How to Use RESPA Qualified Written Request (QWR) in Foreclosure Defense
Qualified Written Request (QWR): How to use RESPA
by Neil Garfield
RESPA is a consumer protection statute that regulates the real estate settlement process, including loan servicing and assignments. 12 U.S.C. § 2601(a). In 2010, RESPA was amended pursuant to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, Pub. L. No. 111-203, 124 Stat. 1376 (2010), which, among other things, added provisions governing the way in which federal mortgage loan servicers responded to requests for information (“RFIs”) or assertions of error from borrowers. Dodd-Frank also created the CFPB, which is responsible for promulgating rules and regulations implementing RESPA.
One such regulation is Regulation X, which went into effect in January 2014. See Mortgage Servicing Rules Under the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, 78 Fed.Reg. 10696, 10696 (Feb. 14, 2013). Section 1024.35 of Regulation X “allows borrowers to notify mortgage servicers of possible account errors.” 12 C.F.R. § 1024.35.
Loan servicers, then, are required to respond to “any written notice from the borrower that asserts an error and that includes . . . information that enables the servicer to identify the borrower’s mortgage loan account, and the error the borrower believes has occurred.” Id. § 1024.35(a).
The obligation to respond, though, applies only to the “covered errors” listed in § 1024.35(b). This subsection enumerates ten specific covered errors, and then includes an eleventh “catch-all provision,” which encompasses “[a]ny other error relating to the servicing of a borrower’s mortgage loan.” Id. § 1024.35(b)(11).
The ten enumerated covered errors in 12 C.F.R. § 1024.35(b) are:
(b)Scope of error resolution. For purposes of this section, the term “error” refers to the following categories of covered errors:
(1) Failure to accept a payment that conforms to the servicer’s written requirements for the borrower to follow in making payments.
(2) Failure to apply an accepted payment to principal, interest, escrow, or other charges under the terms of the mortgage loan and applicable law.
(3) Failure to credit a payment to a borrower’s mortgage loan account as of the date of receipt in violation of 12 CFR 1026.36(c)(1).
(4) Failure to pay taxes, insurance premiums, or other charges, including charges that the borrower and servicer have voluntarily agreed that the servicer should collect and pay, in a timely manner as required by §1024.34(a), or to refund an escrow account balance as required by §1024.34(b).
(5) Imposition of a fee or charge that the servicer lacks a reasonable basis to impose upon the borrower.
(6) Failure to provide an accurate payoff balance amount upon a borrower’s request in violation of section 12 CFR 1026.36(c)(3).
(7) Failure to provide accurate information to a borrower regarding loss mitigation options and foreclosure, as required by §1024.39.
(8) Failure to transfer accurately and timely information relating to the servicing of a borrower’s mortgage loan account to a transferee servicer.
(9) Making the first notice or filing required by applicable law for any judicial or non-judicial foreclosure process in violation of §1024.41(f) or (j).(10) Moving for foreclosure judgment or order of sale, or conducting a foreclosure sale in violation of §1024.41(g) or (j).(11) Any other error relating to the servicing of a borrower’s mortgage loan.(c)Contact information for borrowers to assert errors. A servicer may, by written notice provided to a borrower, establish an address that a borrower must use to submit a notice of error in accordance with the procedures in this section. The notice shall include a statement that the borrower must use the established address to assert an error
What’s in a Qualified Written Request Letter
- “Qualified Written Requests” under RESPA put mortgage servicers in a troublesome place. But there’s law on their side to help distinguish legitimate issues from abuse and harassment
- A bank will receive a letter from a mortgage borrower, or from an attorney or other agent purporting to act on behalf of that borrower. The letter will generally demand that the lender provide the inquirer with a wide-ranging amount of information concerning the borrower’s loan and the transaction in general.
- The communication may assert that there is a defect or mistake in the borrower’s account, and then demand that immediate action be taken to correct that mistake.
- Asserting only slight oversights in the borrower’s escrow account calculation.
- The letters are marked as “Qualified Written Request” under Section 6 of RESPA.
- The “QWR” label stirs legal consequences that servicers and lenders cannot ignore.
What the law says:
- QWRs are special and important because they arise under specific consumer protection law contained in Section 6 of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA). Section 6 was added to RESPA in 1990, and generally imposes standards and requirements regarding the assignment sale or transfer of mortgage loan servicing. (12 U.S.C. Section 2605.) Under Section 6 of RESPA, borrowers are afforded a dispute resolution mechanism that gives rise to specific duties on the part of servicers where certain conditions are met.
