NWCLC rises to meet the need for consumer justice from multiple angles: direct client representation, education and outreach, collaborations, and impact litigation.
We represent and advise clients in the following matters:
Homeownership, Mortgage, and Foreclosure
• Homeowner Bankruptcy:
o To stop foreclosure
o To get caught up on mortgage through repayment plan
o To help qualify for loan modification
• Foreclosure-Related Litigation:
o Wrongful foreclosure
o Quiet title action
o Mortgage fraud
• Loan Modification• Foreclosure Fairness Act Mediation• Foreclosure Defense:
o Judicial foreclosure
o HOA/condo foreclosure
o County property tax foreclosure
• Non-Retention / Post-Foreclosure Negotiation• Recovery of Surplus Funds after Foreclosure Sale
A crucial component of NWCLC’s mission is to reach out to communities and educate consumers. We envision a world where consumers, armed with knowledge and resources, can avoid financial difficulties by making smart choices and recognizing fraudulent business practices. Getting out into communities also helps us reach people with great need who would not otherwise seek us out for assistance. If you would like NWCLC to visit your organization to discuss relevant consumer issues, please contact us.
May 13th, 2017: Veteran’s Resource Event – Tacoma Dome
April 22nd, 2017: Free Student Loan Advice for Borrowers
In collaboration with CENTS, Northwest Justice Project, Washington Student Association, and the Washington State Attorney General’s Office.
March 9th, 2017: United Way Community Resource Exchange
December 1st & 2nd, 2016: Seattle Stand Down
Resources for homeless and low income veterans
Staffed by Noah Samuels, Deputy Director and Ron Ritoch, Senior Staff Attorney
October 25th, 2016: Shorecrest High School
CENTS Student Loan Presentation
Co-facilitated by Sheila O'Sullivan, Executive Director and Noah Samuels, Deputy Director
October 25th, 2016: The Bridge / A Life Plan Community
Regain Your Health, Protect Your Finances
Presented by Zoë Myers Director of Development and Outreach
October 14th, 2016: Eastside Providers Network
NWCLC services and how to access them for your clients
Presented by Zoë Myers Director of Development and Outreach
October 6th, 2016: The Horizon House Continuing Care Retirement Community
Scams and Frauds
Presented by Zoë Myers Director of Development and Outreach
September 23, 2016: Charity Care: Using Washington Charity Care Law to Protect Consumers
Co-sponsored by Northwest Consumer Law Center, King County Bar Association, Northwest Justice Project, and Columbia Legal Services
Presented by Julia Kellison, NJP and Matt Geyman, CLS
August 27th, 2016: Seattle-King County Resource Day
May 24th, 2016: Seattle Cancer Care Alliance
In-Service Training on Consumer Financial Legal Issues for Oncology Social Workers at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance
Presented by: Sheila O’Sullivan, Executive Director
April 30th, 2016: Veteran’s Resource Event – Tacoma Dome
April 20th, 2016: Make Change Presentation – Co-Sponsored with KCBA, Renton Public Library
Debt Defense, budgeting and bankruptcy
Presented by: Amanda Martin, Staff Attorney
April 20th, 2016: Washington Homeowners Resource Center and Finance Empowerment Network – Foreclosure Prevention Unit – Housing Counselor phone training
The intersection of bankruptcy and foreclosure
Presented by: Erin Lane, Senior Staff Attorney
April 6th, 2016: United Way Community Resource Exchange
March 1st, 2016: Middle College Northgate High School
Street Law: Scams, Fraud and Keeping Your Data Safe
Presented by: Zoë Myers, Director of Development and Outreach
December 17 and 18, 2015: Seattle Stand Down for homeless and low income veterans
March 9, 10, 12, and 13, 2015: Safe Streets Tacoma and Pierce County Commission on Asian and Pacific American Affairs
Scams and Cons / The Warning Signs of Predatory Lending Presented by: Zoë Myers, Director of Development and Outreach
March 2, 2015: Social Justice Monday at Seattle University School of Law Fending Off the Sharks: The Right to Keep Consumer Protections in Payday Lending Presented by: Board Members Beth Terrell and Bryan Adamson
October 16-17, 2014: Washington East/West Bankruptcy Judges Conference Bankruptcy, Foreclosure, Ethics, Student Loans and More Presented by: Executive Director Sheila O’Sullivan
October 14, 2014: King County Dispute Resolution Center Best Practices in Foreclosure Mediations and Changes to the Foreclosure Fairness Act (a Continuing Legal Education course) Presented by: Executive Director Sheila O’Sullivan and Board Member Mary Anderson
October 3, 2014: Washington State Department of Financial Institutions The Relationship Between Bankruptcy and Residential Mortgages (a Continuing Legal Education course) Presented by: Executive Director Sheila O’Sullivan
July 29, 2014: Wallingford Community Senior Center Financial Scams Presented by: Staff Attorneys Katy Box and Nathan Quigley
NWCLC has integrated with other influential consumer and social justice organizations, teaming up to make a bigger difference.
