David and Karen Shearon decided to buy their first house so they could give their three children stability and security. It seemed easy: Though they made less than $30,000, the couple was able to put nothing down on a $335,000 house in Staten Island, N.Y.
But within a year, facing rising interest rates and loan payments that were much higher than what they said they were promised, a process server was banging on their door.
"He was trying to make us more embarrassed by screaming it out at the top of his lungs and banging on our door and going, 'The Shearons are in foreclosure! They're in foreclosure!'" David Shearon told ABC News.
But unlike many of the thousands of American families who are on the verge of losing their homes, the Shearons fought back -- and so far appear to be winning.
A New York state trial court judge in February found that the bank that is trying to foreclose on their house violated the state's predatory lending laws. In what lawyers in the case say is the first ruling of its kind in New York, Judge Joseph Maltese denied the bank's bid for foreclosure and ruled that the Shearons may be entitled to a refund of their mortgage payments and attorneys fees.
The case "gave the judge … reason to pause and consider in the current climate what is going on here, not just with these borrowers but with the industry in general," said Noah Pusey, the Shearons' attorney.
Lasalle Bank attorney Tom Solferino said no predatory lending took place and said the law was misapplied. "There's such a thing as predatory borrowing going on," he said. "There are people going out and buying property with no cash down, not making any payment and then pointing the finger at the people who lent them the money."
Maltese has agreed to rehear arguments about his decision to stop the foreclosure, and LaSalle Bank has also appealed.
But among all the talk of subprime mortgages and predatory lending, the Shearons are the uncommon example of consumers who were able to beat the lenders, at least so far. In several states, home buyers are beginning to successfully fight off foreclosure in court.
"There are some people who are clearly victims of fraud, and judges are reacting differently," said James Tierney, Maine's former attorney general and the director of the National State Attorneys General Program at Columbia Law School, who was not familiar with the Shearons' case. "In the meantime, people are losing their homes. A number of judges are saying, fraud is fraud, and we're not going to let this proceed."
When the Shearons bought their house in 2005, they say their mortgage broker told them they would qualify for a fixed interest loan. But at closing, they say they were presented with a high-interest, subprime loan package and balloon interest payments up to 14 percent.
"It was day and night compared to what we asked for, and we had good credit at the time," Shearon said.
But they felt they couldn't back out. The Shearons said they were told they would lose their $5,000 deposit and could be sued if they did not go through with the agreement. And they had already given up their old apartment.
"I feel that I was bullied into accepting the way it was," said David Shearon.