Bank of America said it had erred by foreclosing on an elderly Florida couple, James and Sharon Bullington, who had the audacity to pay their mortgage a week early.
"We apologize to the Bullingtons," said the bank in an email to ABC News late Monday, "and we hope to have a response to them shortly." The bank in February had initiated foreclosure proceedings.
The news comes none too soon for Sharon Bullington, 70, who has lived in fear that she and her bedridden, terminally ill husband, age 78, would lose their home. "It's like death to me," she said of her experience to a reporter for the St. Petersburg Times. "It's almost more than I can bear." Referring to Bank of America, she said, "I just don't understand why they're doing this. It looks like they're out to get us."
Bank of America has come under fire since the mortgage meltdown began three years ago for fouling up paperwork and other mistakes in its foreclosures. Its purchase of Countrywide saddled the bank with thousands of deliquent loans.
The Bullingtons moved to Florida 15 years ago from Flint, Mich., where James had worked for General Motors before retiring. According to the St. Petersburg Times, the couple owes about $177,000 on their 1,591-square-foot New Port Richey home, which is valued at $133,464.
Financial pressures brought by James' medical bills forced the couple to seek mortgage relief under the federal Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). Their application was approved, and Bank of America reduced their payment from $1,400 to $916 a month.
Sharon made her first payment under the new arrangement--due January 1, 2011--on December 23. Court records show it was accepted. She then made her February payment, but it was not accepted. Why? The bank explained later that the check had not been signed, and, as a result, had been returned.
By not making January's payment on January 1st, the Bullingtons had failed to comply with HAMP's terms. Facing denial of their eligibility for reduced payments, Mrs. Bullington appealed to the bank for a review of her case. In response, she got a letter dated July 1, 2011, from Customer Advocate Ana Olivera in the office of the bank's CEO and president.
Olivera informed the Bullingtons that review had been declined "because the first Making Home Affordable Trial payment was due on January 1, 2011, and the payment was made on December 23, 2011 (sic)." Explained Olivera, "If you are not able to make each payment in the month in which [it] is due, you will not be eligible for a modification."
The couple's only options now to avoid foreclosure, she wrote, would be "a short sale or a deed."
With advocates like this, who needs detractors?
Shawn Yesner, the attorney representing the couple, says Bank of America''s decision to foreclose had been especially painful to Mrs. Bullington, who took it as "a reflection on herself and her morals." She was upset, he says, that people would regard her as an irresponsible person who didn't pay her bills, when, in fact, she paid her mortgage early.
The Bullingtons declined to be interviewed by ABC News for this story.
Yesner, who specializes in fighting foreclosures, says the couple's case is almost unique in his experience. "We have somewhere near 1,500 defense files in our office--clients fighting foreclosure. This is one of the few examples of a borrower who was mistreated by the lender in this way."
Besides retaining Yesner, the Bullingtons turned for help to their elected officials, including U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis and Florida State Sen. Mike Fasano, R-Port Richey.
"I wrote a letter in June to Bank of America asking that they work with the Bullington family to resolve this issue," Congressman Bilirakis told ABC News yesterday in an email. "After receiving a form letter, we then made a phone call in which we were essentially told nothing could be done."
Sen. Fasano said yesterday he found the whole situation "wild, just wild." He told ABC News his office had been in contact with the bank on his constituents' behalf, and that he was hopeful some kind of resolution could be reached within 48 hours. "We're working on it," he said. "They--the bank--have assured me they're all over it, to try to get this settled. Either somebody messed up, or they need to change their policy."
Bank of America, in its statement late Monday, explained its change of heart as follows: "There was an error made in posting the first Trail payment. We have corrected the posting and are in the process of moving it forward through the Making Home Affordable process."
Fasano says he's relieved and happy for the Bullingtons, but also troubled: "You wonder how many other people there are, out there, who think they were the ones who made the mistake, not their institutions."