Los Angeles Grocery store owners William and Esperanza Casco were making enough money to stay current on their mortgage, but when JPMorgan Chase & Co. offered a plan that reduced their payments, they figured they could use the extra cash and signed up.
The Cascos say they never missed a subsequent payment, so they were horrified when the bank decided the smaller payments weren’t enough and foreclosed on their modest Long Beach home.
Their story is echoed across the country by people who claim — some in lawsuits — that banks didn’t live up to their end of the deal when they agreed to trial mortgage modifications.
The suits add to a feeling among many struggling homeowners that they’re getting little help from the part of the government’s $700 billion Wall Street rescue that aimed to help them directly.
Indeed, Treasury statistics show that only about one-third of the nearly 1.4 million homeowners accepted into the government’s payment reduction program over the past year have had their reductions made permanent.
“It is extremely unfair that someone like me and my wife who have owned our home for 17 years and never missed a payment could end up in foreclosure,” Casco, 47, said in Spanish through an interpreter.
Chase spokesman Gary Kishner was unable to comment on whether Cascos had been current on their payments but insisted the bank had treated the couple fairly.
“We worked with the borrower to give him as many opportunities as possible to qualify for a modification,” he said. “However, they were not able to do so and therefore we were forced to foreclose on the property.”
Several federal lawsuits filed in Boston accuse major lenders of breach of contract under the government’s Home Affordable Modification Program, in which banks agreed to participate as part of the bank bailout.
The lawsuits say the banks agreed under HAMP to grant permanent mortgage modifications to borrowers who make all payments during trial modifications.
Attorney Shennan Alexandra Kavanagh said several of the plaintiffs lost their homes after their payments reverted to their original sums that they were unable to pay. She said she believes tens of thousands of borrowers in Massachusetts alone could be covered by the suits if they get class-action status.
One of the lawsuits, against Bank of America Corp., was consolidated earlier this month with similar complaints in five other states, Kavanagh said.
Bank of America spokeswoman Shirley Norton said in an e-mail that the lender will continue aggressively defending itself against the cases.
More lawsuits have been filed against other lenders elsewhere.