Bank of America is delaying foreclosures in 23 states as it examines whether it rushed the foreclosure process for thousands of homeowners without reading the documents.
The move adds the nation's largest bank to a growing list of mortgage companies whose employees signed documents in foreclosure cases without verifying the information in them.
Bank of America isn't able to estimate how many homeowners' cases will be affected, Dan Frahm, a spokesman for the Charlotte, N.C.-based bank, said Friday. He said the bank plans to resubmit corrected documents within several weeks.
Two other companies, Ally Financial Inc.'s GMAC Mortgage unit and JPMorgan Chase, have halted tens of thousands of foreclosure cases after similar problems became public.
The document problems could cause thousands of homeowners to contest foreclosures that are in the works or have been completed. If the problems turn up at other lenders, a foreclosure crisis that's already likely to drag on for several more years could persist even longer. Analysts caution that most homeowners facing foreclosure are still likely to lose their homes.
State attorneys general, who enforce foreclosure laws, are stepping up pressure on the industry.
On Friday, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal asked a state court to freeze all home foreclosures for 60 days. Doing so "should stop a foreclosure steamroller based on defective documents," he said.
And California Attorney General Jerry Brown called on JPMorgan to suspend foreclosures unless it could show it complied with a state consumer protection law. The law requires lenders to contact borrowers at risk of foreclosure to determine whether they qualify for mortgage assistance.
In Florida, the state attorney general is investigating four law firms, two with ties to GMAC, for allegedly providing fraudulent documents in foreclosure cases. The Ohio attorney general asked judges this week to review GMAC foreclosure cases.
Mark Paustenbach, a Treasury Department spokesman, said the Treasury has asked federal regulators "to look into these troubling developments." And the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which regulates national banks, has asked seven big banks to examine their foreclosure processes.
"We both want to see that they fix the processing problems, but also to look to see whether there is specific harm" to homeowners, John Walsh, the agency's acting director told lawmakers Thursday.
A document obtained Friday by the Associated Press showed a Bank of America official acknowledging in a legal proceeding that she signed up to 8,000 foreclosure documents a month and typically didn't read them.
The official, Renee Hertzler, said in a February deposition that she signed 7,000 to 8,000 foreclosure documents a month.
"I typically don't read them because of the volume that we sign," Hertzler said.
She also acknowledged identifying herself as a representative of a different bank, Bank of New York Mellon, that she didn't work for. Bank of New York Mellon served as a trustee for the investors holding the homeowner's loan.
Hertzler could not be reached for comment.
A lawyer for the homeowner in the case, James O'Connor of Fitchburg, Mass., said such problems are rampant throughout the industry.
"We have had thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of foreclosures around the country by entities that did not have the right to foreclose," O'Connor said.
The disclosure comes two days after JPMorgan said it would temporarily stop foreclosing on more than 50,000 homes so it could review documents that might contain errors. Last week, GMAC halted certain evictions and sales of foreclosed homes in 23 states to review those cases after finding procedural errors in some foreclosure affidavits.
Consumer advocates say the problems are widespread across the lending industry.
"The general level of sloppiness is pervasive around the industry," said Diane Thompson, counsel at the National Consumer Law Center.
Vickee Adams, a spokeswoman for Wells Fargo & Co., said Wells' "policies, procedures and practices satisfy us that the affidavits we sign are accurate."
Mark Rodgers, a spokesman for Citigroup Inc., said the bank "reviews document handling processes in our foreclosure group on an ongoing basis, and we have strong training to ensure that appropriate employees are fully aware of the proper procedures."
Mortgage finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac said Friday they're directing companies they work with that collect loan payments to follow proper procedures.
In some states, lenders can foreclose quickly on delinquent mortgage borrowers. By contrast, the 23 states in which Bank of America is delaying foreclosures use a lengthy court process. They require documents to verify information on the mortgage, including who owns it.
Those states are:
Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Vermont and Wisconsin.