DELRAY BEACH, Florida (Reuters) – Curtis Jones has fought for more than a year to keep his two-story townhouse in this beachside Florida city from being foreclosed.
Jones, a 49-year-old construction worker, feels like it is a one-sided fight.
"Nobody is willing to work with me. They just brush you off," he said.
Seven years ago, Jones took out a mortgage with Countrywide Financial Corp to buy his home. The company has now launched foreclosure proceedings against him.
But his lawyers say records in MERS, the electronic mortgage tracking system, show his loan actually belongs to the government-owned finance giant Fannie Mae and argue the case is not valid.
MERS, which tracks more than 60 million mortgages and has initiated thousands of foreclosure actions around the country, is at the center of the growing furor over whether lenders used questionable practices to claim hundreds of thousands of homes from delinquent borrowers.
Jones' fight is similar to millions of others playing out around the nation as borrowers struggle to figure out who owns their loans, who can negotiate loan modifications with them, or even how to get a call returned.
And now they are worried the national uproar over U.S. mortgage lenders' practices and the patchwork of foreclosure halts will make the fight to keep their homes even murkier.
"It will just be put on hold," Jones said.
Some homeowners say they are expecting more delays. Others hope the fiasco puts increased attention on the way banks have dealt with struggling homeowners since the U.S. economy went into recession two years ago, pushing millions into foreclosure.
"I don't have any confidence in the banks," Jones said.
thers are holding out hope the mortgage mess will offer a chance to restructure their loans. However, they express frustration with a system they say seems more intent on evicting homeowners than helping them.
Jones is among thousands of homeowners across Florida -- home to the third-highest foreclosure rate in the United States after Nevada and Arizona -- who are legally challenging their foreclosures, charging that lenders used shoddy paperwork. Thousands more are doing the same in other states.
Foreclosure defense lawyers say lenders took a wholesale approach to foreclosures, employing so-called "robo-signers" -- people who signed hundreds of affidavits a day without actually reviewing the documents they signed.
The securitization of mortgages also resulted in lenders failing to keep track of the sale of home loans, they said, and some banks are now carrying out foreclosure proceedings without being able to show they actually own the loan.
The potential fallout has raised questions about the depressed U.S. housing market, which was being helped by foreclosure sales. It has also put pressure on stocks as investors worry about the impact on banks' financial health.
Jones' lawyers say his case is typical of some of the alleged irregularities that prompted all U.S. states from Alaska to Florida to open investigations into foreclosure practices in one of the biggest legal probes of the industry.
Struggling to find steady work, Jones last year went into default on his $250,000 mortgage.
He said efforts to renegotiate his mortgage failed, and he has seen the value of his house fall to $160,000. His mortgage payment shot up from around $1,900 a month to $2,400 as his adjustable interest rate rose.
Walt McMurray, a 46-year-old electronics technician who lives in Loxahatchee, Florida, said he believes he has a "50-50 chance" of staying in his home.
"You don't know where things are going to end up," he said. "I just keep worrying that someone will show up at the door to kick us out and change the locks."
After losing his job in 2008, he fell behind on the mortgage on his house, a three-bedroom, two-bathroom property he bought in 1994. He owes $243,000 and made his last mortgage payment a year-and-a-half ago.
He has since found a full-time job. But once he fell into default, his back payments piled up. He said he now wants to renegotiate his mortgage and pay the house's current value, but initially struggled to determine who owns his mortgage.
At one point, he had two lenders claiming they owned servicing rights to his loan, including JP Morgan Chase and Co. Chase, along with Bank of America Corp and Ally Financial Inc. have suspended foreclosures and foreclosure sales pending a review.
"I was working with Chase, but then I got a letter saying my mortgage had been sold," he said.
McMurray hopes to hear back on a possible modification from another company, IBM Lender Business Process Services, that now says it is servicing his mortgage. But his lawyer, Dustin Zacks, says reaching any deal may not solve McMurray's problems because court documents show Chase is the owner of the loan.
"We don't want him to settle, only to be sued six months later by another party who claims it is the holder of the note."
McMurray said the allegations of questionable foreclosure practices by lenders have left him feeling like no one wants him to stay in his home.
"It makes me feel like they want to take my house back, not work with me to stay in it," he said. "I really don't see the benefit to the bank or the community if they take it back. I want to be here, I love my home."
Jones, the construction worker, said he likely overextended himself financially by buying his home. But he said he thinks he could make payments on a new reduced mortgage.
He said he was bracing for more months of being in limbo.
"Come on, everybody involved in this made a mistake," he said. "Can't we work something out?"
(Editing by Gary Hill and Jan Paschal)