Dealing with an impending foreclosure under normal circumstances is tremendously stressful, but the prospect of losing your home during the COVID-19 crisis is even worse. Fortunately, for the time being, the federal government and many localities have imposed a foreclosure moratorium for different kinds of loans and in particular areas. (A foreclosure moratorium puts foreclosures, and usually subsequent evictions, on hold.) So, you won’t face the prospect of getting kicked out of your home just yet. Also, the coronavirus is having a severe impact on the operations of civil courts across the country, with courthouses closing to help prevent the further spread of the disease. Courts that are remaining open are prioritizing criminal matters over less urgent civil cases, like foreclosures. But once the various moratoria end and courts reopen or adjust, foreclosures will go forward.
If you’re behind in mortgage payments—or a foreclosure has already started against you—consider whether you should hire a lawyer, even before a moratorium ends. An attorney can defend you against the foreclosure when it starts back up, advise you about your legal rights under federal and state law, and help you enforce those rights. A lawyer can also tell you about mortgage-relief options during this national emergency and help you try to work out a way to avoid a foreclosure altogether.
But hiring and dealing with a foreclosure defense lawyer is different now than it was before the pandemic began. With the outbreak of COVID-19 in full force, most industries are changing their usual practices of conducting business; the legal profession is no exception. Many attorneys are limiting in-person contact with existing and potential clients. Fortunately, foreclosure attorneys are finding ways to implement sufficient precautions while still providing legal assistance to those who need it.
Once you’ve decided that using a foreclosure attorney is in your best interest, your first challenge will be hiring one. Consider asking friends, family members, coworkers, and other attorneys for referrals. You can also try to find a suitable lawyer using an online directory or by going through your local or state bar association.
After you get a few names of recommended lawyers, set up a time to speak with each one, but not in person. When you first call an attorney, verify that the office can represent you while you’re in isolation by providing necessary accommodations. Most attorneys—not just foreclosure lawyers—have adjusted their practices, making it easier for you to interact with them even if you're quarantining due to the coronavirus. Here are a few examples of how some lawyers are adjusting their practices.
Attorney-client communications already often happen over the phone. Some law offices are still open, so attorneys and staff are available to take calls as usual. But lots of practices have opted to close their offices. Those firms are rerouting calls to attorneys and staff who’re working remotely.
By using email and file-sharing applications, like Google Drive and Dropbox, you can usually avoid having to take documents to a lawyer personally. You can also scan documents, or take a photo with your phone, and then send them via email or text to your lawyer. Some firms allow clients to speak with their attorney or send confidential documents through a secure client portal.
Attorneys and firms are now frequently using secure video conferencing options to talk with clients and other lawyers. Firms conduct meetings over the Internet using Skype, Legaler, FaceTime, or Zoom, for example. (Zoom, however, has been under the microscope recently about its various shortcomings.)
Most devices that have a camera—including a smartphone, laptop, or tablet—are compatible with video conferencing applications.
E-signatures are, for the most part, safe and reliable methods for signing paperwork, including attorney fee agreements.
At the initial consultation, which might be free, you'll ask questions, listen to the attorney's assessment, and determine whether you want to retain that lawyer. An attorney who knows enough about your case might advise you of your options at the preliminary meeting.
Foreclosure defense involves litigation. So, you'll want to choose an attorney who’s very familiar with your state’s foreclosure process, is knowledgeable about common foreclosure defenses, and can litigate the case in court if necessary. A foreclosure lawyer might also be willing to help you apply for—and hopefully get—a loan modification.
Here are a few questions you should ask when considering hiring a lawyer to assist you with foreclosure issues:
Be sure to ask as many questions as you need to ensure that you’re comfortable about your hiring decision.
It’s difficult to predict how judicial and nonjudicial foreclosure processes might change as a result of coronavirus after all the moratoria lift. Maybe pleadings, like answers in foreclosure cases, will always have to be filed electronically rather than at the courthouse. Hearings that used to be held in courtrooms might take place over video, or they might be restricted to essential parties only. Perhaps all sheriff's sales and trustee’s sales will be conducted online—as some currently are—rather than on the courthouse steps. Or maybe another foreclosure moratorium will go into effect until the outbreak is under control, and we won't see significant changes in the process.
Exactly how foreclosure procedures in different states will transform due to coronavirus, and whether those changes will be temporary or permanent, is up in the air at this point. Rest assured, though, many foreclosure lawyers are ready to help you through the process, no matter what form it takes.