Foreclosures are once again on the rise. According to a report from Bloomberg, the nationwide mortgage foreclosure rate jumped 22% in the first quarter of 2023. Notably, South Florida has a higher foreclosure rate than the national average. Facing foreclosure on your home is stressful, frustrating, and intimidating. The good news is that you are not without options.
Every homeowner in Florida has a right to defend their property against a foreclosure. A number of different foreclosure defense strategies are available—you need to be ready to explore every available option. In this article, our Coral Gables foreclosure defense lawyer provides an in depth guide to the strategies that you can use to defend your home in Florida.
You Have the Right to Defend Your Home Against Foreclosure: An Overview of Florida Law
As a starting point, homeowners should have an understanding of how the foreclosure process works in Florida. While there are some federal mortgage regulations in place, there are also significant state-to-state variations in foreclosure laws. Here is a list of some of the most important things that financially-distressed homeowners need to know about Florida’s foreclosure laws:
- Federal Law Generally Sets a 120-Day Timeline: Federal law sets the general timeline for most residential mortgage foreclosures in Florida. With few exceptions, there is a 120-day timeline before a lender can initiate foreclosure. The clock starts after the first missed mortgage payment. The 120-day period is designed to grant financially distressed homeowners ample time to resolve their issues or explore alternatives to avoid foreclosure,
- Homeowners Should Receive Proper Notices: In Florida, homeowners must receive proper notices throughout the foreclosure process. The lender must send a Notice of Default (NOD) and a Notice of Acceleration, which outline the homeowner’s rights and the amount owed. Later in the process, the lender must provide Notice of Foreclosure Sale, stating the date and location of the foreclosure auction, giving homeowners a chance to take action.
- Florida is a Judicial Foreclosure State: Florida follows a judicial foreclosure process, which means that lenders must file a lawsuit in court to initiate foreclosure proceedings. Once the lender obtains a final judgment, a foreclosure sale can be scheduled. Not all U.S. states are judicial foreclosure jurisdictions. As a general rule, the foreclosure process takes longer in states that require judicial foreclosure.
- Florida Allows Deficiency Judgments: All homeowners navigating the foreclosure process should understand that Florida is one of the state’s that allows lenders to pursue deficiency judgments. After a foreclosure sale in Florida, the lender can seek a deficiency judgment against the homeowner if the proceeds from the sale are insufficient to cover the outstanding mortgage balance.
Understanding the Most Common Foreclosure Defense Strategies
Foreclosure Defense Strategy #1: Go After the Validity of the Mortgage or Conduct of Lender
Challenging the validity of the mortgage or the conduct of the lender is a common foreclosure defense strategy. Homeowners can scrutinize the loan documents for any errors, any material misrepresentations, or any type of fraudulent or otherwise legally improper practices by the original lender, a mortgage servicer, or the company that currently owns the mortgage.
All homeowners should be ready to work with an experienced South Florida foreclosure defense lawyer who can thoroughly investigate whether the lender followed proper procedures and complied with all relevant state and federal laws during the loan origination, loan servicing, and the foreclosure process itself.
If any violations or discrepancies are discovered, you may be able to defend your home against a foreclosure. These are highly fact-specific legal matters. In some cases, homeowners can use improper conduct on the part of a lender or mortgage servicing company to negotiate an outcome that allows them to save their home. In other cases, the company initiating the foreclosure may not even actually be the rightful owner of the loan.
Foreclosure Defense Strategy #2: Explore Options for a Loan Modification
Another foreclosure defense strategy is to explore options for a loan modification. A loan modification involves changing the terms of the mortgage, such as reducing the interest rate, extending the loan term, or adding any missed payments to the principal balance. It is important to emphasize that loan modifications are not available in every case. That being said, they are always a strategy that should be explored for foreclosure defense.
A well-tailored loan modification can halt the foreclosure process. It can alter the terms of the loan, make monthly payments more manageable for homeowners, and prevent foreclosure. To qualify for a loan modification, homeowners must demonstrate financial hardship and provide documentation proving their ability to make the new, adjusted payments. Working with a Florida foreclosure defense lawyer is a must. An attorney can improve your chances for getting a modification.
Foreclosure Defense Strategy #3: Buy Time and File for Bankruptcy Protection
Filing for bankruptcy protection is another foreclosure defense strategy that can help homeowners buy time and possibly save their property. When a homeowner files for bankruptcy, an automatic stay is issued, which temporarily halts all collection activities, including foreclosure. Chapter 13 bankruptcy allows homeowners to restructure their debts and create a repayment plan to catch up on missed mortgage payments over a period of three to five years.
Of course, a personal bankruptcy filing is certainly not the right path forward in every situation. Still, it is an approach that may be viable for some homeowners in Florida—especially those who are facing overall financial challenges. A bankruptcy filing could delay the foreclosure process, allow a person to remain in their home, and provide them with an opportunity to reorganize their finances and address their financial challenges.
Speak to Our Florida Foreclosure Defense Lawyer for Immediate Help
At Jacqueline A. Salcines, PA, our Florida foreclosure defense lawyer is an experienced, effective advocate for homeowners. If you have any specific questions or concerns about foreclosure defense strategies, we can help. Call us at 305-669-5280 or connect with us online to schedule your fully private case review. From our office in Coral Gables, we provide foreclosure defense representation to homeowners in Miami-Dade County and throughout the surrounding area in Southeast Florida.