If you’re behind in mortgage payments and facing the prospect of losing your home, the stress of not knowing what will happen in a foreclosure can drive you to make mistakes or lose out on opportunities. But you likely have sufficient time to look up foreclosure information and read the laws governing foreclosures where you live. You’ll probably know, well before you even miss a mortgage payment, that you’re having trouble making ends meet. Maybe you’re unemployed or you used your savings to cover medical bills making your monthly payments out of reach.
After you do fall behind, you’ve probably got a few months before your lender even starts a foreclosure; in most cases, the loan servicer can’t begin the process until you’re more than 120 days delinquent on the loan. This 120-day period is a good time to start learning federal mortgage servicing laws, as well as the foreclosure process in your state. One way to do this is by reading the relevant federal mortgage servicing regulations and your state's foreclosure statutes.
Federal mortgage servicing laws provide various loss mitigation protections to homeowners when it comes to foreclosure. And each state has its own foreclosure procedures—and homeowner protections—for those who are delinquent on mortgage payments. Looking up and knowing the federal and state laws that apply to your situation could help you save your home or at least allow you to get through the process with as little anxiety as possible. After reviewing these laws, you'll better understand what steps are involved and your rights during the process.
Once you find and review both federal and state foreclosure laws, you might learn important information like:
Under Regulation X, which implements the federal Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA), most mortgage servicers must take certain steps and provide specific protections to borrowers facing foreclosure. The first step in finding the federal foreclosure laws is to learn the references to these laws, called “citations.” By using the citation, you can find and read the federal laws that apply to mortgage servicing and foreclosure.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau website lists these citations. You can also find them online by searching for “federal mortgage servicing laws,” “federal foreclosure laws,” or similar language.
The first step in finding your state’s foreclosure statutes is similar to finding federal foreclosure laws. You need to learn the citations to the laws, known as “statutes, governing the procedures in your state. By using the citation, you can find and read your state’s foreclosure statutes.
Nolo’s book The Foreclosure Survival Guide provides the citations for each state’s foreclosure statutes. You can also generally find the citations online by searching for “(your state's) foreclosure laws” or similar language. Or you can check the links to state-specific articles in our Summary of State Foreclosure Laws.
The easiest way to access federal and state laws is online.
To find your state’s laws, search for “[your state] statutes” or “[your state] laws.” Make sure you’re reading the most recent, official laws. Often, when it comes to official statutes, the URL will end in “.gov” or the statutes will be on an official state legislature webpage.
Once you find a collection of the laws, you can browse through various levels of subject headings. They're usually organized by numbered title, article, chapter, and section.
Example. Here’s an example of the steps you could use to find the Vermont foreclosure statutes once you have the citations, which are Vermont Stat. Ann., Title 12, Chapter 172, Sections (§§) 4931 through 4954.
Run an online search for “Vermont’s statutes.” Again, make sure you look at the most recent statutes. In your list of results, you’ll find a link called "Vermont Laws - Vermont Legislature" on the Vermont General Assembly's website. Clicking on that link will take you to a page listing Vermont’s statutes. Then look for the relevant title, chapter, and sections that you want to review.
For this example, it’s “Title 12.” Clicking on Title 12 opens up a list of chapters.
Look for the chapter that contains §§ 4931–4954, Vermont’s foreclosure statutes. It’s “Chapter 172: Foreclosure of Mortgages.” Then, click on that chapter.
In this example, it's §§ 4931–4954. Read each section to learn Vermont's various foreclosure laws.
You’ll use a similar method when looking up federal laws, using the title, chapter, and section.
Most other states also arrange their statutes similar to the example above: by title, chapter, and section. Some states, though, arrange their statutes in a slightly different manner. In Ohio, if you were looking for Section 2323.07 of the Ohio Revised Code, you would use the first two numbers to find the correct title (“Title 23”). Click on that title, and then Chapter 2323. Next, find the statute numbered “2323.07.”
In New York, the citation to the foreclosure laws reads, “N.Y. Real Prop. Acts. Law, Sections 1301 to 1391.” After you find the official New York laws, you would find these statutes by first browsing the legal topics list until you found “Real Property Actions and Proceedings.” Click on that topic and then browse until you find the article (Article 13) that contains “Sections 1301 to 1391 (Action to Foreclose a Mortgage).”
Your state might use a slightly different model from these. You could have to use a little creativity to get to the right statutes. As a general rule, the number on the left of the citation will be the number you use to start your search. If, for some reason, you can’t find the foreclosure laws based on the citation, look for a subject heading dealing with foreclosure, real estate, or real property, or if you're in a state that has a judicial foreclosure process, civil procedure.
Sometimes, foreclosure statutes aren’t easy to understand. The language is often very different than modern English—even modern legal English in many instances—and can be hard to interpret.
Also, foreclosure statutes aren’t always organized very well. One foreclosure statute might be found in one section of the law, while a closely related one will appear elsewhere. Some foreclosure laws could be located in the part of the statutes dealing with court procedures, while other foreclosure laws are found in the part dealing with real estate. So, be prepared to look in several different parts of the code.
If you want to learn about federal mortgage servicing laws and foreclosure procedures in your state but are having problems finding or understanding the statutes, consider consulting with a foreclosure attorney.