- RESPA’s Section 6 and Section 3500.21(e) of RESPA’s implementing regulations (Regulation X), provide that consumer inquiries would constitute QWRs where:
- They are submitted in writing.
- They include, or allow the servicer to identify, the name and account of the borrower.
- They include a statement of the reasons for the borrower’s belief that the account is in error or must provide sufficient detail to the servicer about other information the borrower is seeking. (12 U.S.C. Section 2605(e)(1)(B)(ii))
- Where all such items are included in correspondence to a mortgage loan servicer, the servicer must then provide written acknowledgment to the consumer within 20 business days of receipt of the request. The receipt of a QWR triggers an affirmative duty to investigate the problem identified by the consumer, which must be rectified or explained not later than 60 business days after the receipt of the request.
Unlike other inquiries from consumers, the duties that arise from inquiries that qualify as a QWR have potent legal consequences.
- Under RESPA, borrowers can institute a private lawsuit for a Section 6 violation. They can potentially then recover actual and statutory damages (up to $1,000 per violation), plus attorney’s fees.
- Furthermore, class-action lawsuits are available in instances of pattern and practices of non-compliance, within three years, of the violation against a loan servicing company who refuses to comply with Section 6.
- Lawsuits for violations of Section 6 may be brought in any federal district court in the district in which the property is located or where the violation is alleged to have occurred.
- Finally, either HUD, a state attorney general, or state insurance commissioner may bring an injunctive action to enforce violations of Section 6 within three years.
- Clearly then, any correspondence received by a bank that is marked as “QWR” should not be ignored.
- The important question for compliance professionals is, therefore, how should an institution respond to the QWR, and equally important, how should the institution handle requests that are plainly abusive or harassing?
How do you spot a true QWR?
- As a preliminary matter, a request must specify the particular errors or omissions in the account, along with an explanation from the borrower of why he believes an error exists, in order to qualify as a QWR. A list of unsupported demands for information is not sufficient.
- “A qualified written request must … include a statement of the reasons for the belief of the borrower that the account is in error.” Walker v. Equity 1 Lenders Group, 2009 WL 1364430 *4-5 (S.D.Cal. 2009).
- Please note that if your institution is not a mortgage loan servicer, these provisions do not apply to you.
- By coverage and definition, the RESPA provisions under Section 6 apply to only “servicers” as defined by the statute. If you do not service mortgage loans, the requirements described herein are inapplicable to your institution.
- The QWR provision applies only to mortgages secured by a first lien, thereby excluding subordinate-lien loans and open-end lines of credit.
- RESPA requires a QWR to request information “relating to the servicing of the loan.” (See 12 U.S.C. Section 2605(e)(1)(A)).
- “Servicing” is defined as “receiving any scheduled periodic payments from a borrower pursuant to the terms of any loan, including amounts for escrow accounts described in Section10 [of RESPA], and making the payments of principle and interest and such other payments with respect to the amounts received from the borrower as may be required pursuant to the loan.”
- A QWR which requests no information related to servicing is not a valid QWR. In particular, requests related to origination do not qualify as QWRs.
- A leading case discussing this issue, MorEquity v. Nameem (118 F. Supp. 2d 885 (N.D. Ill. 2000), reached the important conclusion that borrowers fail to state a claim where the borrower’s request merely seeks information concerning the validity of the underlying loan and mortgage documents, but does not seek any information as to the status of the account balance.
Requests made in a QWR must relate to servicing and escrow matters; those requests that relate to extraneous issues dealing with the items relating to the loan’s settlement or secondary market information, for instance, are simply outside the proper scope of the QWR process.
- As a final, critical, note, if after considering all the elements listed above, a bank discards a request as not qualifying under RESPA’s QWR provisions, most legal experts recommend that the bank’s rationale should be well explained, and that the bank should document the reasons for rejecting the supposed QWR. Such rejections should, where possible, be sent back in writing. Legal counsel should be involved in ensuring that this procedure meets legal standards.
Dealing with the legitimate QWR
- When a servicer receives and properly identifies a valid QWR, the servicer must, by law, both acknowledge receipt of a QWR and respond to the substance of any claims or requests included in the QWR.
