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KASS: Programs can help underwater homeowners

DEAR BENNY: We are seriously underwater on our mortgage and are concerned that the bank may soon try to foreclose. Are there any programs that can assist us in saving our home? – Rebeccah

DEAR REBECCAH: There are a number of programs – both local and federal – that may be of help to you. One such program is the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). This program, according to Freddie Mac, is effective for mortgages that originated on or before Jan. 1, 2009. However, if you qualify, please start the process now, because it will expire at the end of this year. No one knows if Congress will extend its life.

You should immediately contact the company where you make your mortgage payments. Keep in mind that while your loan may have been with the XYZ bank or mortgage company, typically the lender arranges with a “servicer” to collect your payments and send you the appropriate monthly and yearly statements.

HAMP can assist in bringing your monthly payments to a more affordable amount. According to Freddie Mac, “you will need to successfully complete a trial modification before your lender will permanently modify your loan.”

Recently, the Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP) issued a report to Congress, pointing out how non-bank servicers were violating laws, causing trouble to the very homeowners that HAMP was designed to protect and assist.

So if the company that services your loan is not a bank, be alert and don’t sign any documents until you consult with legal counsel. In fact, even if the servicer is a national bank, you will should consult with a lawyer before signing any documents. It is your home and you want to protect it.

DEAR BENNY: I am running for a board of directors seat in our 120-unit condominium. We have many investor owners, and I would like to send them a letter or an email explaining my concerns, and why I want to be on the board. I asked management to give me a mailing list of all owners, but was told that from a privacy point of view, this information is not available. I suspect the current board does not want me to tell everyone how bad I believe the board really is. What can I do? – Hirsh

DEAR BENNY: Yes, this is a privacy concern. I don’t want my address, phone number or email distributed “willy-nilly.” However, there is a simple solution.

Tell the board you will give them your material, in a sealed envelope if that’s your preference. You will agree to pay the reasonable handling and postage, and management should address the envelopes and send them out.

I have done this on many occasions, and it’s a win-win for everyone.

Interestingly, I just read about a case involving a condominium in Canada. A unit owner asked for names, addresses and email info on all owners. Deputy Judge Whitehall, Ontario Superior Court of Justice, Small Claims Court, ruled that although owners have the right to examine – and even copy – books and records of the association, this does not give them unlimited access.

This is Canadian law, but makes sense all over the United States as well.

NOTE: In researching this issue, I found an interesting blog called “Condo Advisor.” Although it is exclusively for Canadian associations and unit owners, there is a lot of valuable information that can be applicable to those of us here in the U.S.

Benny Kass is a practicing attorney in Washington, D.C. and in Maryland. He is not providing specific legal or financial advice to any reader. He wants readers to e-mail him, but cannot guarantee a personal response. He can be reached at: mailbag@kmklawyers.com.

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