Foreclosure woes persist in South County

Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel

By Ben Wolford

Published June 7, 2012


WEST DELRAY— At Valencia Isles, a 793-home community in Palm Beach County, one house has been in foreclosure for four years.

"We have a few houses in foreclosure, and our biggest problem is getting the banks to move forward," resident Ron Wertheim said. "They don't return your calls."

Even as foreclosure filings have slowed, stagnant cases are one of the lingering symptoms of the six-year housing slump. The fallout continues to be felt in Palm Beach County in the form of abandoned homes and a clogged court system.

About 70 residents, many of them representing homeowners associations, brought their concerns to Clerk of Court Sharon R. Bock and Roy D. Oppenheim, a national foreclosure expert, at a library here Monday night.

"There's no question that it is a crisis," Bock said. "This is a crisis for every single person in the United States. … The banks have been negligent, fraudulent and downright wrong in the way that they have handled it."

Foreclosure filings have tapered since the peak here late in 2008. In 2008-2010, banks foreclosed on 81,627 Palm Beach County homes. One month in 2008 there were 3,240 notices, eight times more than some months before the crash.

Then, two years ago, foreclosure filings cooled, and in April this year the number was down to 1,309. But the cases persist in the courts as lenders drag their heels, not wanting to be homeowners.

Legislative efforts to fast-track foreclosures have failed in Florida amid outcry from borrower watchdog groups. In April, 39,252 cases were pending in Palm Beach County, about 2 percent of all their cases, according to the clerk of court.

"We've been seriously underfunded," said Bock, whose office was cut $2.5 million this year by the state Legislature.

Lawmakers this year approved a $30 million cut to the state's 67 clerks of court.

In Palm Beach County, some foreclosure cases are six years old, and the average case lasts more than two years, longer than the statewide average and more than twice the national average.

"The biggest issue that we are hearing from homeowners associations is the speed — or the slowness — at which they're going through," Bock said.

Recently, Palm Beach County judges have begun to order lenders to show cause why there has been no action in cases older than six months, Bock said. She said there are now federal incentives for lenders to move forward.

Many homeowners in default on their mortgages also do not pay their association fees, a shared concern by the board members gathered Monday. Oppenheim recommended working with the homeowners but ultimately upholding the community's interests.

"You need to get them out so they don't pull down your entire neighborhood," Oppenheim said.

Several residents assailed Bock, accusing her of not doing enough to prevent fraudulent bank documents from entering the court record. Defending herself, Bock said she must leave such "policing" to the judges.