- In addition, the law directs servicers not to provide information to a consumer reporting agency during the 60 days following receipt of the QWR concerning overdue payments related to that period or to the QWR. (See RESPA Section 2605(e)(3) )
- In establishing procedures to comply with RESPA’s QWR provisions, banks should keep in mind that, contrary to some claims, the QWR process does not require a lender or servicer to stop foreclosure proceedings or other legal action on the loan.
- To properly respond to the QWR:
- A servicer must, within 20 business days, provide a written response acknowledging receipt of the QWR. (12 U.S.C. Section 2605(e)(1)(A))
- Within 60 business days the servicer must investigate the account, make any appropriate corrections, and provide the consumer with a report of their action. (Id. at Section 2605(e)(2)(A))
- If the servicer corrects the account, the servicer must provide a written explanation of the corrections. (Id.)
- If the servicer does not correct the account, it must provide an explanation or clarification that includes a statement of reasons why the account is correct and the name and telephone number of an employee of the servicer who can be contacted to further assist the borrower.
You can download a free Qualified Written Request (QWR) Letter and more at https://fraudstoppers.org/freeGET YOUR FREE QWR
Who Owns Your Mortgage Note?
Have you ever asked who owns your mortgage note? A better question to ask is, “If I paid off my mortgage loan tomorrow, would I get clear and equitable title to my real property?” If your mortgage loan contract was converted into a mortgage backed security and sold to an investment trust on Wall Street you might not!
If you are thinking of applying for a loan modification, or refinancing through the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP), Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), or other program(s) under the Making Home Affordable (MHA) initiative there are a few things to consider.
First, remember that the entity who claims to own your mortgage loan is not automatically the same entity that may be servicing your mortgage loan. A loan servicer is a debt collections company that sends you mortgage statements, takes your payments each month, and if you have an escrow account, pays your homeowner’s insurance and property tax bills. But who really owns your mortgage loan?
If you want to find out here are a few things you can do:
- Ask the servicer. Your loan servicer is legally obligated to tell you the name, address, and telephone number of the owner of your loan as shown in their records. It’s a good idea to ask them in writing officially with a “Qualified Written Request” via certified mail while keeping a log of your communications. The name of your servicer should be on your mortgage statement, but you can also use the MERS link below.
- Original lender. Your loan may have never been sold, and still kept as a “portfolio loan” with the original lender. That’s the way loans used to be done!
- Fannie Mae. In reality, many loans are sold to FNMA aka “Fannie Mae”. See Fannie Mae loan lookup tool.
- Freddie Mac. Similar story with Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (FHLMC) aka “Freddie Mac”. See Freddie Mac loan lookup tool.
- Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. (MERS) is a big online registry designed to replace the costly process of publicly recording mortgage ownership at the local government level with a private electronic version that allows the swapping of mortgages with no friction at all. MERS tracks both the servicing rights and ownership of mortgage loans in the United States, although the accuracy has been called into question. See MERS ServiceID lookup tool. You can also call them at 888-679-6377 FREE.
- Search the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for the alleged trust that claims they are the owner of your mortgage loan: https://www.fraudstoppers.org/how-to-search-the-sec-for-a-securitized-trust
- Register for a Free Mortgage Fraud Analysis and Securitization Search. Complete our Mortgage Fraud Analysis form and we will conduct a free securitization check to see if your mortgage loan contract was converted into a mortgage backed security and who really owns your note. If your loan was securitized than you may have legal standing to sue your lender, or current loan servicer, for mortgage fraud and quiet title. Find out more by completing our Mortgage Fraud Analysis form or call us at 773-877-3655 and we will help you get the facts and evidence you need to get the legal remedy you deserve.
Cases like the Glaski v. Bank of America and Jesinoski v. Countrywide Home Loans may have provided hope for homeowners who were victims of mortgage and foreclosure fraud. But they did not strike at the heart of the real problem behind the securitization of millions of mortgage loans.
The Glaski decision states that if some entity wants to collect on a debt they must first legally own that debt. Furthermore, if that entity is claiming ownership by way of an Assignment, it must prove that Assignment is legally valid.
The Jesinoski case addressed a borrower’s right to rescind, or cancel, their mortgage loan contract under the Truth in Lending Act (TILA) by only providing written notice to the lender, without filing suit. A loan is rescinded at the time the rescission letter is mailed. If the lender wants to refute or fight the rescission they must file an action to do so, and they have limited time to do so.
