confirming, denying, or stating you lack enough information to admit or deny each claim.
  • Raise all Applicable Foreclosure Defenses: If applicable, your answer should include any defenses you may have to the foreclosure, such as the lender not following proper procedures or violating consumer protection laws. What foreclosure defenses are viable? It depends on the specific situation. A Florida foreclosure defense lawyer can help you evaluate and raise every possible defense. 
  • File Your Answer With the Court: You must file your answer with the court before the deadline and provide a copy to the lender’s attorney. Ensure it is done on time to avoid an automatic win for the lender. If your answer to a foreclosure summons is not filed in a timely manner, then it is effectively the equivalent of not responding at all. 

What to Know About Deficiency Judgments in Florida’s Foreclosure Process

Another key point to know about Florida’s foreclosure laws is that it is a mortgage deficiency state. What does that mean for a financially-distressed homeowner who is facing a risk of foreclosure? If the sale of the foreclosed property does not cover the full amount owed on the mortgage, the lender can seek a deficiency judgment for the difference. Here is an example: 

  • Imagine that you owe $500,000 on a mortgage on a home in Miami-Dade County. The home is foreclosed on. The lender sells the property for the current market value—$475,000. You are $25,000 short of the loan. Under Florida law, the lender could then sue you for the remaining $25,000. This is known as a deficient amount. It can be a very big factor in many foreclosure cases in Florida, especially for those who are significantly underwater in their home.  

How does the deficiency judgment risk relate to the initial foreclosure summons? If you ignore a foreclosure summons and fail to defend yourself in court, the lender may obtain a default judgment, resulting in the loss of your home. Beyond that, without your presence in court, you lose the opportunity to challenge the deficiency judgment. Defending your home and defending yourself against a deficiency judgment are all part of the process. 

Contact Our Florida Foreclosure Defense Attorney Today

At Jacqueline A. Salcines, PA, our Florida foreclosure defense lawyer fights aggressively to help people save their homes. If you have any questions about responding to a foreclosure summons, we are more than ready to help. Get in touch with us by phone at 305-669-5280 or contact us online for your completely private case review. Our law firm provides foreclosure defense representation in Coral Gables, Miami-Dade County, and all across South Florida.