LAS VEGAS -- Help can often seem out of reach for the tens of thousands of Nevada homeowners underwater in their mortgages. But despite growing pains, the state's Foreclosure Mediation program is making strides to get the banks and homeowners on the same page.
The plan is supposed to be simple. First, you get a default notice on your house. Next, the state requires three people to get into a room. And then, the homeowner, bank and mediator sort it all out. It could be the lifeline so many need.
From losing a loved one to nearly losing her home, Laila Orellana felt she did as best as she could. In her mind, the bank didn't when it came to saving the house.
"You would call at 8 o'clock and somebody would say this is what you have to do and then you would call at 8:15 and then somebody else would tell you totally different things," said Orellana.
She got the repeated refrain so many have heard. "Sorry, we can't help you unless you're behind." So, the house went into default and Orellana went into the Foreclosure Mediation program.
"The program was designed to bring these two parties together. Bring the homeowner and the lender together," said Verise Campbell, Foreclosure Mediation coordinator.
She is the administrator of the program. Campbell helps get local lawyers to act as mediators. At first it was slow-going, getting civil and criminal attorneys up to speed on mortgage-backed securities and credit default swaps.
But as time has gone on, the pressure has actually been turned up on the banks. "You must follow the law. You must come prepared to negotiate," said Campbell.
Tracking the results has been difficult as the fee driven program gets no state funding. But the numbers gathered -- so far -- show 27 percent of mediations end with the bank flaking out.
"Where the lender either didn't show, didn't have the authority to negotiate or modify, or didn't provide all the required documents," Campbell said.
In that case, the mediator usually sides with the homeowner. Former Assemblywoman Barbara Buckley created the program. She's proud the state law drops the hammer on non-compliant banks.
"If they thumb their nose at the program and if they don't follow the rules, there will be consequences," said Buckley, Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada.
But the program can't be all things for all people. Over 20 percent of people in the program still end up in foreclosure. Campbell and others can't track all statistics of success or failure because a computer system hasn't been built yet even though the program has been around three years.
"What are the trends of specific things? We couldn't tell you that right now because our system is not equipped," said Campbell.
Then there is the aftermath. Orellana knows it all too well. Her mediation ended in a lower payment but the bank reneged on the deal. Now she has the option to go to court to stop them. Tough consequences for the bank to avoid.
"I'm very thankful that Nevada has a mediation program," she said.
In time, a ruling is expected in her favor which will potentially spare her another difficult loss.
There are resources out there for people and most of it is free. Click here for the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada. Their phone number is: (702) 868-1147.
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