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Senators want Healey to weigh in on foreclosure bill

PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:

By Matt Murphy

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

STATE HOUSE — Senate leaders invited a handful of foreclosure experts to meet with on-the-fence lawmakers Thursday to walk through a title-clearing bill that had been scheduled for a vote before the August recess only to be delayed out of respect to questions raised by some senators.

At least eight senators and one House Democrat attended the Wednesday afternoon session led by Senate Majority Leader Harriette Chandler, according one senator who attended.

The meeting, held during a quiet afternoon at the State House in the midst of the summer break, was intended to help lawmakers better understand the issues involved in clearing titles to foreclosed properties.

“We were trying to really get our hands around this bill, and who it would affect,” said Sen. Kenneth Donnelly, an Arlington Democrat.

The bill that was laid aside two weeks ago (S 882) would create a three-year deadline for title disputes before another document, known as an affidavit, becomes binding proof of a proper sale. Supporters argue it would provide protection for homebuyers who might have purchased a foreclosed property only to later learn the title is in dispute and they are blocked from selling or refinancing their mortgage.

Anti-foreclosure activists have in the past criticized similar legislation as an affront to the rights of people who lost their homes in foreclosure. Former Gov. Deval Patrick last year returned to the Legislature a nearly identical bill that reached his desk with an amendment increasing the title-clearing window to 10 years, but the move essentially killed the bill as it came after the Legislature had ended formal sessions for the year.

Presenters at the meeting on Wednesday included representatives of the title insurance industry, Greater Boston Legal Services, the real estate bar, an attorney for foreclosed property owners and Middlesex North Register of Deeds Richard Howe.

Donnelly said the meeting was “helpful,” but said questions remain unanswered, including whether the bill would nullify a national settlement reached in 2012 with the state’s five largest mortgage lenders that is bringing in $318 million to Massachusetts in relief for homeowners through cash payments, loan modifications and other concessions.

The settlement deal was struck, in part, by former Attorney General Martha Coakley, and Donnelly said senators are hoping new Attorney General Maura Healey will weigh in on the current bill.

“We need to find out from the attorney general if that’s true,” Donnelly said.

In addition to Donnelly, Sens. Daniel Wolf, Jamie Eldridge, William Brownsberger, Cynthia Creem and Linda Dorcena Forry and Rep. Denise Provost attended the informational meeting in the Senate’s fourth floor meeting room. Sen. Michael Moore, a co-sponsor of the bill, also attended.