If your mortgage was securitized (the practice of pooling mortgages and selling their related cash flows to third party investors as securities) then it was part of a table funded transaction. In a table funded transaction the borrower named on the note is NOT in debt to the lender (“Pretender Lender”) because they signed the note in the capacity of an Accommodation Party, or co-signer for the purpose of incurring liability on the instrument without being a direct beneficiary of the value given for the instrument!
The broker, or originator, of the loan is pretending to loan money to the alleged “Borrower“, but in reality they trick the alleged “Borrower” into co-signing on a note that is pledged as collateral on a warehouse line of credit with the funding bank.
It is illegal for banks to loan credit, they can only loan money!
But if the Pretender Lender is not the entity putting up the funds, then there is no underlining indebtedness between the alleged “Borrower” and the originator who is named on the note. And if there is no underlining indebtedness between the parties named on the note, then the mortgage (or deed of trust) vaporizes into nothingness, and is legally unenforceable as a matter of law.
If your mortgage loan contract was part of a table funded transaction and converted into a mortgage backed security that was sold to an investment vehicle, or trust, on Wall Street, then you may have legal standing to rescind your mortgage loan contract, and sue your “Pretender Lender” for Special Damages equal to triple the original amount of your note, plus clear and equitable title to your home!
Fraud Stoppers is part of a National Private Members Association that provides back office litigation support to law firms, foreclosure defense advocacy groups, and pro se litigants nationwide. Our Private Members Association can help you sue your lender for mortgage fraud, with or without an attorney.
Then after our free mortgage fraud analysis is done, we can scheduled a free potential cause of action consultation to discuss your loan and lawsuit in detail and help you get started filing your state and federal lawsuit for the remedy that the law entitles you to, and that you deserve!
You can save 60% to 70% in legal fees when you get your lawsuit started yourself, Pro Se, (without an attorney), and then bring in a local attorney to help you at trial, where you need them the most! This way you can get the best of both worlds: Save money in legal fees, and get the professional help you need at the same time!
FRAUD STOPPERS Private Members Association (PMA) has a PROVEN WAY to help you save time and money, and increase your odds of success, suing the banks for mortgage and foreclosure fraud.
Our primary focus is helping you get clear and marketable title to your property by arguing that the actions of the banks have made the security provisions of the mortgage/deed of trust unenforceable as a matter of law.
Notice of Default and Paragraph 22 of the Standard Mortgage
Some think that there has been a dry spell for wins of homeowners beating the big banks. However the decision below shows otherwise and is very important for a couple of reasons. First it gives us more of a confirmed road map of how to make defenses in certain cases that have facts similar to this case…i.e. violations of Paragraph 22 of the mortgage, in regards to a notice of default (NOD), which we knew about but this decision emphasizes the importance of this type of defense. But also important…..Judge Gantz is back in full swing helping borrowers fight against illegal foreclosures. You will recall that he wrote the Freemont decision, Ibanez, and others…but then he seemed to have lost some momentum. However, with this decision, Judge Gantz is back in full stride protecting us from the criminal banks and their illegal foreclosure practices.
NOTICE: All slip opinions and orders are subject to formal revision and are superseded by the advance sheets and bound volumes of the Official Reports. If you find a typographical error or other formal error, please notify the Reporter of Decisions, Supreme Judicial Court, John Adams Courthouse, 1 Pemberton Square, Suite 2500, Boston, MA, 02108-1750; (617) 557-1030; SJCReporter@sjc.state.ma.us SJC-12139
FEDERAL NATIONAL MORTGAGE ASSOCIATION vs. ELVITRIA M. MARROQUIN & others.1 Essex. January 9, 2017. – May 11, 2017. Present: Gants, C.J., Lenk, Hines, Gaziano, Lowy, & Budd, JJ. Mortgage, Foreclosure, Real estate. Real Property, Mortgage, Sale. Notice, Foreclosure of mortgage. Summary process. Complaint filed in the Northeast Division of the Housing Court Department on June 18, 2012. The case was heard by David D. Kerman, J., on motions for summary judgment. The Supreme Judicial Court granted an application for direct appellate review. Cody J. Cocanig for the plaintiff. Dayne Lee (Eloise P. Lawrence also present) for Elvitria M. Marroquin. Joshua T. Gutierrez, Daniel D. Bahls, & Andrew S. Webman, for Lewis R. Fleischner & another, amici curiae, submitted a brief.
