PDT Staff Writer
In our unsteady economy, many people are worried about their home being foreclosed upon. Last week, the state of Ohio announced a foreclosure mediation model program is available in all 88 counties of Ohio that might help you stay in your home. Those interested in Scioto County should contact either their attorney or the Scioto County Court of Common Pleas.
Developed in response to Ohio's rising mortgage crisis by the Supreme Court's Dispute Resolution Section, the program includes best practices, related documents, forms and other resources and is designed for courts to modify. Since not every foreclosure case can be resolved through mediation, the model assists courts in assessing information provided by both the homeowner and the lender to find a mutually acceptable agreement that is both commercially reasonable and sustainable. The Supreme Court has provided free assistance to local courts to implement the model and public education and training specific to foreclosure cases.
"I would have to say our mediation is not up and running at 100 percent," said Judge Howard H. Harcha III, of Scioto County Court of Common Pleas. "We need to develop a change in our summons to better explain the process of mediation."
He said he hoped to have those out in the next month or two.
While waiting for that change, the Scioto County Clerk of Courts Office has already distributed about 500 brochures to people involved in foreclosure complaints in Scioto County since early December. Inside the brochures, recipients can find seven simple tips to help save their home.
1. Open and respond to all letters from your lender.
2. Contact your lender.
3. Seek negotiation help from state and local resources.
4. Document all contact with your lender.
5. Respond to summons in 28 days.
6. When faced with foreclosure, be sure you understand Ohio's foreclosure process. Foreclosure may take anywhere from six months to over a year.
7. Be aware of foreclosure scams.
"When people get these (complaints from the lender) they do nothing, and that is the worst thing they can do," Harcha said. "The mediation process, when it is up and running at 100 percent, would be a situation where an answer would be filed on behalf of an individual through an attorney. A request would then be made for mediation, and there would be an exchange of information between the bank and the debtor. At that point, the two could work together to see whether or not the person could save the loan."
Because so many people in Scioto County are not responding to the complaints, they instead have summary judgments taken against them. Harcha hopes to see more people taking advantage of the mediation model, and said a local seminar may be held to inform debtors of their rights and resources available to them.
"We have met down here with the director of mediation from the Supreme Court. She is willing to come down and put on a seminar," Harcha said. "The seminar would be for other individuals who would be willing to mediate or be willing to represent these people in their interest in the foreclosure action."
With the help of recent funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Southeastern Ohio Legal Services (SEOLS) in Portsmouth also provides foreclosure and pre-foreclosure assistance in 30 of Ohio's southern and eastern counties, including Adams, Scioto, and Lawrence to any homeowner needing assistance — regardless of their income. The only requirement for seeking pre-foreclosure counseling is that it be sought before legal proceedings have begun in court.
Harcha recommends anyone interested in foreclosure mediation contact either their attorney or the Scioto County Court of Common Pleas. As long as judgement has not yet been filed in the foreclosure case, it's not too late. More information about the foreclosure mediation model can also be found online at www.sconet.state.oh.us/dispute_resolution/foreclosure/default.asp.
RYAN SCOTT OTTNEY can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 235.