Eminent Domain Seizures Threaten Mortgage Lending

AMA8-20-13Every state has the right of eminent domain – the legal right to seize private property for the public good. Cities generally exercise those rights for things like building roads or schools. But one California city is using its eminent domain rights to seize homes in danger of foreclosure –with potential repercussions for the mortgage lending industry nationwide.

In July 2013, Richmond, CA (population just over 100,000) became the first city in the country to

exercise its eminent domain rights to grab homes from homeowners in danger of foreclosure. The use of eminent domain in this way has very little legal precedent. The city of Richmond plans to refinance the mortgages itself, and the loss of mortgage revenue is what’s triggering lending industry outrage.

But city officials point out that over half of Richmond’s homeowners are underwater, which sets the stage for more foreclosures and defaults that can depress property values and derail efforts to get the local housing market back on track. They say that mortgage lenders haven’t stepped up enough to help these troubled homeowners, and seizing the homes was a last resort,

The process begins with a letter from the city to property owners and servicers of the troubled mortgages, offering to buy the loan for a price typically considerably less than the value of the home. If the offer is refused, the city then uses its right of eminent domain to seize the property outright.

Mortgage lenders claim that Richmond’s plan is unethical and potentially unconstitutional – and that it sets a dangerous precedent for any other municipality to follow. In the long term, they fear, eminent domain seizures like this could undermine the mortgage lending industry and jeopardize the housing recovery.

So far, Richmond is the only city taking this approach to solving the foreclosure problem – and it’s too early to call it a success. But since every state has its own right of eminent domain, the outcome could affect income property investments of the kind Jason Hartman recommends – and change the mortgage lending business forever. (Top image: Flickr/gorogen)


Bharatwaj, Shanthi. “Richmond, Calif. Eminent Domain Plan Has Mortgage Industry Shaking.” The Street. TheStreet.com, 31 Jul 2013

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