1 Julio E. Vasquez and Christopher Vasquez. GANTS, C.J. In Pinti v. Emigrant Mtge. Co., 472 Mass. 226, 227, 232 (2015), we held that a foreclosure by statutory power of sale pursuant to G. L. c. 183, § 21, and G. L. c. 244, §§ 11- 17C, is invalid unless the notice of default strictly complies with paragraph 22 of the standard mortgage, which informs the mortgagor of, among other things, the action required to cure the default, and the right of the mortgagor to bring a court action to challenge the existence of a default or to present any defense to acceleration and foreclosure.
We applied this holding to the parties in Pinti but concluded that our decision “should be given prospective effect only.” Id. at 243. We therefore declared that the decision “will apply to mortgage foreclosure sales of properties that are the subject of a mortgage containing paragraph 22 or its equivalent and for which the notice of default required by paragraph 22 is sent after the date of this opinion,” which was issued on July 17, 2015.Id. We did not reach the question whether our holding should be applied to any case pending in the trial court or on appeal. Id. at 243 n.25.
We reach that question here, and conclude that the Pinti decision applies in any case where the issue was timely and fairly asserted in the trial court or on appeal before July 17, 2015. Because we conclude that the defendants timely and fairly raised this issue in the Housing Court before that date, and because the notice of default did not strictly comply with the requirements in paragraph 22 of the mortgage, we affirm the judge’s ruling declaring the foreclosure sale void.
Background. In December, 2005, the defendants2 secured a mortgage loan in the amount of $312,000 from American Mortgage Express Corporation (American Mortgage) and, as security for the loan, granted a mortgage on their home to Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. (MERS), which American Mortgage had designated as the mortgagee in a nominee capacity. MERS subsequently assigned the mortgage to Bank of America, N.A. (Bank of America), as successor by merger to BAC Home Loans Servicing, LP, formerly known as Countrywide Home Loans Servicing, LP. After the defendants failed to make their mortgage payments, the loan servicer, Countrywide Home Loans Servicing, LP, on October 17, 2008, mailed the defendants a notice of intention to foreclose (notice of default). The notice informed the defendants that they were in default and set forth the amount due to cure the default. The notice warned in relevant part:
2 The mortgage loan was secured by the defendants Elvitria M. Marroquin and Julio E. Vasquez. The limited record before us suggests that Christopher Vasquez is Marroquin’s son, and that a motion filed by the Federal National Mortgage Association to amend the summons and complaint to include him was granted by the Housing Court judge. For convenience, we refer to “the defendants” throughout this opinion.
“If the default is not cured on or before January 15, 2009, the mortgage payments will be accelerated with the full amount remaining accelerated and becoming due and payable in full, and foreclosure proceedings will be initiated at that time. As such, the failure to cure the default may result in the foreclosure and sale of your property. . . . You may, if required by law or your loan documents, have the right to cure the default after the acceleration of the mortgage payments and prior to the foreclosure sale of your property if all amounts past due are paid within the time permitted by law. . . .Further, you may have the right to bring a court action to assert the non-existence of a default or any other defense you may have to acceleration and foreclosure.”
The defendants did not cure the default, and in March, 2012, Bank of America gave notice and conducted a foreclosure sale by public auction of the mortgaged home. Bank of America was the high bidder at the foreclosure auction and subsequently assigned its winning bid to the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae or plaintiff), which properly recorded the foreclosure deed conveying title of the property in May, 2012. On June 18, 2012, Fannie Mae initiated a summary process action in the Housing Court to evict the defendants from the property. On June 19, 2012, the defendants, representing themselves but assisted by counsel, filed an answer in which, by checking a box, they proffered as a defense to the eviction that “[t]he plaintiff’s case should be dismissed because it does not have proper title to the property and therefore does not have standing to bring this action and/or cannot prove a superior right to possession of the premises.”
For reasons not apparent from the record, Fannie Mae did not move for summary judgment until June, 2015, where, among other arguments, it contended that Bank of America had complied with the terms of the mortgage in exercising the power of sale, and specifically asserted that the notice of default had complied with paragraph 22 of the mortgage.3 On September 23, 2015, the defendants filed a cross motion for summary judgment in which they argued that the notice of default failed to strictly comply with the terms of paragraph 22 of the mortgage and that the defendants should be entitled to the benefit of our decision in Pinti even though the notice of default was sent well before the issuance of that opinion. In October, 2015, the judge granted the defendants’ cross motion for summary judgment and denied the plaintiff’s motion.
