Bill Helps Widowed Spouses and Children Keep Their Family Homes

SACRAMENTO – New legislation introduced by Senators Mark Leno and Cathleen Galgiani provides critical protections for widowed spouses and other survivors who assume home ownership responsibilities when the primary mortgage holder passes away. The Homeowner Survivor Bill of Rights, (Senate Bill 1150) closes a loophole in California law that fails to provide surviving spouses and children important protections against foreclosure that are available to other homeowners.

“Grieving family members who have the financial ability to remain in their homes following a loved one’s death shouldn’t have to face the added stress of a lender’s red tape,” said Senator Leno, D-San Francisco. “Widowed spouses are being consumed by a labyrinth of processes in an attempt to assume or modify existing home loans after the primary mortgage holder passes away. This has led to preventable foreclosures and worsened the suffering of families already thrown in personal crises.”

In 2012, California led the nation in providing foreclosure relief for homeowners by passing the Homeowners’ Bill of Rights (HBOR), which requires a single point of contact at a lending institution and prohibits dual-tracking, a practice where lenders foreclose on a home while the owners are simultaneously seeking a loan modification. Unfortunately, servicers argue that surviving family members who are not named on the loan are not covered by HBOR. These survivors report that lenders refuse to communicate with them or fail to provide factual information about loan details and foreclosure avoidance programs. As a result, many families have endured unnecessary foreclosures.

“After the death of my husband, it took me two stress-filled years and help from an attorney to keep our family home,” said Blanche Robles, a homeowner in Madera. “It was clear that my mortgage servicers were confused about the process for somebody in my situation, and helping me was not a priority. Even worse, after two years of working with Chase, I had to restart the process with a new servicer when my mortgage was suddenly transferred. I’m glad something is being done to protect families like mine.”

SB 1150 clarifies the responsibilities of a mortgage lender when a borrower dies and passes the home along to a survivor who wishes to assume the home loan. The legislation ensures that heirs receive accurate information about loan assumption and foreclosure prevention programs. It also gives survivors a single point of contact with the lender and the ability to simultaneously apply for loan assumption and modification. SB 1150 is sponsored by the California Alliance for Retired Americans, Housing and Economic Rights Advocates and California Reinvestment Coalition.

“There are more than 3 million senior homeowners in California, and as our aging population continues to grow,so does this problem,” said Hene Kelly, legislative director at the California Alliance for Retired Americans.“Older women are particularly harmed by the state’s lack of homeowner protections because they tend to live an average of seven years longer than men.”

Nonprofit housing counselors and legal services attorneys in California report that the majority of their clients who are surviving homeowners have had difficulties working with mortgage lenders and faced foreclosure.

In the past three years, attorneys from our organization have helped nearly 50 people caught in this predicament,” said Maeve Elise Brown, executive director at Housing and Economic Rights Advocates. “While we’ve helped them, we know many more are falling through cracks because they don’t have access to an attorney.”

“We can’t allow the status quo to continue,” said Kevin Stein, associate director at the California Reinvestment Coalition. “SB 1150 is a common-sense solution that would make a world of difference for families who are going through tough times.”

The Homeowner Survivor Bill of Rights will be heard in Senate policy committees this spring.