Before the foreclosure crisis, which peaked in 2010, federal and state laws regulating mortgage servicers and foreclosure procedures were relatively limited and tended to favor foreclosing lenders. Now, however, federal and state laws heavily regulate loan servicing and foreclosure processes. And most of the laws give protections to borrowers.
Servicers generally have to provide borrowers with loss mitigation opportunities, account for each foreclosure step, and strictly comply with foreclosure laws. Also, most people who take out a loan to buy a residential property in Florida sign a promissory note and mortgage. These documents give homeowners some contractual rights in addition to federal and state legal protections.
In a Florida foreclosure, you’ll most likely get the right to:
So, don’t get caught off guard if you're a Florida homeowner who’s behind in mortgage payments. Learn about each step in a Florida foreclosure, from missing your first payment to a foreclosure sale. Once you understand the process, you can make the most of your situation and, hopefully, work out a way to save your home or at least get through the process with as little anxiety as possible.
The period after you fall behind in payments, but before a foreclosure officially starts, is generally called the "preforeclosure" stage. (Sometimes, people refer to the period before a foreclosure sale actually happens as "preforeclosure," too.) During this time, the servicer can charge you various fees, like late charges and inspection fees, and, in most cases, must inform you about ways to avoid foreclosure and send you a preforeclosure notice called a “breach letter.”
If you miss a payment, most loans include a grace period of, say, ten or fifteen days, after which time the servicer will assess a late fee. Each month you miss a payment, the servicer will charge this fee. To find out the late charge amount and grace period for your loan, look at the promissory note you signed. You can also find this information on your monthly mortgage statement.
Also, many Florida mortgages allow the lender (or the current loan holder, referred to as the “lender” in this article) to take necessary steps to protect its interest in the property. Property inspections are performed to ensure that the home is occupied and appropriately maintained. Inspections, which are generally drive-by, are usually ordered automatically once the loan goes into default and typically cost around $10 or $15.
Other types of fees the servicer might charge include those for broker’s price opinions, which are like appraisals, and property preservation costs, such as for yard maintenance or winterizing an abandoned home.
Under federal mortgage servicing laws, if the property is your principal residence, the servicer must contact, or attempt to contact, you by phone to discuss loss mitigation options, like a loan modification, forbearance, or repayment plan, no later than 36 days after you miss a payment and again within 36 days after each following delinquency. No later than 45 days after missing a payment, the servicer has to inform you in writing about loss mitigation options that might be available and appoint personnel to help you try to work out a way to avoid foreclosure. A few exceptions are in place for some of these requirements, though, like if you've filed for bankruptcy or asked the servicer not to contact you pursuant to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. (12 C.F.R. § 1024.30, 12 C.F.R. § 1024.39, 12 C.F.R. § 1024.40).
Federal mortgage servicing laws also prohibit dual tracking (pursuing a foreclosure while a complete loss mitigation application is pending).
Many Florida mortgages have a provision that requires the lender to send a notice, commonly called a “breach letter,” informing you that the loan is in default before the lender can accelerate the loan. The breach letter gives you a chance to cure the default and avoid foreclosure.
Under federal law, the servicer usually can’t officially begin a foreclosure until you're more than 120 days past due on payments, subject to a few exceptions. (12 C.F.R. § 1024.41). This 120-day period provides most homeowners with ample opportunity to submit a loss mitigation application to the servicer.
If you default on your mortgage payments for your home in Florida, the foreclosure will be judicial.
A judicial foreclosure begins when the lender files a lawsuit asking a court for an order allowing a foreclosure sale. You generally get 20 days to file an answer with the court. If you don’t respond to the suit, the lender will ask the court for, and probably receive, a default judgment, which will allow it to hold a foreclosure sale.
But if you choose to defend the foreclosure lawsuit, the case will go through the litigation process. The lender might then ask the court to grant summary judgment. A summary judgment motion asks that the court grant judgment in favor of the lender because there’s no dispute about the critical aspects of the case. If the court grants summary judgment for the lender—or you lose at trial—the judge will enter a judgment and order your home sold at auction.
The lender must publish a notice of the foreclosure sale in a newspaper once a week for two consecutive weeks, with the second publication at least five days before the sale. (Fla. Stat. § 45.031).
The foreclosure sale must take place 20 to 35 days after the judgment date unless the court order says otherwise. (Fla. Stat. § 45.031). The sale is an auction, which is open to the public. At the sale, the lender usually makes a credit bid. The lender can bid up to the total amount owed, including fees and costs, or it may bid less. In some states, including Florida, when the lender is the high bidder at the sale but bids less than the total debt, it can get a deficiency judgment against the borrower. If the lender is the highest bidder, the property becomes what’s called “Real Estate Owned” (REO).
