Florida Foreclosures

Originally, this post was intended to show the depth of change the Great Recession has caused in Florida, accompanied by reader comments from the New York Times. Another story crossed the radar which exemplifies the reason for the housing collapse and its affect on the overall economy. In a word, crooks, Wall Street bankers, lawyers, mortgage brokers, title agencies, bond rating agencies and their enablers, the politicians, caused this avoidable disaster to our way of life through stupidity, cupidity, and short-sightedness. Like the slave owners who brought about the Civil War because progress threatened their way of life, the investor and political class cared only for its narrow self-interest rather than the common good.

Long ago I learned that there is no class of good people that can be relied upon to do the right thing. The only rational solution that will treat the myriad problems, apart from the economy, that confront our country, is addressed here:


The first story is abbreviated to illustrate the problem of crooks. The entire story is a good read; it is followed by the original New York Times story about with nation-wide comments.

Hellish home refinancing nears bleak conclusion
It’s been an odyssey of misery for Imogene Hall, a Miami Gardens woman who just wanted to tap some home equity


All she wanted was $50,000 from the equity in her house to help pay the bills while looking for a job in nursing. What Imogene Hall got was a brutal lesson in the sometimes shady ways of the mortgage industry.

It’s a lesson learned by untold numbers of homeowners in Florida, epicenter of the foreclosure crisis gripping the nation.

Everywhere I turn, someone else is scamming me,” said Hall, a 49-year-old Jamaican immigrant who stands to lose her Miami Gardens home the Monday after Thanksgiving. “All I do is work hard, and I get surrounded by thieves.”

A review of court records found evidence of misconduct at nearly every stage of Hall’s experience. Consider:

  • •Johnson Cuffy, a former mortgage broker now serving an 11-year prison sentence for grand theft, handled Hall’s refinancing in early 2006, using a strategy a state investigator described as “outright mortgage fraud.” He faces up to 30 more years in prison if convicted of 16 other mortgage fraud charges he’s facing.
  • •The title agent who signed the crucial deed transfers that Hall’s fraud claim rests on operated an unlicensed title company that stole more than $1.5 million from South Florida home buyers during closing proceedings between 2005 and 2007, according to Florida Supreme Court records.
  • •A man who listed his employer as a nonexistent Blockbuster Video store in New York somehow used Hall’s home as collateral to secure a $230,000 loan from subprime lender Argent Mortgage.
  • •Hall’s foreclosure was processed by the Florida Default Law Group, one of four Florida law firms being investigated by the state attorney general for using flawed documents to repossess homes from thousands of owners.

…Hall paid her first lawyer, Alan Soven, more than $10,000 to fight the foreclosure. At one point Judge Friedman rebuked the Miami lawyer for subpar legal work, and the Florida Bar ordered him to refund $2,000 in legal fees to Hall in a mediation settlement. With a $400 hourly rate, he charged Hall nearly $3,000 for the 7.2 hours he spent trying to get legal approval to quit the case, court records show.
Soven declined to comment on the case.

Hall’s next lawyer, Johnny Kincaide of The Kincaide Law Group in Weston, routinely skipped crucial court hearings and failed to file a response to a court ruling, causing the judge to penalize Hall with an order of default. Kincaide’s firm is being investigated by Attorney General Bill McCollum after several homeowners said he promised to help them get a mortgage modification and then disappeared after taking their initial deposits. He did not return calls seeking comment.

The unlikely common denominator for all of this is a humble home on a quiet side-street in Miami Gardens, where Hall has lived for 13 years. She paid just over $80,000 for the home in 1997. Despite overwhelming evidence that Hall was likely a victim of mortgage fraud, Deutsche Bank won its foreclosure case, with a final judgment of $303,000 for the home, which the county appraiser valued at $98,310 this year.

Hall, who grows emotional when she talks about what now appears to be an inevitable eviction, says losing her home would be a devastating end to what has been a nightmarish ordeal.

