Massachusetts sued five major banks on Thursday over alleged deceptive foreclosure practices such as the “robo-signing” of documents, potentially undermining negotiations between lenders and state prosecutors across the nation over the same issue.
The lawsuit named Bank of America Merrill Lynch Corp, JP-Morgan Chase & Co, Wells Fargo & Co, Citigroup Inc and GMAC. It was filed in Massachusetts by Attorney General Martha Coakley.
The complaint claims the banks violated Massachusetts law with “unlawful and deceptive” conduct in the foreclosure process, including unlawful foreclosures, false documentation, robo-signing and deceptive practices related to loan modifications.
In the foreclosure industry, robo-signing is the practice of a bank employee signing thousands of documents and affidavits without first verifying the information that is contained in the document or affidavit.
The lawsuit comes as talks have been dragging on for more than a year between major banks and the attorneys general from all 50 states over fraudulent foreclosure practices that drove millions of Americans from their homes following the bursting of the housing bubble.
In October last year, major banks temporarily suspended foreclosures following revelations of widespread fraudulent foreclosure practices by banks.
The talks have been designed to institute new guidelines for mortgage lending nationwide.
It was anticipated to be the biggest overhaul of a single industry since the 1998 multi-state tobacco settlement.
However, over the past year, several obstacles have arisen. Attorneys general of different states have disagreed over what terms to offer the banks.
In September, California announced it would not agree to a settlement over foreclosure abuses that state and federal officials have been working on for more than a year.
Coakley, along with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Delaware’s Beau Biden, have argued that banks should not be protected from future civil liability.
Other states, including Kentucky, Minnesota and Nevada, have raised concerns about the extent of legal civil immunity the banks would receive as part of a settlement.
Both sides have also argued over the amount of money that should be placed in a reserve account for property owners who were improperly foreclosed upon.
Many of the larger points of the deal, including a US$25 billion cost for the banks, have been worked out, according to people briefed on the internal discussions, but who are not authorized to speak publicly about them.
The settlement is expected to be announced sometime this month.
The lead negotiator on behalf of state prosecutors, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, said in a statement that he hoped Massachusetts would join the broader settlement that was still being worked on.
“We’re optimistic that we’ll settle on terms that will be in the interests of Massachusetts,” Miller said.