Lawyers kick off plan here to aid state homeowners
Lawyers in Huntsville will kick off a statewide program here today to assist homeowners in danger of losing their houses because of mortgage foreclosures, according to the Alabama State Bar Association.
The campaign will have a staggered rollout throughout the state, said Tom Methvin, president-elect of the bar association. The Huntsville/Madison County area is being targeted first because of the high number of reported foreclosures, he said.
“The Alabama State Bar is concerned about the high number of foreclosures in the state,” he said. “It’s very easy in Alabama for lenders to foreclose on a mortgage and take someone’s house.”
In August alone, 55 homes were in some stage of foreclosure in the Huntsville area, compared to 19 the previous year, according to RealtyTrac, a company that follows foreclosures nationwide and posts the results on the Internet. Alabama reported 827 foreclosures in August, up 30 percent compared to a year ago.
Additionally, about 30 percent of the population of Alabama is below the federal poverty line, Methvin said. They are “sitting ducks” for predatory lenders, he said.
“We don’t want anyone to lose their house without a chance to have assistance from a lawyer,” he said.
There are various ways distressed homeowners can receive free help from a lawyer through Legal Services Alabama, Methvin said. Help negotiating with lenders is available to those of all income levels. Assistance for those who need to go to court is available only to low-income homeowners, he said.
“At no cost, legal aid attorneys will interview homeowners by phone and may write a letter on their behalf to the lender, for example, or, depending upon the circumstance, they will try to negotiate a workout of the mortgage,” he said.
“In some cases, the attorney may represent the homeowner in various stages of foreclosure litigation, including mediation, but this option is limited to low-income individuals.”
Under a public-awareness and education campaign, homeowners facing foreclosure can call a toll-free hot line at 877-393-2333. They will be connected with a legal aid attorney who will advise them about the various stages of the process and furnish free legal assistance.
“Homeowners need to know there are options, but the key to a successful outcome is early intervention, and I can’t stress that enough,” Methvin said. “If you are having a problem making your monthly payments and believe foreclosure is imminent, you must act now.”
The bar association has available a public-information pamphlet that provides answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about foreclosure. Copies may be downloaded from the bar association’s Web site: www.alabar.org/, then click on “foreclosure resources,” Methvin said.
“We are very concerned about people losing their homes,” he said. “We are also concerned about other related effects of foreclosure such as reducing property values, creating blight with vacant and abandoned properties in neighborhoods, and diminishing the local tax base, which often supports important services, and straining court dockets.”
The state bar and the state Broadcasters Association have produced a series of broadcast messages that will begin airing on radio and TV in Huntsville and surrounding areas, Methvin said.
Alabama allows for two kinds of foreclosure proceedings, judicial and nonjudicial, Methvin said. Nonjudicial foreclosures, the more common type, can occur in a time frame as short as 21 days.
“It is crucial for homeowners who have missed making even one monthly mortgage payment to call the hot line immediately,” he said. “We are committed to assisting consumers who are facing the difficult prospect of losing their homes or filing for bankruptcy.”
Legal Services Alabama is a nonprofit organization providing free civil legal and law-related services to low-income Alabamians in all 67 counties.
The 15,700-member Alabama State Bar is dedicated to promoting the professional responsibility, competence and satisfaction of its members, improving the administration of justice, and increasing public understanding and respect for the law, Methvin said.