Homeowners assurance

Published 9:29 am Monday, January 30, 2017

In the give-and-take that comes with homeownership, both parties have — or at least, should have — a strong incentive to make sure the transaction works out and does not end in default and foreclosure. This mutual trust is vital to any real estate transaction.

Anyone who has ever purchased a home knows the paperwork involved. Stacks of contracts, each with its own series of “sign heres” and “initial theres.” One of the clauses in one of the paragraphs in one of the sections of one of those forms is a passage that requires the bank that holds the mortgage to place a public notice in the local newspaper before it evicts you for falling behind on your payments.

This is an important safeguard for homeowners.

State Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. “Tommy” Norment, R-James City, is trying to take it away.


Sen. Norment is sponsoring Senate Bill 1368, which would remove that requirement from the lenders and instead only call upon them to let homeowners know that they can check on foreclosure notices filed at the courthouse or posted online.

He proposed very similar legislation last year. It went down on a 17-20 vote when two of his fellow Republicans voted against it and two others were temporarily off the floor when the votes were taken.

Now it is up before the Senate again, and it needs to go down again.

Understand as you read this that The Tidewater News and the newspaper industry in general has a financial stake here. When these required notices of pending foreclosure appear in print, they are paid ads. Newspapers profit from them. But that has nothing to do with our opposition to Sen. Norment’s bill.

Our opposition is about protecting homeowners as carefully and thoroughly as possible.

Those who support Sen. Norment’s bill argue that it is cheaper to forgo paid advertisements and instead put the word out by social media and other digital channels. This is true, but it is also less efficient. Cheaper does not always mean better.

Though this may be hard for some folks to accept, there are plenty of American citizens who don’t own computers, or who are not online every day or who only wade — rather than surf — the internet. It would be ludicrous to suggest to these people that it is their responsibility to find the online notices alerting them to a pending foreclosure on their property.

In many cases, these people get their information from the newspaper. Old school, print edition. If critical information must be conveyed, with a reasonable likelihood of reaching them, that paid legal notice is as good a bet as any. It needs to remain in the contract, in the agreement among buyer, seller and lender.

In a standard loan contract, it is the lender’s responsibility — financial and otherwise — to take these steps, including the newspaper ad. It is part of the agreement by which the lender does everything reasonably possible to let the borrower or homeowner know before foreclosure puts someone on the street.

A homeowner about to have the rug pulled out from under — along with the walls, the ceilings, the doors, and windows — should receive every possible notice. Allowing the other parties to ignore their contractual obligations?

Putting the onus on that homeowner to check the courthouse and negotiate municipal and court websites? This is not acceptable, even if it does save a few bucks.

Sen. Norment’s legislation fits into a larger pattern that should be disturbing to Virginia residents. Our commonwealth requires just three days’ notice before foreclosure, far shorter than most states. And Virginia does not require a judge’s order to evict. In the broader picture, keep in mind that our legislature has an extremely weak record when it comes to keeping the public informed — even the most fundamental tenets of the Freedom of Information Act sometimes require protracted legal action. Take it from us. We know.

The standard contract for the purchase of a home is a long and complicated document with specific requirements spelled out for all parties. If the homeowners fail to comply with their end of the deal, they face the consequences. The lenders, by the same logic, should have to live up to their end. Including the language that requires paid public notices in the local newspaper before resorting to foreclosure.

This clause is in the contract for your protection. The prospect of your elected officials stripping that protection away should set off some warning bells.