In partnership with the many other outstanding legal aid organizations in Washington state, NWCLC is shifting the landscape of consumer rights.
Washington’s Foreclosure Fairness Act (FFA) is a state law that gives certain homeowners facing foreclosure the right to a process called mediation, in which they meet with their lender to work out alternatives, such as modifying the mortgage so they can afford it and keep the home, or giving up the home in a way that is most advantageous to them and avoids the damage to their credit that foreclosure would cause. Unfortunately, too many homeowners go through mediation “pro se”, meaning without the help of an expert such as an attorney or a housing counselor, which puts them at a great disadvantage in the negotiations. One of NWCLC’s primary objectives is to change that by providing low-cost or free legal advice and representation to as many of these homeowners as possible. To accomplish this, we maintain excellent working relationships with other legal services organizations, such as the Northwest Justice Project and Columbia Legal Services, as well as housing counseling organizations such as Parkview Services. We refer clients to and receive client referrals from these organizations, and we regularly exchange information with these organizations to maximize the effectiveness of our services.
As part of its mission to fight for the rights of Washington consumers, NWCLC is actively involved in impact litigation, meaning court cases where the outcome has the potential to affect consumer rights on a large scale. Well-known examples of impact litigation in other areas include Roe v. Wade, which affected women’s rights nationwide, or Brown v. Board of Education, which helped end racial segregation in public schools.
Several members of NWCLC’s board of directors recently took a case all the way up to the Washington State Supreme Court, which issued a decision that will result in increased protection for Washington homeowners in foreclosure. This is one of many victories for consumers that will come out of our hard work in this area.
This case involves the business of real estate investors who buy properties that are in foreclosure, also known as “distressed properties.” These activities are covered in the Washington State Distressed Property Conveyance Act. These are homes that cannot be saved and this law is in place to protect the interests of the homeowners and requires real estate investors to follow certain procedures. Because the owners of the distressed properties are often in distress themselves, they are more easily taken advantage of by unethical real estate investors. Such investors engage in “equity skimming” or “equity stripping,” a process that goes something like this:
Buy the house from the homeowner for cheap, which stops the foreclosure but leaves the homeowner with very little of the equity in their own pocket
Agree to let them live there as a tenant – but make their rent the same amount as the mortgage payment or even higher
When the “tenant” fails to pay rent, evict them
Sell the house at market value, make a nice profit, and move on to the next victim
Our client was the victim of equity stripping. We sued for violation of the Distressed Property Conveyance Act, but we lost at trial. The Court thought our client’s property was not far enough along in the foreclosure process to qualify as a “distressed property”. In their decision, the Supreme Court expanded the definition of what qualifies as a “distressed property” to include a situation like our client’s, and they imposed additional procedures for the investors to follow that expanded protections for all Washington State homeowners.
