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Florida Senate Bill 1666

Florida Senate Bill 1666 -- Speedy Foreclosures Coming to Florida?

The Florida Senate is currently considering Senate Bill (SB) 1666, a bill designed to help reduce the backlog of foreclosure cases currently bogging down courts in the state of Florida. The Florida House of Representatives is currently debating the passage of a similar bill, House Bill (HB) 87. The purpose of this article is to highlight the key provisions of SB 1666, compare SB 1666 to HB 87, and the possible effect these two pieces of pending legislation might have on the state and the court system.

SB 1666 focuses on a new system that would allow more judges to work on foreclosure cases. In order to avoid interference with other courts in Florida, the bill grants to the Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court the authority to assign temporary duty retired judges to hear foreclosure cases where needed in the state. The new judges would be assigned "to assist with the backlog of foreclosure cases and otherwise assist with the caseload in the court system." The bill was drafted very carefully in order to maintain the current retirement pay structure to any judges that are assigned this temporary duty.

This provision allows for more judges that would be assigned to hear only foreclosure cases without causing adverse effects on current sitting Judges, Courts or fields of law. For instance, if the bill had moved general jurisdiction judges to hear greater numbers of foreclosure cases, a backlog onto the dockets of other state courts (like family law or criminal law) would result. Or if the bill had appointed new foreclosure judges, since judges are usually chosen by their expertise in that area of law, the appointed judges would have likely been foreclosure attorneys currently with clients stuck in the backlog of foreclosure cases creating additional delay while those clients find new representation and causing delay while potential conflict of interest issues were resolved by the Courts. Thus retired judges were the most efficient option to fill the temporary roles.

Another key provision in the bill allows publication of foreclosure sale via the Internet. The bill provides that the positing website must first be approved by the Florida Clerks of Court, and mentions a few guidelines for the possible website. Among many of the requirements, the website should have at least 100,000 hits a month and maintain a 24-hour customer support line. This provision should make publication slightly quicker and cheaper for the court system. Newspapers and other print media are the primary opponents of this portion of the bill, claiming that the move to the internet will further depress the papers' already thin revenues and profits. Opponents also argue that there are Florida homeowners, particularly the elderly or disabled, who still do not know how to use or access the internet to find that their houses may be subject to a foreclosure sale.

The bill also limits post-foreclosure-sale recovery to monetary damages only so long as the party seeking relief was given proper notice of the foreclosure, the final judgment of the foreclosure has been entered, all appeals periods have run, and the property has been purchased for fair market value by someone other than the lender. This provision would put to ease third parties buying homes in foreclosure sales, and prevent former owners from tying up the property after the foreclosure sale has become final.

Like HB 87, the Senate Bill 1666 also lowers the statute of limitations for deficiency on foreclosure sales from five years to one year. This would allow the bank to sue to recover deficiency only one year after a foreclosure sale. Also the two bills both change the definition of lienholder to include homeowner and condominium owner associations. This means these associations would have the ability to speed up the foreclosure process. Whether this would actually speed up or slow down the process is yet to be seen.

The two bills both attempt to remedy the backlog, however, SB 1666 provides a number of new judges to hear foreclosure cases. The effect would likely help reduce the backlog without experimenting with possible new procedures that may or may not be more efficient.

We will continue to monitor the progress of both SB 1666 and HB 87. These provisions will not become law until approved by the Legislature and signed by the Governor. If you are facing foreclosure and have questions, please contact us for a free initial consultation.

Yesner Law, P.L. would like to thank J. Gabriel Castro, Managing Editor, Cumberland Law Review, for his contributions to this article.

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