US warns banks on foreclosures
Fines are possible if laws are broken
WASHINGTON — President Obama’s top housing official said yesterday that lenders are within their rights to resume foreclosures this month despite allegations that they erred in processing documents. But he said the banks could face fines if they are found to have broken the law.
“They’ve made a business decision,’’ Shaun Donovan, the secretary of housing and urban development, said in an interview at the White House.
Two big lenders —
Donovan noted that several federal agencies have authority to penalize mortgage companies if they are found to have violated the law.
“We are going to hold them accountable,’’ he said.
The housing secretary discussed the foreclosure document mess earlier in the day with officials from 11 federal agencies that are reviewing the issue. He said the government is also in contact with 50 state attorneys general who have launched their own inquiry.
Donovan said the government has found no evidence that the system used to handle foreclosures is flawed, even though some banks may not have followed proper procedures.
A federal law enforcement official said Tuesday that the FBI is trying to determine whether the financial industry broke criminal laws in the foreclosure crisis.
The law enforcement official said the question is whether some in the industry were acting with criminal intent or were merely overwhelmed after the housing market’s collapse. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is just getting under way.
In a related inquiry, Donovan said the Federal Housing Administration has found disparities in how five major lenders have responded to distressed homeowners. He said the FHA reached that conclusion after a four-month review. He declined to name the lenders.
The government has authority to fine lenders that fail to comply with guidelines of the FHA, which guarantees some home loans. Some lawmakers have called for a national halt to foreclosures. The Obama administration opposes such a move, saying that doing so could hurt the housing market.