Federal and state laws heavily regulate mortgage loan servicing and foreclosure processes. Most of these 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 Pennsylvania sign a promissory note and mortgage. These documents give homeowners some contractual rights in addition to federal and state legal protections.
In a Pennsylvania foreclosure, you'll most likely get the right to:
So, don't get caught off guard if you're a Pennsylvania homeowner who's behind in mortgage payments. Learn about each step in a Pennsylvania 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.
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 Pennsylvania 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.
Additional types of fees the servicer might charge include, among others, fees 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).
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 couple of 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 Pennsylvania, the foreclosure will be judicial.
Before officially starting the foreclosure process, Pennsylvania law requires the lender to give you (the borrower) a 30-day notice of intent to foreclose, providing the opportunity to cure the default. But this notice isn't required if you abandon the home. (41 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 403).
Also, in most cases, the lender must send a notice explaining the homeowner's rights and describing what help is available, including the right to apply to the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency under the Homeowners' Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program (HEMAP) for assistance. (35 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 1680.403c). But this requirement doesn't apply if the agency doesn't have any funds available. (35 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 1680.409c).
The notice must also tell the borrower of the default and give 30 days, plus three days to account for mailing time, to have a face-to-face meeting with a local consumer credit counseling agency to try to resolve the default. If you meet with an approved credit counseling agency, the lender can't take any legal action, including starting a foreclosure, for 30 days after the meeting. (35 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 1680.403c).
While Pennsylvania doesn't have a statewide foreclosure mediation program, some Pennsylvania counties have foreclosure diversion (or conciliation) programs and offer conciliation conferences to help borrowers find ways to avoid foreclosure.
A "conciliation conference" is a face-to-face meeting between the lender and the borrower to reach a workout and avoid foreclosure. Potential outcomes of a conciliation conference include a loan modification, repayment agreement, forbearance agreement, short sale, or deed in lieu of foreclosure.
The requirements and procedures vary widely between programs. For example, it's mandatory for the lender and borrower to participate in the program in some counties. Other programs are opt-in, which means the borrower can choose to participate. Moreover, some counties don't have mediation meetings but rather give the borrower the ability to postpone (or stay) the foreclosure for up to 90 days to provide time to work directly with the lender to avoid foreclosure.
In general, participating in a foreclosure diversion program will delay the foreclosure process. The length of the delay depends on the county. To find out if your county has a foreclosure diversion program, check the official court and county websites. You can also ask a local foreclosure attorney if your county offers this type of help.
A judicial foreclosure begins when the lender files a lawsuit asking a court for an order allowing a foreclosure sale. The lender gives notice of the suit by serving you a summons and complaint. 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.
Notice of the foreclosure sale will be:
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 Pennsylvania, 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.
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.
Pennsylvania law allows reinstatement up to one hour before the bidding at the foreclosure sale, a maximum of three times in any calendar year. (41 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 404).
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. Pennsylvania law doesn't provide a post-sale redemption period.
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, at least temporarily.
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 sometimes 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 $400,000, but the home sells for $350,000 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 Pennsylvania, a deficiency judgment is allowed if the lender files a separate action within six months. If the lender is the purchaser at the foreclosure sale, the deficiency is limited by the property's fair market value. (42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 8103, 5522(b)(2)).
In this article, you'll find details on foreclosure laws in Pennsylvania, with citations to statutes so you can learn more. Statutes change, so checking them is always a good idea.
To find Pennsylvania's laws, search online for "Pennsylvania statutes" or "Pennsylvania 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 Pennsylvania'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).