3 Paragraph 22 of the mortgage provides that in the event the borrower commits a breach of any term of the mortgage, prior to acceleration of the loan the lender must notify the borrower of “(a) the default; (b) the action required to cure the default; (c) a date, not less than [thirty] days from the date the notice is given to [the defendants], by which the default must be cured; and (d) that failure to cure the default on or before the date specified in the notice may result in acceleration of the sums secured by [the mortgage].”
Paragraph 22 further provides that such notice must inform the borrower “of the right to reinstate after acceleration and the right to bring a court action to assert the non-existence of a default or any other defense of the borrower to acceleration and sale.” It also declares that, if the default is not timely cured, the lender “may invoke the statutory power of sale.”
The judge found that the issue in Pinti had been “timely and fairly raised,” and concluded that our decision in Pinti should apply to all cases similarly situated that were pending in the trial court or on appeal where the issue had been timely and fairly raised before July 17, 2015. The judge also concluded that the notice of default failed to strictly comply with the requirement in paragraph 22 of the mortgage that the notice shall inform the borrower “of the right to reinstate after acceleration and the right to bring a court action to assert the non-existence of a default or any other defense of the borrower to acceleration and sale.”The judge found that, by stating, “You may, if required by law or your loan documents, have the right to cure the default after the acceleration of the mortgage payments and prior to the foreclosure sale of your property . . . ,” and “you may have the right to bring a court action to assert the non-existence of a default or any other defense you may have to acceleration and foreclosure” (emphasis added), the notice “significantly, and inexcusably, differed from, watered. . . down, and overshadowed the notice that was contractually and legally required by the mortgage.” He added that “there was no excuse for the difference in language “and that it was impossible to imagine any purpose for drafting a notice that failed to track the language of the mortgage “unless, of course, the purpose was to discourage [b]orrowers from asserting their rights.”4 After the judge issued his decision, the Appeals Court held in Aurora Loan Servs., LLC v. Murphy, 88 Mass. App. Ct. 726, 727
(2015), that the Pinti decision applies to cases pending on appeal where the claim that the notice of default failed to strictly comply with the notice provisions in the mortgage had been “raised and preserved” before the issuance of the decision. Although the issue was not before it, the Appeals Court declared that “the Pinti rule” did not extend to cases pending in the trial court. Id. at 732. Relying on this dictum, the plaintiff moved to vacate the judgment under Mass. R. Civ. P. 60 (b), 365 Mass. 828 (1974). The judge denied the motion, and the plaintiff appealed. We allowed the defendants’ application for direct appellate review. Discussion. 1. Application of the Pinti decision to pending cases. Our decision in Pinti was grounded in the requirement in G. L. c. 183, § 21, that, before a mortgagee may
4 The judge analogized the warning in the notice of default to a Miranda warning that informed a suspect before interrogation: “You [may] have the right to remain silent. If you give up the right [and if you have that right], anything you say or do [may] can and will be used against you in a court of law. You [may] have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney [and if you have that right], one [may] will be appointed for you. Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you?”
exercise the power of sale in a foreclosure, it must “first comply with the terms of the mortgage and with the statutes relating to the foreclosure of mortgages by the exercise of a power of sale.”Because the power of sale is a “substantial power” that permits a mortgagee to foreclose without judicial oversight, we followed the traditional and familiar rule that “‘one who sells under a power [of sale] must follow strictly its terms’; the failure to do so results in ‘no valid execution of the power, and the sale is wholly void.’” Pinti, 472 Mass. at 232-233, quoting U.S. Bank Nat’l Ass’n v. Ibanez, 458 Mass. 637, 646 (2011). See Pryor v. Baker, 133 Mass. 459, 460 (1882) (“The exercise of a power to sell by a mortgagee is always carefully watched, and is to be exercised with careful regard to the interests of the mortgagor”).
Although it had long been established in law that the failure to strictly comply with the terms of a mortgage renders void an otherwise valid foreclosure sale, we gave our decision “prospective effect only, because the failure of a mortgagee to provide the mortgagor with the notice of default required by the mortgage is not a matter of record and, therefore, where there is a foreclosure sale in a title chain, ascertaining whether clear record title exists may not be possible.” Pinti, 472 Mass. at 243. Our concern was that a third party who purchases property that had once been sold at a foreclosure auction would not, through a title search, be able to determine whether the notice of default strictly complied with the terms of the mortgage. It would therefore be nearly impossible to eliminate the risk that the foreclosure sale would later be declared void and that the title would be returned to the foreclosed property owner. See id. We presumed that, after our decision in Pinti, mortgagees “as a general matter” would address this uncertainty by executing and recording “an affidavit of compliance with the notice provisions of paragraph 22 that includes a copy of the notice that was sent to the mortgagor pursuant to that paragraph.” Id. at 244.
