MANATEE — With foreclosure cases swamping local courts, the area's top judge is planning a novel approach: Forcing lenders to talk with borrowers.
Saying he wants to break "the wall of silence" between lenders and homeowners, 12th Circuit Chief Judge Lee Haworth soon will require them to discuss possible ways of avoiding foreclosure before it actually happens.
"Forcing the parties to slow down and discuss possible solutions is a good thing," he said Monday.
The new Homestead Foreclosure Conciliation Program likely is the first of its kind in Florida, Haworth said.
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The program applies to foreclosure suits filed on or after Dec. 1 against homesteaded residential properties in Manatee, Sarasota and DeSoto counties.
When they file a foreclosure suit, lenders' attorneys will be required to invite homeowners to a "conciliation conference" to discuss possible alternatives to foreclosure such as restructuring the loan, modifying payments or arranging a short sale. The offer can only be made to owners who live in the homesteaded property, not renters or investors.
The invitation also must notify homeowners that they can contact Legal Aid of Manasota to see if they qualify for assistance.
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