Banks unlawfully foreclosed on military members while they were on tours of duty


AFP Photo / Tauseef Mustafa
AFP Photo / Tauseef Mustafa

Banks wrongfully foreclosed the homes of more than 700 military families during the financial crisis, a number much higher than originally thought.

Active military and National Guard members are protected from foreclosure under federal law, but some of United States’ largest banks failed to take that into account when they wrongfully seized the homes of hundreds of American service members. Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo all foreclosed on military families, a discovery that was made while analyzing mortgages during the multi-billion dollar settlement with the government, the New York Times reports.

Additionally, banks illicitly seized the homes of 20 other borrowers, all of which were up-to-date on their mortgage payments.

The new findings demonstrate the severity of the mortgage crisis on foreclosure victims between 2006 and 2009. Banks had previously claimed that no one was wrongfully foreclosed upon. Lenders eventually admitted that some had been illicitly evicted, but only as a result of faulty documents.

In 2011, JPMorgan settled claims that it illicitly foreclosed on 18 military service members.  Bank of America and Morgan Stanley settled claims that they foreclosed on 178 military members. Those numbers seemed high at the time, but the new figures shed a new light on the extent of the illegal foreclosures.

Foreclosing on members of the military violates the Service-members Civil Relief Act, which prohibits banks from foreclosing on active-duty members without a court order. The law was officially established in 1940 to prevent soldiers from facing legal trouble in the US while fighting in World War II.

“It’s absolutely devastating to be 7,000 miles from your home fighting for this country and get a message that your family is being evicted,” Col. John S. Odom Jr., a retired Air Force lawyer who represents military members in foreclosure cases, told the Times. “We have been sounding the alarms that the banks are illegally evicting the very men and women who are out there fighting for this country. This is a devastating confirmation of that.”

The banks claim that while 700 illicit evictions may seem like a lot, it is just a small fraction of the millions of foreclosures under review. Additionally, the banks claim they have taken steps to compensate the families who wrongfully lost their homes.

Kristin Lemkau, a JPMorgan spokeswoman, told the Times that the bank instituted “very generous programs for the military, including awarding homes, forgiving principal and hiring more than 5,000 veterans.”

But the hardship of losing a home is not easily forgotten, even with compensation. The homes belonging to the 20 foreclosed Americans who never missed a mortgage payment have all been sold. Independent consultants working for the banks are still gathering information on the details of the illicitly foreclosed homes. The banks have been ordered to shell out $3.6 billion in cash and $5.7 billion worth of assistance to about 4.2 million homeowners victimized by the mortgage crisis.

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