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Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase object of mortgage lawsuits

Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase are being sued by homeowners who say that banks failed to honor mortgage contracts, foreclosing on families making payments on proposed modifications.

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"They're participating in the crisis they had helped to foment by refusing to honor loan modifications they had already agreed to," said attorney James C. Sturdevant, whose firm is assisting in the lawsuit.

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Chase's Kishner said he could not comment on the pending litigation.

Joseph R. Mason, a professor at Louisiana State University's business school who has written widely on the subprime lending debacle, said he suspects the loan modification disputes are a legacy of the federal government's rush to stem the flow of foreclosures before it had adequate plans in place.

"These policymakers said, just go out and do this and don't let us worry about the details," he said. "These details are now what are coming to the fore in these modification cases."

Laurie Maggiano, policy director at the Treasury Department's Homeownership Preservation Office, said banks were encouraged to offer trial modifications based on interviews with borrowers about their incomes and expenses while they sorted out the paperwork to qualify for permanently reduced payments.

The banks were under no obligation to make trial modifications permanent until this June, when new regulations stopped loan servicers from offering the trials based on stated income, Maggiano said.

Now, incomes and other details are being fully vetted before trial periods, and borrowers are preapproved for a permanent modification as long as they make three trial period payments, she said.

She also said banks are only obliged to grant modifications if the investors who hold the mortgages also benefit from the modification, as mandated by the October 2008 legislation approving the bailout.

Those explanations provide little comfort to the Cascos.

"I think that banks are playing games with us," William Casco said.

Casco said his monthly mortgage payments to Washington Mutual Inc. went up to $2,765 when he refinanced his home in 2006 to pay for a new a meat counter at his store in the industrial Los Angeles suburb of South Gate.

Chase was in the process of acquiring Washington Mutual in January 2009 when Casco said it sent a note telling him he qualified for a lower forbearance rate. The El Salvador native sent the tax returns and business documents the bank was requesting.

His payment was reduced to $1,250, where it remained for several months until Chase told him to apply for a trial loan modification.

Again, Casco said, he sent Chase the documentation they requested. His payment rose to $2,363 in June, then returned to the forbearance rate in October.

Casco said he continued paying what he was asked until August 2010, when Chase told his family that they were $50,000 behind on their payments and put them into foreclosure.

The home has since been sold and Casco is currently fighting eviction. That has him considering joining an existing lawsuit against the bank or seeking support to file a suit on his own.

"I'm determined to do whatever it takes in order to keep my house," he said. "I feel that a great injustice has been done to my family."