“I can’t sleep at night — I worry, worry, worry about where I’m going to go,” she said. “I looked for help but nobody wanted to help me. I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

Read more:


At Legal Fringe, Empty Houses Go to the Needy

Published: November 8, 2010

NORTH LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Save Florida Homes Inc. and its owner, Mark Guerette, have found foreclosed homes for several needy families here in Broward County, and his tenants could not be more pleased. Fabian Ferguson, his wife and two children now live a two-bedroom home they have transformed from damaged and abandoned to full and cozy.

There is just one problem: Mr. Guerette is not the owner. Yet.

In a sign of the odd ingenuity that has grown from the real estate collapse, he is banking on an 1869 Florida statute that says the bundle of properties he has seized will be his if the owners do not claim them within seven years.

A version of the same law was used in the 1850s to claim possession of runaway slaves, though Mr. Guerette, 47, a clean-cut mortgage broker, sees his efforts as heroic. “There are all these properties out there that could be used for good,” he said.

The North Lauderdale authorities, though, see him as a crook. He is scheduled to go on trial in December on fraud charges in a case that, along with a handful of others in Florida and in other states, could determine whether maintaining a property and paying taxes on it is enough to lead to ownership.

Legal scholars say the concept is old — rooted in Renaissance England, when agricultural land would sometimes go fallow, left untended by long-lost heirs. But it is also common. All 50 states allow for so-called adverse possession, with the time to forge a kind of common-law marriage with property varying from a few years (in most states) to several decades (in New Jersey).

The statute generally requires that properties be maintained openly and continuously, which usually means paying property taxes and utility bills.

It is not clear how many people are testing the idea, but lawyers say that do-it-yourself possession cases have been popping up all over the country — and, they note, these self-proclaimed owners play an odd role in a real-estate mess that never seems to end. Though they may cringe at the analogy, as squatters with bank accounts, these adverse possessors are like leeches, and it can be difficult to tell at times whether they are cleaning a wound already there, or making it worse.

Either way, Florida is where they thrive.

Many residents of the Sunshine State have grown accustomed to living beside a home left vacant for years. Now hundreds of these mold-filled caverns, their appliances long ago spirited off, are being claimed by strangers.

“There are all kinds of ways the people try to manipulate the system to their own financial gain,” said Jack McCabe, an independent real estate analyst with McCabe Research and Consulting. “And you are going to see it here because Florida is the capital of real estate fraud.”

Mr. Guerette, who now faces up to 15 years in prison, insists that his business is legitimate and moral. He said he got started last year, driving around working-class neighborhoods in Palm Beach and Broward Counties, looking for a particular kind of home: not just those with overgrown lawns and broken windows, but houses with a large orange sticker from the county reading “public nuisance.”

The stickers signaled owners out of touch: the county or city was unable to reach them.

Mr. Guerette filed court claims on around 100 of these properties, which appear to be in the process of foreclosure. Then he chose 20 that could be most easily renovated and sent letters to the owners and their banks — presumably overwhelmed — to make them aware of his plans.

Florida does not require notification. One state lawmaker tried and failed to close that loophole last year with a bill that never passed. But it hardly mattered. Nineteen of the owners and their banks did not respond, Mr. Guerette said.

So he set about fixing up the unclaimed properties. In some cases, he just mowed the lawn and replaced stolen air conditioners or broken windows; in other cases, like with Mr. Ferguson, he let tenants make improvements in lieu of rent.

At his peak last year, he said he managed 17 homes with renters, some of whom he found on Craigslist, others through a Christian ministry in Margate, Fla.

Copies of leases show Mr. Guerette included an addendum noting that he was not the legal owner. Tenants like Mr. Ferguson and his family, who had been homeless before moving in last year and paying $289 a month, see Mr. Guerette as a savior.

And neighbors generally agree. “There is no telling who was in and out of that house,” said Rawle Thomas, who lives next door to Mr. Ferguson and his family. “I like them, and I’d much rather have someone in there than the house empty.”

In other cases, though, adverse possession has been more aggressive and problematic. In Palm Beach County, Carl Heflin spent a year in jail awaiting trial on fraud, trespassing and burglary charges. But after accepting a plea agreement and the rejection of his adverse possession claims, he was arrested again on charges of trying to collect back rents on houses he had tried to possess.