But if a bidder, say a third party, is the highest bidder and offers more than you owe, and the sale results in excess proceeds—that is, money over and above what’s needed to pay off all the liens on your property—you're entitled to that surplus money.
Under Florida law, the court clerk must promptly file a certificate of sale after the foreclosure sale, which usually happens within a day of the sale. You then have ten days after the filing of the certificate of sale to file an objection to the sale. (The bid amount at the sale is presumed to be sufficient consideration for the sale.) After ten days, assuming no one objects, the clerk confirms the sale and issues a certificate of title to the purchaser. (Fla. Stat. Ann. § 45.031).
In Florida, the lender, usually the high bidder at the foreclosure sale, typically gets a right to possession in the foreclosure judgment. After the clerk files the certificate of title, the lender can then file a motion for a writ of possession. Once the court grants the motion, the clerk of court issues the writ, and the sheriff executes it. If you (the former homeowner) don't move out, the sheriff will make you leave.
A few potential ways to stop a foreclosure include reinstating the loan, redeeming the property before the sale, or filing for bankruptcy. Of course, if you're able to work out a loss mitigation option, like a loan modification, that will also stop a foreclosure.
Florida law doesn't provide a statutory right to reinstate the loan before the sale. But many mortgages, like the uniform Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac mortgage, provide the borrower the right to cure the default after acceleration and reinstate the loan. Check your loan documents to find out if you get a reinstatement right and, if so, the deadline to complete one. Also, the lender might agree to allow a reinstatement. Call your loan servicer if you want to find out about reinstating your loan.
One way to stop a foreclosure is by “redeeming” the property. To redeem, you have to pay off the full amount of the loan before the foreclosure sale.
Some states also provide foreclosed borrowers with a redemption period after the foreclosure sale, during which they can buy back the home. In Florida, you can redeem the property before the later of:
If you're facing a foreclosure, filing for bankruptcy might help. In fact, if a foreclosure sale is scheduled to occur in the next day or so, the best way to stop the sale immediately is by filing for bankruptcy. Once you file for bankruptcy, something called an "automatic stay" goes into effect. The stay functions as an injunction that prohibits the lender from foreclosing on your home or otherwise trying to collect its debt.
In many cases, filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy can delay the foreclosure by a matter of months. Or, if you want to save your home, filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy might be the answer. To find out about the options available to you, speak with a local bankruptcy attorney.
In a foreclosure, the borrower’s total mortgage debt frequently exceeds the foreclosure sale price. The difference between the total debt and the sale price is called a “deficiency.” For example, say the total debt owed is $300,000, but the home sells for $250,000 at the foreclosure sale. The deficiency is $50,000. In some states, the lender can seek a personal judgment against the debtor to recover the deficiency. Generally, once the lender gets a deficiency judgment, the lender may collect this amount—in our example, $50,000—from the borrower.
In Florida, a lender may obtain a deficiency judgment as part of the foreclosure action or in a separate action within one year for a property that is a one-family to four-family dwelling unit. The limitations period starts on the day after the court clerk issues a certificate of title to the buyer who purchased the home at the foreclosure sale. However, the lender can’t get a deficiency judgment if the court has denied a claim for a deficiency judgment in the foreclosure action. (Fla. Stat. § 702.06, Fla. Stat. § 95-11).
The court has flexibility regarding the amount of the deficiency, which can't exceed the difference between the judgment amount and the fair market value in the case of an owner-occupied residential property. (Fla. Stat. § 702.06).
In this article, you’ll find details on foreclosure laws in Florida, with citations to statutes so you can learn more. Statutes change, so checking them is always a good idea.
To find Florida’s laws, search online for “Florida statutes” or “Florida laws.” Make sure you’re reading the most recent, official laws. Usually, the URL will end in “.gov” or the statutes will be on an official state legislature webpage.
For more information on federal mortgage servicing laws, as well as foreclosure relief options, go to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) website.
Although the programs under the Making Home Affordable (MHA) initiative have expired, the MHA website still contains useful information for homeowners facing foreclosure.
How courts and agencies interpret and apply laws can change. And some rules can even vary within a state. These are just some of the reasons to consider consulting a lawyer if you’re facing a foreclosure. If you have questions about Florida’s foreclosure process or want to learn about potential defenses to a foreclosure and possibly fight the foreclosure in court, consider talking to a foreclosure attorney.
It’s also a good idea to talk to a HUD-approved housing counselor if you want to learn about different loss mitigation options. You can use the CFPB's Find a Counselor tool to get a list of HUD-approved housing counseling agencies in your area. You can also call the Homeownership Preservation Foundation (HOPE) Hotline, which is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at 888-995-HOPE (4673).