The Washington Post reports that "over the past year, lenders have become much more aggressive in trying to recoup money lost in foreclosures and other distressed sales, creating more grief for people who thought their real estate headaches were far behind."
In many localities -- including Virginia, Maryland and the District -- lenders have the right to pursue borrowers whose homes have sold at a loss to collect the difference between what the property sold for and what the borrower owed on it, also called a deficiency.
Before the housing bust, when the volume of foreclosures was relatively low, lenders seldom bothered to chase after deficiencies because borrowers had few remaining assets to claim and doing so involved hassles and costs. But with foreclosures soaring, lenders are more determined to get their money back, especially if they suspect borrowers are skipping out on loan they could afford, an increasingly common practice in areas where home values have tanked...
Those who had a second mortgage, such as a home-equity line of credit, in addition to their primary mortgage may find themselves particularly vulnerable, especially if they tapped into the equity line for cash.
Second lenders are last in line to get paid when a distressed property is sold. There's usually little or no money left over for them, making it more likely that they will pursue large deficiencies, several attorneys said...
A handful of states do not allow lenders to pursue deficiencies, nor does a federal program that took effect April 10. Lenders participating in that initiative are paid for approving short sales and as a condition, they cannot go after outstanding debt.
In many states, lenders can go after deficiencies, though laws vary widely, said John Rao, an attorney at the National Consumer Law Center. Some states limit how long the banks have to file a claim or collect the debt. Others may calculate deficiencies based on the fair-market value of the house, Rao said. For instance, if a home sells for $200,000 yet its fair market value is $250,000, "the borrower who owes $240,000 on the mortgage would not have a deficiency," he said.
Borrowers should get a waiver in writing from their lenders to protect themselves, said Diane Cipollone, an attorney at the nonprofit Civil Justice. "Nobody should assume the deficiency is forgiven," she said.