SACRAMENTO, Calif.- California would become the first state to write into law much of the national mortgage settlement negotiated this year with the nation's top five banks, and expand it to all lenders, under wide-ranging legislation state lawmakers approved Monday.
Majority Democrats sent the homeowner protection package to Gov. Jerry Brown despite opposition from business and lending organizations and most Republican legislators.
The Assembly approved the legislation on a 53-25 vote, and the Senate followed by voting 25-13.
The legislation would require large lenders to provide a single point of contact for homeowners who want to discuss loan modifications. It would prohibit lenders from foreclosing while the lenders consider homeowners' request for alternatives to foreclosure. And it would let California homeowners sue lenders to stop foreclosures or seek monetary damages if the lender violates state law.
The protections would benefit all California homeowners, not just those whose mortgages are with the five banks that signed the national settlement in February. And many of the restrictions would become permanent, while those in the nationwide agreement will end after five years.
It applies to all owner-occupied residences, but not commercial or rental properties.
Jose Vega drove 70 miles to Sacramento with his two young children to lobby lawmakers to pass the legislation after he spent three years battling to keep his home in the San Francisco-area city of Pittsburg.
In November 2009, he said, he found a trustee sale notice posted on his door 16 days after he was placed in a loan modification program. He was put into another modification program in the spring of 2010, only to have the bank again begin foreclosure proceedings.
Vega, 52, eventually kept his home after filing for bankruptcy and getting help from the office of Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Now he and his family owe $466,000 — including the bank's legal fees — on a home he said is worth about $200,000.
"I'm not asking for a handout. All I'm saying is, you created this mess, let's work something out," said Vega, a member of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment. "Hopefully, California will lead the way so other states will follow."
Attorney General Kamala Harris said an estimated 700,000 California homeowners now are facing foreclosure, up from 500,000 in previous projections.
"They will now have a system that will offer them transparency and fairness," Harris said after the vote.
She helped negotiate the February settlement that requires Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo & Co., Citigroup Inc. and Ally Financial Inc. to pay $18 billion in penalties to California homeowners.
Harris said the California legislation is the next step in reforming the industry, even as a special task force of California Department of Justice prosecutors continues investigating mortgage abuses.
Key portions of her original proposal to write the settlement into state law were stalled by opposition from some of her fellow Democrats in the Legislature, until the right to sue banks and other measures were significantly narrowed.