“The whole time he was harassing us and threatened to burn the house down with my kids in it,” said Misty Hall, a single mother of two who rented a home from Mr. Heflin.

Sam Goren, city attorney for North Lauderdale, said any benefits were outweighed by a simple fact that adverse possessors often overlook: they are trespassing.

Michael Allan Wolf, a real estate expert at the University of Florida law school, said adverse possessors also disrupt the chain of title. Rightful owners end up having to evict tenants. The time between foreclosure and legitimate resale may be extended.

Even when adverse possessors help stabilize neighborhoods, “It is not an effective or efficient cure for the foreclosure crisis in Florida,” Professor Wolf said.

Mr. Guerette says his goals are more charitable. After several marriages, six children and some minor trouble with the law, he said, he is now a who sees his new company as a way to make an honest living, and solve a dire need.

His tenants confirmed that after he was arrested in April, he told them they could stop paying rent. Even if he is not allowed to keep taking homes, he said, why should needy people not be matched with homes left to decay?

“There are over 4,000 homeless in Broward, and the number is growing all the time,” he said. “I thought I could use these homes and put people into them. It could be a good thing.”
He added: “It’s not rocket science.”

November 8th, 2010
10:18 pm
While I’m not entirely comfortable with the idea of people taking property that is not theirs, it just seems so senseless that there are people that need a place to live and these houses just have to sit there and rot.

Washington, DC
November 8th, 2010
10:36 pm
Trespass actions must be brought by the rightful owners!!!! If these actions are brought by the prosecutors without abandoned owners filing charges then arrest the prosecutors!!!
Adverse possession is rightful. It is a community good just like taking out the trash!
These guys are heroes!!! Stop protecting banks!!!! What in the world is wrong with this country. Our highest virtue is NOT to protect lenders!!!
Recommended by 283 Readers

New York, NY
November 8th, 2010
10:36 pm
This is precisely the underlying principle of adverse possession — maximizing land utility. It may have grown out of arable land principles, but the concept is identical: it is better for land to be used than left derelict. It is better for society, for neighbors and for those using the land, and is only allowable if owners show no interest in their property.
Chain of title may be ‘confused’ during the period of adverse possession, but the payment of taxes and physical presence lends color of title and, when the statutory period expires, eventually actual title passes to the adverse possessor.
Given that many of the actual owners of foreclosed or abandoned properties are banks so irresponsible in their lending and record-keeping practices that they have lost all or much of the relevant documentation and may not, themselves, even realize they own some of the properties illuminates the underlying justice of this ancient common law principle. Industriousness, not greed, is rewarded by the law.
Recommended by 343 Readers

Benny Acosta
Wichita KS
November 8th, 2010
10:36 pm
If Mark Guerette is getting people back into homes then I say God bless him. The banks caused this whole mess because of their narrow focus on profit. There are many families out there that need a home and would be able to maintain one if not extremely over priced mortgage rates. If these houses have been abandoned and the banks have done nothing but let them rot, then what business is it of theirs if needy families take them?
The giant banks and their enablers cared nothing about American families when they were busy selling predatory “products” to unsuspecting “suckers”. So they really have nothing to say that would make their case against families picking up the pieces and putting their lives back together.
The housing bubble was a big fiasco. It has devastated thousands of families and communities. I hope the old laws that people are using to claim these houses are allowed to stand. In this unforgiving climate, families need to find relief anywhere they can. And if the banks lose out so what?
When they were profiting hand over fist, it was called private capital. But strangely enough, when they all started going broke, it was OUR ‘social responsibility’ to bail them out.
Let them take their losses like men and quit their belly aching.

