A 79-year-old disabled widow, Donna came to Lone Star Legal Aid because she was in danger of losing her home. Donna and her late husband Daniel had purchased the home in 1988 and lived there together until Daniel died in 2002. Determined to hold onto what they had built together, Donna scrimped and saved to make the monthly mortgage payments out of her Social Security check. She was not in arrears on her mortgage; in fact, her mortgage was almost paid off. So imagine Donna's surprise when she receives a letter in the mail from a well-known bank addressed to a name she'd never seen before. The letter is to notify this stranger that the house-Donna's house!-was in danger of being foreclosed upon. Donna was in a panic: She and her disabled daughter lived in the house and had nowhere else to go.
After much sleuthing, a LSLA attorney determined that Donna had been the victim of mortgage fraud. In 2007, Donna had taken out a home equity loan with a mortgage company that she heard advertised on the local gospel radio station. The owner of the so-called mortgage company has a 2006 conviction for fraud and did not have the proper license to originate mortgages in Texas. In what he falsely represented as being the closing paperwork for the home equity loan, this con man actually had Donna sign papers to transfer the title of her home to him! He then sold her home to a female employee of his, who had taken out a mortgage loan from the bank in order to make the purchase. When this employee-purchaser failed to make timely payments, the bank began the foreclosure process on Donna's home. Meanwhile Donna continued to make mortgage, home equity and tax payments, completely unaware that her house had been stolen out from under her.
An LSLA attorney contacted the bank to alert them as to a potential fraudulent mortgage. After protracted negotiations, the bank agreed to a solution that allows Donna and her disabled daughter to remain in the home while the title issues get sorted out. There are a maze of claims and counter-claims between the false mortgage broker, the bank, the employee-purchaser and the title insurer. In the meantime, LSLA has represented Donna against the bank (stopping the foreclosure), against the dishonest broker and new purchaser (fraud claims) and in discussions with the title company.
To compound matters, Donna's home is in serious need of repairs: A blue tarp is all that standing between Donna and the sky, with water pouring down walls when heavy rains come. All the excess water has cracked Donna's foundation. A City of Houston-sponsored home repair program for seniors would help with repairs but can't until the title dispute is solved. After nearly a year of avoiding service, the mortgage thief was finally served last month-and the case is set for trial. Throughout it all, Donna has been making home equity payments to a secure LSLA Client Escrow account that will be distributed to the appropriate party once all matters are resolved.