The legal contracts you sign when buying or renting a home are among the most important you will sign in your life! These contracts are governed by complex laws. As a result, it’s hard to know what your rights are. If you find yourself not able to pay your rent or mortgage, you can quickly find yourself overwhelmed and susceptible to scammers promising to help you. For tenants and homeowners in Long Island in this situation, a local Fair Housing advocacy community organization, Long Island Housing Services, Inc. (LIHS) has been serving communities throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties for 45 years.
As Nassau and Suffolk counties experience high foreclosure rates, the Hispanic community in these areas has also been increasingly targeted by mortgage and foreclosure scammers. Over the years, LIHS has built a comprehensive program grounded on extensive community outreach and counseling to address these problems. Since 2012, they have helped report 220 housing violations and filed 120 mortgage rescue scam complaints. They have also prevented 60 foreclosures during their 2013-2014 funding year.
We spoke with LIHS’s Executive Director, Michelle Santantonio, to learn about the specific ways that they help residents in these counties deal with foreclosure and housing abuses.
Below is a short Q&A:
How does staff at LIHS educate the public about loan scams and mortgage modifications?
Our agency educates the public in several ways:
First, we provide one-on-one counseling to our clients who have been victimized by foreclosure rescue scams.
Second, we provide public educational materials and training on the topic of avoiding foreclosure rescue scams and predatory lending practices.
Third, we produce and host a weekly Spanish language radio show every Monday at 1:30pm on WLIE 540AM called Vivienda Justa through which we inform the public about our services, educate about foreclosure prevention, avoiding rescue scams and about Fair Housing in general.
Can you tell us a little bit about how your organization reports foreclosure and loan scams?
When LIHS counsels clients, we provide them with an action plan that lists a number of government agencies where they can report the suspected scam. Proactively, with client’s permission, we have been able to gather sufficient information to report 120 Mortgage Rescue Scam complaints with the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights under Law (LCCRUL). In return, LCCRUL has been able to facilitate litigation in many instances on behalf of homeowners. Unfortunately, only 55% of the time mortgage scam victims provide permission to reveal their identity circumstances with details sufficient to file a report.
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Are there any particular areas you serve were you have seen high instances of loan scams or other mortgage-related fraud? LIHS has noticed that foreclosure rescue scams are occurring in predominantly Hispanic communities. The five zip codes and related communities from which we’ve received the largest volume of complaints are the following:
- 11717 – 25: Brentwood
- 11706 – 15: Bay Shore
- 11763 – 13: Medford
- 11722 – 13: Central Islip
- 11772 – 6: East Patchogue
What does your agency do to prevent foreclosure in these counties?
LIHS has been increasingly successful in its foreclosure prevention efforts. With its well- trained and dedicated staff, LIHS has already been able to exceed its goals in the 2013-2014 funding year with more than 60 foreclosures prevented, and expects to continue its success. As a HUD-approved Housing Counseling agency, LIHS uses trained Counselors that meet threshold requirements for this highly complex and sensitive work. The Counseling services include education about the foreclosure process, examination of homeowners’ income and expenses, analyses of verifiable means to inform as to what would constitute a reasonable, affordable, loan. Assistance is provided to communicate with the bank or its servicer in situations and where feasible, a loan modification plan is developed and presented to the lender. Often, hardships – sometimes predatory lending –trigger the loan default and inability to meet loan payment requirements. So many faced with the threat of foreclosure are dealing with hardships caused by unexpected household and income changes, due to job loss, hours reduction, separation, divorce, serious long term illness, inadequate or no insurance coverage. Counselors help guide the clients in articulating their need for modification, if the goal is to maintain ownership. Well beyond concrete assistance, Counselors provide needed moral support for homeowners at intense periods while threats of home loss translate into havoc for the family. Also, counselors will try to pinpoint and refer clients to useful community resources to address needs.
What happens if a client needs legal assistance?
If legal services are required to respond to a summons and complaint seeking foreclosure, help is available to assist homeowners to submit a ‘pro se’ answer which will secure more protection in the foreclosure process. LIHS’ Foreclosure Prevention attorneys provide representation at NYS mandatory settlement Conferences to ensure proper information as to homeowner’s status and any submitted modification related requests. In situations in which LIHS’ client/homeowner, Counselor or Attorney determine that modification is not a feasible option, information about options to minimize economic loss such as short sales, deed-in-lieu, bankruptcy are discussed. If such options are chosen, HUD-approved legal services providers in the NYASAG’s HOPP network are identified.
For people interested in learning more, do you have any upcoming events?
LIHS is providing Fair Lending Training (1 hour) sessions at the Brentwood Public Library on Sat., June 14. The first will be in Spanish at 10:30 a.m. and then at 1 pm the presentation will be in English. LIHS will be providing Foreclosure “Know your Rights” Legal Clinics in English June 19 and in Spanish: “Conozca Sus Derechos” on June 21. To register contact LIHS at 631-567-5111, ext. 388. During these clinics, homeowners on Long Island behind in their mortgage or in jeopardy of foreclosure will have the opportunity to get free legal advice on a range of topics including Loan Modifications; Alternatives to Foreclosure such as Short Sale and Deed-in-Lieu; the Foreclosure Timeline; the Settlement Conference Process [mandatory in NYS]; Super Storm Sandy; and Bankruptcy. On Sat., July 19 at 10 a.m., LIHS will present a Fair Lending presentation in Spanish and at 11a.m. in English. These sessions are offered in collaboration with E.O.C. of Suffolk, Inc. and will be held at the Wyandanch Public Library. LIHS continuously recruits volunteers to help in our Fair Housing enforcement work. People of all ages, racial, ethnic, economic backgrounds are needed to help investigate market practices related to lending, sales and rentals. Call 631-567-5111, ext. 318 or email: info@LIFairHousing.org .
1. To learn more about LIHS visit their website and download their know your rights resources at: www.LIFairHousing.org. Many of their public information pieces are available in Spanish.
2. If you live in Long Island, learn your rights, Read their Get Acquainted … Fair Housing Rights for Long Island Guidebook.
1. Are you a victim of housing abuse in New York? Tell us what you did to report and overcome this in our discussion board.
2. Learn more about your rights during foreclosure! Register for LIHS’s Foreclosure “Know your Rights” Legal Clinic in English June 19 and in Spanish: “Conozca Sus Derechos” on June 21. To register contact LIHS at 631-567-5111, ext. 388.