However, we applied our ruling to the parties in Pinti, id. at 243, citing Eaton v. Federal Nat’l Mtge. Ass’n, 462 Mass. 569, 589 (2012), and deferred the question whether our holding “should be applied to any other class of cases pending on appeal.” Id. at 243 n.25. In Galiastro v. Mortgage Elec. Registration Sys., Inc., 467 Mass. 160, 167-170 (2014), we addressed that same issue in a closely parallel context. In Eaton, 462 Mass. at 571, we declared that a foreclosure by power of sale is invalid unless a foreclosing party holds the mortgage and also either holds the underlying note or acts on behalf of the note holder.
We applied this rule to the parties in Eaton, but otherwise gave the ruling prospective effect only. Id. In Galiastro, supra at 168, we extended the benefit of our decision in Eaton to litigants who had preserved this issue and whose cases were pending on appeal at the time that Eaton was decided. We declared that “[w]here multiple cases await appellate review on precisely the same question, it is inequitable for the case chosen as a vehicle to announce the court’s holding to be singled out as the ‘chance beneficiary’ of an otherwise prospective rule.” Galiastro, supra at 167-168, citing United States v. Johnson, 457 U.S. 537, 555 n.16 (1982), and Commonwealth v. Pring-Wilson, 448 Mass. 718, 736 (2007).
Limiting the application of prospective rulings to such a “chance beneficiary” would mean that something as arbitrary as the speed at which a case is litigated might determine its outcome, as only the first case raising this issue to reach the Supreme Judicial Court would get the benefit of the ruling. It would also greatly diminish the “incentive to bring challenges to existing precedent” by depriving similarly situated litigants “of the benefit for the work and expense involved in challenging the old rule.” Galiastro, supra at 169, quoting Powers v Wilkinson, 399 Mass. 650, 664 (1987).
The same principles underlying our decision in Galiastro to extend the Eaton rule to cases pending on appeal cause us to extend the Pinti rule to cases pending in the trial court where the Pinti issue was timely and fairly raised before we issued our decision in Pinti. In such cases, the homeowner-mortgagors are similarly situated to the plaintiffs in Pinti, because they presented the same arguments in the trial court that the Pinti plaintiffs presented to this court on appeal. All that distinguishes the homeowners in Pinti from the homeowners in this case is the pace of the litigation. The summary process complaint in this case was first filed in June, 2012; the complaint in Pinti seeking a judgment declaring that the foreclosure sale was void was filed in January, 2013. If this case had proceeded to judgment more promptly in the Housing Court, this appeal, rather than Pinti, might have been the one that established the so-called Pinti rule.5
Having so ruled, we now consider whether the homeowner defendants in this case timely and fairly raised a Pinti defense before the issuance of our Pinti decision. The judge found that they had, and we conclude that he was not clearly erroneous in so finding. We recognize that the defendants did not specifically allege that the mortgagee’s notice of default failed to strictly comply with the terms of paragraph 22 of the mortgage until they filed their cross motion for summary judgment on September 23,
5 We recognize that this ruling will increase the impact our Pinti decision may have on the validity of titles, but we expect the increase to be modest and that it will simply be part of the inherent “unevenness [that] is an inevitable consequence of any change in doctrine.” Galiastro v. Mortgage Elec. Registration Sys., Inc., 467 Mass. 160, 170 (2014), quoting Johnson Controls, Inc. v. Bowes, 381 Mass. 278, 283 n.4 (1980).
2015, more than two months after the issuance of our opinion in Pinti. But more than three years before that opinion, in June, 2012, they filed an answer as self-represented litigants where they checked the box proffering as a defense to the eviction that the plaintiff did not have “superior right to possession of the premises.”6 We need not consider whether the assertion of this affirmative defense alone was sufficient to give fair notice of a Pinti defense, because it is apparent from the plaintiff’s memorandum in support of its motion for summary judgment, which was filed one month before the issuance of our Pinti decision, that the plaintiff recognized that the defendants had alleged that the notice of default failed to comply with the terms of paragraph 22 of the mortgage. In that memorandum, the plaintiff argued that it had complied with the requirements of paragraph 22 and that it would be “irrational and fundamentally unfair” to declare the foreclosure proceeding void because of the purported minor differences between the language of the notice of default and that of the mortgage.
