After a series of hard-to-believe events and through no fault of her own, Effie Marie Bradley’s home is in foreclosure. She’s been unsuccessful in getting the lender — PNC Bank — to help.
Except for her home, of course.
Bradley and her brother James Mango inherited their father’s Dover home in 2000. The siblings both lived there, and in 2003, the deed was amended to show both of their names as owners. The home, which their dad bought without a mortgage for about $70,000 cash in 1978, is now worth about $450,000.
In July 2006, Bradley said, she finally gave in to her brother, who for a year had asked her to co-sign a home equity line of credit. Though she knew it was risky, Bradley co-signed a $120,000 credit line.
A year later, Mango made a confession.
“He came to me and confessed that he had gotten taken in by countless online scammers: the Nigerian scam, the Spanish lotto, the Euro lotto and the Canadian lotto, to name but a few,” Bradley said.
For almost a year, her brother explained, the bank warned him not to send money to these scammers, but he continued to do so.
Together, they visited the bank, and she said and the manager explained that Mango had been wiring out funds steadily, exhausting the credit line. It got worse on May 1, 2007, when Mango deposited what was later revealed to be a fraudulent check from one of the online scams for $96,610.65. PNC cleared the check that same day, making the funds available almost immediately. Mango jumped on it, writing a check for $97,000 as a payment on the credit line. It bounced. Bradley learned the deposit check was from a fake institution — one of the many scams Mango fell for. Even though the check was written from one PNC account to another — and PNC never actually lost the $97,000 — it added it to Mango’s home equity line balance.
Ergo the new $217,000 balance.
“There’s something wrong with a check that huge being cleared and posted on the same day as it was deposited. I ran my own business for 15 years and even $250 or $300 checks weren’t cleared for a couple, maybe three days,” Bradley said.
She hired an attorney, and in September 2007, she received a letter from a PNC attorney that said she was not responsible for the check scam part of the loan. The letter said, “We are obviously not suing your client … because she did not sign the note.”
But there were still foreclosure notices.
In February 2008, Mango passed away. Bradley said she immediately contacted PNC to see if his loan could be forgiven.
“Although (the rep from the corporate office) claimed he looked up the loan and found I had not signed anywhere on it, he then threatened to have my house taken away if I didn’t immediately make a $5,000 payment,” Bradley said.
Confusion ensued. Bradley, left with no assets from her brother except for the home, knew she signed something. She had a copy of the mortgage document bearing her signature.
She started receiving bills that asked for specific payment amounts, but none of the statements showed the total amount due. The requested payments were the same as when the loan balance was $217,000, even though the $97,000 addition was supposed to be gone. Years of contact with PNC yielded no clarity, Bradley said.
Bradley appeared in Superior Court, representing herself, for a status conference on the foreclosure in the beginning of 2011.
She learned she was back to a $120,000 balance.
The judge granted a forbearance so Bradley could modify the loan, and she applied for the modification in March 2011. Bradley’s payment would have gone down from $1,318 to $695 per month.
PNC denied the modification, saying she didn’t qualify because she was not a co-signer on the first mortgage on the home.
But there never was a first mortgage, Bradley said. Her father purchased the house for cash in 1978, and Bradley has the paperwork to prove it.
“When I finally got an attorney to force PNC to admit that there was no first mortgage on this house, they then denied the loan modification, claiming that this was a home equity loan not a mortgage and therefore could not be modified,” Bradley said.
Something was fishy. Home equity lines of credit can absolutely be modified, and the word “mortgage” is all over Bradley’s paperwork.
Bradley tried again, but again, the modification was denied.
On the September bill, PNC listed $69,890.51 as the loan balance — without explanation. Bradley hasn’t been able to get answers about that either.
“What’s wrong with this picture?” Bradley said.
ASKING FOR CLARITY
After reviewing loan documentation, attorney’s letters and other paperwork associated with Bradley’s case, Bamboozled asked PNC to explain.
The spokesman said PNC does not comment on customer accounts.
We asked the bank to investigate. Specifically, we asked how the bank could say Bradley didn’t sign, and how could it say a home equity line of credit was not eligible for a modification.
The next day, Bradley received a call from the bank, but again, no clear answers.
“All (the rep) kept saying was the reason I was unable to get a loan modification is that I never signed the loan so I’m not authorized to get a loan modification,” Bradley said of her conversation with the PNC rep. “(The rep) said the only person that signed for this loan was my late brother James Mango and that is bull.”
Bradley said the rep promised to research the case further and call Bradley back.
She’s still waiting.
Mortgage terminology has led to part of the confusion in this case.
When a homeowner borrows money on a home, there are documents to sign.
There’s the mortgage, in which the signers pledge ownership in the property, which is then used as collateral for the note. The note details the terms of the loan. The mortgage says if the note is not paid, the lender could foreclose on the property.
We know Bradley signed the mortgage — Bamboozled saw the document — but we don’t know if she signed the note. Neither does she, and PNC hasn’t furnished her with a copy. Still, PNC says because Bradley didn’t sign the note, she doesn’t qualify for a modification.
Even if she didn’t sign, the law is on Bradley’s side, experts said.
“It’s bogus,” said Diane Thompson, an attorney with the National Consumer Law Center.
“It’s a common reason for the bank to give a denial.”
Thompson said PNC should allow Bradley to assume the note under a federal law passed in 1982.
“She’s allowed to assume the note under the federal Garn–St. Germain Depository Institutions Act because she’s inheriting the property from a family member,” Thompson said.
Additionally, Thompson said under new guidance for the Home Affordable Modification Program, the bank needs to tell Bradley what she needs to do to assume the loan.
Once the loan is assumed — and the new note is signed — she would be eligible for a modification, Thompson said.
Even without the assumption of the loan, the bank can modify the loan, said West Orange-based consumer law attorney Madeline Houston.
“They are jerking her around,” Houston said. “The bank can do whatever they want. They can modify it or they can give her a new loan.”
Ronald LeVine, a Hackensack-based attorney who chairs the New Jersey State Bar Association’s consumer protection committee, agrees.
“There is no reason, even if the owner only signed the mortgage and not the mortgage note, that the loan couldn’t be modified,” LeVine said. “I would assume that the lender is just looking for an excuse to not approve a modification, particularly where they perceive equity in the property.”
And there is equity. The home is valued at more than $450,000, while the outstanding loan is only $120,000.
Readers, make your own conclusions.