Foreclosure usually doesn’t sneak up homeowners. You’ll probably know, well before you fall behind in your mortgage payments, that you’re having trouble making ends meet. Maybe you’ve been laid off or faced unexpected medical bills, which has made 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 because, in most cases, the loan servicer can’t begin the process until you’re more than 120 days delinquent on the loan. During that time, the servicer has to let you know about loss mitigation (foreclosure alternative) options. The 120-day period is also a good time to start learning the foreclosure process in your state. One way to do this is to read your state's foreclosure statutes. After reviewing your state's laws, you'll better understand what steps are involved and your rights during the process.
The first step in finding your state’s foreclosure statutes is to learn the references to the laws governing the procedures in your state. These references are called citations, and the laws are known as statutes. By using the citation, you can find and read your state’s laws. (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.)
The easiest way to access a state’s statutes is online. To find them, 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 statutes, you can browse through various levels of subject headings, which usually organized hierarchically 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.
Step 1: Find the Vermont statutes online. Again, to ensure you’re looking at the most recent statutes, run an online search for “Vermont’s statutes.” You’ll find in your list of results a link to the “Vermont Statutes Online” on the Vermont State Legislature’s website. Clicking on that link will take you to a page listing all of Vermont’s statutes. Then look for the relevant title, chapter, and sections that you want to review.
Step 2: Find and click on the relevant title. For this example, it’s “Title 12.” This opens up a list of chapters.
Step 3: Scroll down until you reach the chapter that contains §§ 4931–4954, Vermont’s foreclosure statutes. It’s “Chapter 172: Foreclosure of Mortgages.”
Step 4: Click on “Chapter 172.” You’re there!
Most other states arrange their statutes in a similar manner: 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 list of legal topics 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 may use a slightly different model from these. You may 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 are in a judicial foreclosure state, civil procedure.
Once you find your state's foreclosure laws, you may learn important information like:
Sometimes, foreclosure statutes aren’t easy to interpret. The language is often very different than modern English—even modern legal English in many instances—and can be hard to understand.
Also, foreclosure statutes aren’t always organized very well. One relevant statute will be found in one section of the law while a closely related one will appear elsewhere. Some foreclosure laws might 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 foreclosure procedures in your state and are having problems finding or understanding your state’s foreclosure statutes, consider talking to a foreclosure attorney.