6 The full text of the defense, marked box no. 67 on the answer, states:”The plaintiff’s case should be dismissed because it does not have proper title to the property and therefore does not have standing to bring this action and/or cannot prove a superior right to possession of the premises. Wayne Inv. Corp. v. Abbott, 350 Mass. 775 (1966) (title defects can be raised as defense in summary process); G. L.239, § 1 (summary process available to plaintiff only if foreclosure carried out according to law).
“Where the plaintiff recognized that the defendants had raised the Pinti issue as a defense before our Pinti decision, the judge did not err in finding that the defendants fairly and timely raised the issue and therefore were entitled to the benefit of the Pinti decision.
Obligation of strict compliance. Having determined that the defendants are entitled to the benefit of our holding in Pinti, we must now address whether the notice of default strictly complied with paragraph 22 of the mortgage. It did not. Once a borrower has defaulted on a mortgage, G. L. c. 183, 21, authorizes the mortgagee to foreclose and sell the premises, provided it “first compl[ies] with the terms of the mortgage and with the statutes relating to the foreclosure of mortgages by the exercise of the power of sale.” Pinti, 472 Mass. at 232, quoting G. L. c. 183, § 21. As we explained in Pinti, supra at 236, “the ‘terms of the mortgage’ with which strict compliance is required — both as a matter of common law under this court’s decisions and under § 21 — include not only the provisions in paragraph 22 relating to the foreclosure sale itself, but also the provisions requiring and prescribing the preforeclosure notice of default” (footnote omitted). See Foster, Hall & Adams Co. v. Sayles, 213 Mass. 319, 322-324 (1913).
The notice of default in this case communicated much of what paragraph 22 requires but fell short in several crucial respects. Paragraph 22 requires that the notice “inform [the borrower] of the right to reinstate after acceleration and the right to bring a court action to assert the non-existence of a default or any other defense of [the borrower] to acceleration of sale.” Despite this language in the plaintiff’s own uniform mortgage instrument, the notice declared that the borrower “may, if required by law or [the borrower’s] loan documents, have the right to cure the default after the acceleration of the mortgage payments and prior to the foreclosure sale of [the borrower’s] property if all amounts past due are paid within the time permitted by law” (emphasis added). Similarly, the notice declared that the borrower “may have the right to bring a court action to assert the non-existence of a default or any other defense [the borrower] may have” (emphasis added).
We agree with the judge that this language in the notice “significantly, and inexcusably, differed from” the language in paragraph 22 of the mortgage, and “watered . . . down” the rights provided in that paragraph to the mortgagor homeowner. The phrase, “you may, if required by law or your loan documents, have the right to cure the default after acceleration,” suggests that the right to cure and reinstate is not available to every mortgagor, and that any such right is contingent upon the law or the provisions of other loan documents. But paragraph 19 of the mortgage specifically grants a mortgagor the right to reinstatement after acceleration, and sets forth the steps required to do so.This phrase instead suggests that the homeowner may need to perform legal research and analysis to discern whether the right to cure and reinstate is available.
Similarly, rather than unequivocally inform the borrower of the right to bring a court action to attempt to prevent a foreclosure by asserting that there was no default or by invoking another defense, the notice of default stated that the borrower may have the right to bring such an action. Here, too, the implication is that the right is merely conditional, without specifying the conditions, and that the mortgagor may not have the right to file an action in court.
The defendant contends that it accurately informed borrowers that they “may have” the right to bring a court action because they would have no such right if their court action lacked a good faith basis. But neither paragraph 22 of the mortgage nor the notice identified a bad faith exception to this right and we cannot reasonably infer that a borrower would understand that the “may have” language referenced such an exception.7
7 Because we find that the notice of default was not in strict compliance with paragraph 22, we need not address the We agree with the judge that, because the Pinti decision applies to this case and because the notice of default did not strictly comply with the requirements of paragraph 22 of the mortgage, the foreclosure sale is void.
8 Conclusion. The allowance of the defendants’ cross motion for summary judgment, as well as the denials of the plaintiff’s motions for summary judgment and for relief from judgment, are affirmed.
defendants’ contention that the plaintiff waived its argument that the notice was in strict compliance when it conceded that it was only in substantial compliance in the memorandum in support of its motion for summary judgment and at the hearing in the Housing Court.