Article Courtesy of The Tampa
By Susan Taylor Martin
Published July 1, 2016
One South Florida lawyer provides a "complimentary
motion" that homeowners can file in court. A Clearwater company encloses
a hand-written check for $3,000. And there's seemingly no end to the
It's all part of a bid to grab some of Tampa Bay's shrinking mortgage
With the number of new foreclosure filings down dramatically, lawyers,
investors and others are deluging distressed homeowners with offers of
"Even before I got my foreclosure notice, my mailbox was getting
bombarded by all these attorneys,'' said Elzie Mahoney, whose lender is
foreclosing on his St. Petersburg home. "They knew about it before I
Within a few days after the notice appeared in public records June 8,
Mahoney and his wife, Angela, had received more than 20 solicitations.
Many were from attorneys in the Tampa Bay area, but they also came from
lawyers in Longwood, Lakeland and even Tennessee. Several investors
offered to buy the house or help arrange a short sale.
And the letters, post cards and glossy brochures keep coming.
"I've gotten seven in the last two days," Mahoney said Wednesday. "Every
night when I get home, I get them, read them and put a big rubber band
During the height of the foreclosure crisis, many foreclosure defense
lawyers were doing well enough to afford ads on TV. Those have
disappeared as new foreclosure filings plunge to their lowest levels
since 2006. In April, there were just 263 filings in Pinellas County and
280 in Hillsborough County.
Now, instead of TV and billboard ads seen by millions, lawyers and
nonlawyers alike are directly targeting homeowners through the mail.
Names and addresses are public record and can be compiled by firms that
sell "lead generation'' lists.
Among the more unusual solicitations is one from a Fort Lauderdale
attorney, C. Anthony Rumore. His letter warns that a default judgment
can be entered against a borrower who does not respond within 20
business days of being served with the initial notice of foreclosure.
"To help give you a little extra time to find the right help, we are
giving you a complimentary Motion for Extension of Time to respond to
the foreclosure complaint," the letter says in bright red type. It
directs homeowners to a website where they can personalize a motion form
with case number and address, print it out and send it off to the clerk
of court in the county where they live.
Rumore, who grew up in Tampa, said he once advertised on billboards but
spent too much time fielding calls from people with legal matters his
firm doesn't handle. It now advertises mostly through direct mailings
approved by the Florida Bar; last month the firm sent out 3,318 letters
statewide and received responses from 42 borrowers.
"More often than not, people who do call in take advantage of that free
(motion),'' Rumore said. "They really seem to appreciate it because it's
not an attempt at a hard sale, we're just here to help you if you want
to use us.''
For borrowers who hire it, the firm has various fee structures depending
on whether the client wants, say, a short sale or help staying in the
house as long as possible. An attorney in the firm who often visits
relatives in Tampa arranges his schedule so he can attend court hearings
in Pinellas and Hillsborough.
Shri Pradash of Clearwater's Pradash & Associates also takes a novel
approach in his solicitations. Along with a letter offering "cash for
keys,'' he includes what looks like a legitimate Bank of America check
complete with a company name and account number and made out to the
homeowner for $3,000.
"The check enclosed was personally written and will be valid if we do
business WITHIN DAYS!'' the letter says.
Not surprisingly, the company named on the check is not active. A
stamped notice on back warns NOT FOR DEPOSIT.
"It's a gimmick,'' Pradash said. "It's a marketing piece to get
attention, not to trick someone.''
Pradash, who offers to buy houses or try to arrange short sales, said he
has stepped up his mailings in the past year because "business is very
slow all around'' as the number of distressed homes dwindles.
Direct-mail solicitations have netted another company, Tampa's Southern
Trust Resource, some business but not much, owner Larry Herndon
"Maybe I get calls from 1 percent, but 99 percent are thrown in the
garbage,'' said Herndon, who offers homeowners several stop-foreclosure
options. "I'm one of the smaller guys — I'm in competition with
attorneys wanting people to do Chapter 13 bankruptcies, Realtors wanting
people to list (the house), mortgage brokers, other investors. I'm
surely not getting rich but I'm staying in business.''
The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, created in the wake of
the 2008 financial crisis, advises homeowners facing foreclosure to ask
hard questions of anyone offering to help, be they lawyers or nonlawyers.
The bureau notes that only the lender can approve a short sale or
guarantee that a borrower will get a loan modification. Some companies
promising legal help might not employ any lawyers or have a single
lawyer claiming to represent thousands of people.
"Remember, getting help that may allow you to stay in your home is
available from your mortgage servicer or a HUD-approved housing
counselor at no cost to you,'' the bureau says on its website,
As for Mahoney, he ignored all of the solicitations and hired St.
Petersburg lawyer Matt Weidner, who has represented him in other
matters. Mahoney said he fell behind on his mortgage payments when he
became "very sick'' with hepatitis C and couldn't work because of
Trying to get his loan modified, "I filled out application after
application (with the original lender) and it would just sit on a
desk,'' Mahoney said. "Then it was, 'Oh, the paperwork is stale now' and
I'd go through all the trouble of sending it in again."
After the loan was sold to another company, Caliber Home Loans, he tried
again, but "they were doing the exact same thing."
Mahoney, who owns an auto repair business, said that he and his wife,
who works for the Pinellas County clerk's office, are doing well enough
financially now that they could resume their mortgage payments if the
loan were modified.
Curiously, Caliber itself sent the couple letters, first offering
$10,000, then $20,000 in cash-for-keys deals.
"If you want to do that,'' Mahoney said of the company, "why not just
knock that off the loan?''