Homeowners in Georgia do not enjoy the same protection from foreclosure that those in other states have. Here, depending on the lender, the foreclosure process can begin one day after the grace period if an owner is late with the mortgage payment.
State Rep. Billy Mitchell is looking to change that. Mitchell, who represents the 88th District that includes Lithonia, Tucker and Stone Mountain, has pre-filed legislation that would require a 90-day notice and a right to cure the debt before the foreclosure process can begin.
The proposed bill, HB 899, will be introduced when the 2010 legislative session begins on Jan. 11, Mitchell said.
“Georgia is in a minority of states that have non-judicial foreclosure, (which is) a process where a home is taken away without going to court to show just cause,” Mitchell said. “In most states you have to appear before a judge where a homeowner can explain their situation.”
Georgia has the seventh-highest foreclosure rate in the nation according to RealtyTrac, the leading marketplace for foreclosure properties. Georgia’s foreclosure rate is up 25.06 percent from last year and up 6.69 percent from the second quarter of 2009 to the third quarter. There were 11,820 homes in DeKalb County foreclosed on in the third quarter of 2009, according to the Web site.
“In Georgia, your home can literally be taken away if you’re one day past the grace period,” Mitchell said. “Once the foreclosure process starts, you can’t come out of foreclosure even if you have the money. It’s up to the banks to allow you to make payments.”
Under HB 899, homeowners have a chance to get caught up on their mortgage payments without the immediate threat of losing their homes.
“DeKalb County has been hit among the hardest in the state in foreclosures,” Mitchell said. “As legislators,” we have the ability to bring about a law that will help people who are going through hard times.”
The bill has been endorsed by the Rev. Jesse Jackson and a number of politicians.
Ken Hatcher, a senior political consultant with the Georgia Association of Realtors, said his organization will be watching the progress of the bill closely. Hatcher said the group’s 24-member board will meet every Monday during the legislative session, but he has not yet looked at all the pre-filings.
“Billy’s a good friend. He’s reasonable and a fair-minded person. We get involved with any legislation that affects the lending industry,” Hatcher said. “We have a long history of following closely any legislation that affects the lending industry.”
Once HB 899 is formally taken up in the House, it will be assigned a committee, Mitchell said. It will then be presented to the entire House for a vote and then the Senate. Mitchell said he expects the proposed bill to be considered right away. If it passes both the House and the Senate, it could become law by July 2010, Mitchell said.
“Ninety days is a moderate period of time, and we don’t want to harm the banking industry,” Mitchell said. “We would be putting into law the best practices of better banks, anyway.”
Mitchell said he believes lawmakers will see the benefits of the proposal for all homeowners, not just those who fall behind on their mortgages.
“The bill would protect all consumers, even those who pay on time,” Mitchell said. “If people have homes being foreclosed on in their neighborhoods, their property values may go down. This will keep homes from being foreclosed on so quickly and keep property values stable.”