How to Protect Yourself from a Fast-Track Foreclosure of an "Abandoned" Home

Steps to take so your lender does not expedite the foreclosure of your home, thinking you have vacated it.

Some states have “fast-track” laws that speed up the foreclosure process in cases where the homeowner has abandoned the home (left the home for good). Unfortunately, sometimes a lender will initiate a fast-track foreclosure on a home you still live in, which means you could lose your house much faster than you otherwise would -- unless you fight the expedited foreclosure.

Read on to learn more about how the fast-track process works, why a fast-track foreclosure is a problem if you still occupy the property, and what you can do to protect yourself if your lender has improperly started a fast-track foreclosure against your home.

Understanding Fast-Track Foreclosures

A foreclosure can take a long time, especially in states where the process is  judicial  (where the foreclosure goes through the court system). It is not unusual for a foreclosure to take a year or longer in some places. (Learn more about which states have lengthy foreclosure timelines in  States With Long Foreclosure Timelines.)

The longer the foreclosure takes, the more likely it is that the homeowner will move out before the process ends. This means the home could be vacant for an extended period of time while the foreclosure works its way through the court system. During this time, the home is susceptible to deterioration and vandalism.

To remedy this, some states (such as  Connecticut,  Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky,  New Jersey, Nevada, and Oklahoma) have passed laws to accelerate the foreclosure process for unoccupied homes.

Upsides and Downsides to Fast-Track Foreclosures

If the homeowner has vacated the property, a fast-track foreclosure can be good for the community. There is less time for the home to fall into disrepair and for vandals to cause damage, both of which can drag down the value of the entire neighborhood. Also, a fast-track foreclosure can be a good thing for you (the homeowner) if you’ve voluntarily vacated the home since it means you won’t become the victim of a  zombie foreclosure.

However, if you still occupy the home, a fast-track foreclosure can be a big problem since it means you’ll lose your home much faster than normal. This deprives you of valuable time to work out an  alternative to foreclosure  or simply live in the home without making payments. (Learn  how staying in your home as long as possible can save you money.)

How the Lender Gets a Fast-Track Foreclosure

It’s typically pretty easy for the foreclosing lender to move forward with a fast-track foreclosure. While the process is different in each state that has a fast-track foreclosure law, this is how it generally works.

  • The lender typically files a motion with the court at the time it files the foreclosure lawsuit (or sometime after) that states that the home is vacant and is at risk of harm due to the abandonment. The lender usually must provide some evidence that the home shows signs of abandonment.
  • The lender must then provide the homeowner with written notice that it has asked a judge to find the property abandoned. (The lender may serve the notice personally, by mail, and/or by posting it on the property.)
  • Sometimes the sheriff (or another party) must visit the property and make a determination of the vacancy status.
  • Then, there is generally a hearing where the court will determine whether the homeowner has abandoned the home.

Once approved for a fast-track foreclosure, the foreclosure typically takes only a few months instead of, perhaps, years.

Fighting the Fast-Track Foreclosure

If you want to protect yourself from a fast-track foreclosure, you’ll have to do all of the following things.

Meet All Deadlines

To fight a fast-track foreclosure, you must meet all deadlines to object to a finding that you abandoned the home. For example, you may have to submit written evidence or objections to the court within a certain time period (generally prior to a hearing).

Attend the Hearing

Before the court will allow the lender to proceed with a fast-track foreclosure there is usually a hearing to determine if you abandoned the home. If you fail to go to the hearing, the court will probably declare the home abandoned and allow the lender to expedite the foreclosure. However, if you go to the hearing and prove to the court that you still occupy the home, you won’t lose it to a fast-track foreclosure.

You might not get much time to prepare for the hearing. In Illinois, the hearing may take place as soon as 14 days after you receive notice that the lender has asked a judge to find that you abandoned the home. In Oklahoma, the homeowner gets as little as 15 days between receiving notice of the hearing and the hearing date.

Provide Evidence You Didn’t Abandon the Home

To stop the fast-track foreclosure, you’ll have to prove that you still occupy the home. This means you’ll have to present evidence of non-abandonment, such as the fact that you receive mail at the address, the utilities are in your name, and you have personal belongings in the home.

Make Sure Your Home Doesn’t Look Abandoned

Certain things are generally considered signs of an abandoned home under fast-track foreclosure laws. If you want to refute the lender’s assertion that you abandoned the home (or ensure that the lender doesn’t mistake your home for abandoned in the first place) there are some steps you can take.

  • Fix any broken windows (don’t just board them up) and make sure the exterior doors are not broken, unhinged, or continuously unlocked.
  • Take care of the lawn. (Most courts consider overgrown or neglected landscaping as evidence that the homeowner has abandoned the property.)
  • Clean up any accumulated newspapers, circulars, flyers, or mail.
  • Clean up any junk, litter, trash, or debris that is on the property.
  • Fix any housing code violations.
  • Don’t disconnect the gas, electrical, or water services to the property.
  • Don’t give the lender other evidence of your intent to abandon the home, such as a letter in which you state that you’re leaving (or thinking about leaving) the home.

Hiring an Attorney

In most cases, you won’t get a lot of time to fight a fast-track foreclosure and it can be a complicated process. If the foreclosing lender is asking a court to declare your home abandoned, but you still reside there, it is recommended that you consult with an experienced foreclosure attorney in your state to discuss your rights and how to enforce them. (Learn more about how to find and hire an attorney in Nolo’s  Foreclosure Lawyers & Other Foreclosure Help  area.)

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