Impact litigation also includes class action lawsuits and amicus curiae briefs.
A class action lawsuit is a lawsuit brought on behalf of a group of people who are all believed to have suffered the same type of injury from the same individual or organization, but either the people do not know they were injured, or the injury, though significant, is not severe enough to make it worth it for each person to hire a lawyer to sue on their own. Without the option of a class action lawsuit, therefore, many people could be injured and never have a chance to bring the offender to justice. Class actions are also much less burdensome on the court system than if every individual – of whom there could be hundreds of thousands or even millions – started their own lawsuit.
Staff attorneys at NWCLC have a pending class action lawsuit against a foreclosure trustee company for unfair and deceptive practices. Foreclosure trustees are supposed to act fairly and not be biased in the interests of the homeowner or the mortgage lender, but this one (as we allege) has been acting in favor of the banks.
Specifically, we allege that the trustee has been refusing to confirm whether or not it will be postponing a foreclosure sale until as late as 30 minutes before the foreclosure sale is scheduled to occur – effectively keeping homeowners in the dark as to whether they are losing their home or whether they will have more time to figure out how to save it. Here are a couple ways in which this is unfair to the homeowners and gives an unfair amount of power to the banks:
● If a homeowner is thinking about filing for bankruptcy to stop the sale, they would only have 30 minutes to file an emergency bankruptcy, which very few homeowners would be able to do.
● If a homeowner wants to file a motion with the court to stop the foreclosure sale, court rules dictate that they need to do so at least 5 business days before the sale is scheduled, which they obviously cannot do here.
As a result homeowners are losing their homes, losing money, and experiencing severe emotional distress because they are prevented from having all the information they need to protect their rights and make the best decisions for themselves.
If the case were successful, we would get the Court to order the trustee to stop waiting until the last minute to inform homeowners of the status of their foreclosure sale, and instead to promptly give them the status as soon as it is available. One of the laws we are suing under also says that each homeowner in the class can get monetary compensation of up to $1,000.00. Lastly, NWCLC would get an award of attorneys’ fees to help us continue making an impact on consumer rights.
Our staff attorneys have also filed a class action lawsuit against a major nationwide mortgage loan servicing company for illegal actions related to homeowners insurance which have forced a large number of borrowers into foreclosure, causing them injury. This case involves greedy and unethical actions with regard to “force-placed” hazard insurance policies, as described below:
When a homeowner gets a mortgage, pretty much all lenders including this company require them to have insurance.
If for any reason the insurance coverage lapses, the lender can take out another policy for the homeowner and make them pay those premiums. That would be the “forced-placed” insurance.
This particular company (we allege) has been force-placing insurance policies much larger than they needed to be, with larger premiums.
In return, the company has been getting commissions and kickbacks from the insurance companies.
Homeowners get injured by having to pay these higher premiums.
If they cannot afford to pay them, the homeowners can (and do) get foreclosed upon and lose their homes.
If we are successful in this case, we will get the Court to order the company to stop force-placing insurance policies that are more expensive than necessary, return all the money that it wrongfully earned, pay “exemplary” damages (i.e., make them hurt more just to teach them a lesson), give monetary compensation to the homeowners as required by the laws we’re suing under, and attorneys’ fees for NWCLC to help fund our important work.
An amicus curiae brief, also known as an amicus brief or sometimes just an amicus, is a written legal argument in support of one side of the case that is given to the court to consider, if the judge allows it, by somebody who is not directly involved in the lawsuit but has a strong interest in how it turns out. “Amicus curiae” is Latin for “friend of the court.” Colloquially speaking, those who submit amicus briefs are chiming in with their two cents – not to belittle the significant influence that well-written amicus briefs have had and continue to have on important cases that affect consumer rights. NWCLC has collaborated with Columbia Legal Services and the Northwest Justice Project in preparing three submitted amicus briefs so far, and a fourth is in progress.