Official seeks changes in foreclosure mediation

More than 1,000 Nevada homeowners have requested mediation to help them rework their mortgages, with 60 residents filing requests on Tuesday alone, the Nevada Supreme Court reports.

The Nevada Supreme Court is implementing and fine-tuning the Foreclosure Mediation Program. The court held a hearing in Carson City on Tuesday to discuss changes to the program’s rules. Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley is proposing to add tougher language to ensure that lenders negotiate fairly during mediation.

Buckley, D-Las Vegas, expressed concerns that some lenders may just be going through the motions during mediation. She told Nevada Supreme Court Chief Justice James Hardesty that more stringent language is needed as an added safeguard against lenders acting in “bad faith.”

Buckley also urged mediators to recommend sanctions in cases in which lenders don’t honestly try to find a solution to help homeowners.

“The mediator has to be able to find ‘bad faith’ and recommend sanctions,” Buckley said after the hearing. “A recommendation not to allow foreclosure could be issued. That’s putting out a strong statement.”

Mediators can offer findings of bad faith against lenders, but the law setting up mediation does not specify what kind of sanctions can be issued. Nevada Supreme Court spokesman Bill Gang said, however, that the law does allow mediators to halt foreclosure proceedings against homeowners if the lenders act in bad faith.

Buckley, who was the force behind creating the mediation program in the last Nevada Legislature, suggested allowing judges to order loan modifications in cases in which the lender doesn’t make an honest effort to work with homeowners.

“I believe it is very important that they know they have to negotiate in good faith, so that they know they can’t go forward with the foreclosure otherwise,” she said.

The Nevada Supreme Court is expected to decide soon on any needed changes, although no time frame has been set, Gang said.

The state recorded 10,042 filings for notices of default on residential and commercial properties in August, with some counties still uncounted.

Nevada had the nation’s highest foreclosure rate in July, with 19,535 foreclosure filings, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions recorded, Irvine, Calif.-based RealtyTrac reports. That was a 94 percent increase from July 2008. Las Vegas recorded 16,798 of those filings this past July.

The court now has 97 mediators trained and ready to hear cases, with as many as a 1,000 mediations hearings possible this month. The first mediation sessions are scheduled for Sept. 10 in Las Vegas.

Nevada residents who received foreclosure notices after July 1 have 30 days to file for mediation.

Contact reporter Valerie Miller at vmiller@lvbusinesspress.com or 702-387-5286.

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