In a move called “unprecedented in its magnitude,” a bankruptcy judge recently opted to levy a $45 million fine against Bank of America Corp. for its treatment of homeowners who had requested lower mortgage payments.
If it stands, the fine would be the largest punitive damages award for violations of the bankruptcy law’s automatic stay rules, which ban lenders from advancing foreclosures and taking other actions.
The case highlights the importance of consulting a lawyer in any situation involving requests for loan modifications or in any case involving a foreclosure.
In the ruling, the judge said bank representatives mistreated California couple Renee and Erik Sundquist when they were trying to prevent their home from going into foreclosure. The couple owned a construction business that closed in 2008 during the economic downturn. At that time, they borrowed nearly $600,000 to buy a home.
The lender was later taken over by Bank of America, but not before the couple received a promise from a loan official that they would be able to request lower monthly payments. When Bank of America officials said they wouldn’t consider loan modifications for customers who were current on payments, the couple stopped making payments on the home.
They went on to make 20 loan modification requests that were either “lost,” denied without a “comprehensible explanation” or declared insufficient for a variety of reasons. The couple wound up filing for bankruptcy in 2010.
In the ruling, the judge asked the couple to donate most of the $45 million award to five law schools and two legal-aid nonprofits. He also awarded them more than $1 million in damages.