Amherst, New York
November 8th, 2010
10:36 pm
So why didn’t they just let the homeowners remain in their homes? If they are allowing strangers to occupy these properties, the smart thing to have done would to be have allowed the original owners to live in their houses and work something out with the bank. They bank could have given them reduced payments, interest only payments, extended the terms of the loan, or simply reduced the payments for one or two years until the people got back on their feet.
We had to bail out the banks, the least they could have done was to bail out the people who owned homes and wanted to save them from foreclosure. Now, some homeowners were just in over their heads pure and simple and will never be able to pay their bills. That’s not the group I’m talking about. I’m talking about the people who ran into a temporary stream of bad luck, either through illness, losing their job, or their company downsized. These people are hardworking and honest and desperately want to keep their homes. Why not let them?
I can’t believe that the banks would be so mean spirited as to not work closely with these people to help them keep their homes. And, again, I’m not talking about the people who could never afford to pay, only those who will be able to pay, but not right away.
What purpose does it serve anyway to glut the market with thousands of these homes? No purpose is served. It becomes a lose, lose situation. The market it flooded with homes and that depresses their price. Also, the banks ought to really help the people who are willing to stay and continue to pay.
And, belive me, most people don’t want to lose their house or their cars and will do pretty much of anything that is legal to stay in their house and protect where they live at all costs!

John Brady
Canterbury, CT.
November 8th, 2010
10:36 pm
This is nonsense. All adverse possession was intended to do was settle property line disputes left over from an era when property lines were not very well delineated.
Recommended by 36 Readers

Mike Cagle
Bloomington Indiana
November 8th, 2010
10:42 pm
Adverse possession is not some newfangled idea this guy made up. It’s a recognized legal concept that goes back centuries. If the “rightful owners” abandon the property and can’t be reached, and the adverse possessor openly claims and occupies the property for a sufficient period of time, they become the new “rightful owner.” And in a case like this, why not? This guy is doing a good thing. The houses are empty, abandoned, falling apart. There are people who need a place to live. Good for him!

Pompano Beach FL
November 8th, 2010
10:42 pm
As is the case with most situations, there is more to this than can be discerned by this article. It seems on the one hand to be a benevolent manifestation… and on the other hand an unfair and potentially illegal practice.
Homes should certainly be utilized at some point after having been abandoned or foreclosed upon. Honestly… I’m not comfortable with the concept of squatters moving in next door to me. Sorry if that’s not PC… but it’s the bald truth.
Recommended by 27 Readers

n. sink
November 8th, 2010
10:42 pm
With the Democrats in charge, nationally, private property rights are going right out the window, along with other rights and freedoms.

Paramount, Ca
November 8th, 2010
10:43 pm
It can be said that if INGRID had a car that was not being used in her driveway someone (who feels entitled) could just ADVERSE possess it and drive it off if they so wish. Same logic. [right. Vehicles are moveable property, not like an apple tre whose owner might not pick the apples.]

Tuscaloosa, AL
November 8th, 2010
10:46 pm
Who says you don’t learn anything useful in law school!

John Chaitan
Portland, OR
November 8th, 2010
11:09 pm
Ownership also implies custodial responsibility. Leaving property idle is an insult to those willing sweat to repair, improve, and maintain something that a just society would without question deem everyone’s birthright: a home.
A better developed sense of squatter’s rights could also act an economic engine in areas corroded by the urban blight of abandoned houses, shuttered offices, and vacant lots.

J.G. Wentworth
santa cruz
November 8th, 2010
11:09 pm
This is very BAD. First, people bought places they could not afford. We bailed the banks out for their stupidity. Those foreclosed houses need to go down in price and new smart buyers should be getting them. Instead, the process will be further delayed by squatters who have NO claim whatsoever to these properties. Wow, could it be any worse? Maybe a scheme to take my tax dollars to buy foreclosed houses for the squatters?

November 8th, 2010
11:22 pm
@Dion It is more analogous to if Ingrid left her car parked on the street for six months untended and after some kids decided to bust the windows and tag the side of the car instead of the city towing the car away a guy who owned a body shop took it.



Florida Foreclosures

About Jerry Frey

Born 1953. Vietnam Veteran. Graduated Ohio State 1980. Have 5 published books. In the Woods Before Dawn; Grandpa's Gone; Longstreet's Assault; Pioneer of Salvation; Three Quarter Cadillac
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