By Bari J. Gambacorta

It is hard to know when the proverbial “next shoe” will drop in the current economic crisis but recently credit lenders in my practice have experienced attempted policy rescissions for their mortgage insured accounts where suddenly and without any notice the private mortgage insurer (the “Company”) has attempted to rescind its insurance policy on specific accounts.

This is especially true for policies issued on mortgage accounts closed during 2005-2006, the peak years of residential real estate values. Their letter often contains language to the effect that the application’s underlying appraisal was “false, incorrect or incomplete” and was “material to the decision to insure” or something similar thereto. The reality is that private mortgage insurers now realize that they are likely to be hit with a rash of claims on loans they have underwritten since the real estate bubble has burst and home values in many geographic regions have declined precipitously. Rather than brave the tempest and honor their policies they have elected to get in front of the wave through this novel rescission approach.

Attempted private mortgage recessions such as these, need to be handled promptly by qualified counsel. The credit lender’s appraiser should be put on notice and invited to put his carrier on notice of the pending claim. The appraiser should also be requested to review the appraisal used for the original underwriting to make certain that the facts contained therein are accurate and to verify the comps used. There should simultaneously be a demand for the insurance company’s new appraisal. Payments should be made to the Company in the regular fashion even if they are returned initially. Counsel should review the Company’s Master Policy and any exclusions and give the Company any required notice pursuant thereto in anticipation of the pending litigation.

While this recommended course of action often puts credit lenders and their appraisers (often with mutual business interests and longstanding relationships) at odds, New Jersey’s Entire Controversy Doctrine makes a second lawsuit against the appraiser itself impossible. Counsel, experienced and sensitive to these relationships, can normally soften the prospects of the pending suit by a telephone call explaining the circumstances and promising full cooperation in the litigation prior to issuing his written demand.

If litigation is commenced it is imperative to ascertain if the financial institution has other insured loans with the Company and it is normally advisable to seek declaratory relief in the Complaint seeking to maintain coverage on all those other loans where policies exist. Additionally, it may be time to take stock and ascertain the possible exposure of those other loans since the Company’s intentions to “rescind” its policies may signify well-founded concerns for its adequate capitalization. Prudence would suggest that a lender at least recognize the additional risks such mortgage insured loans may poise to a lender’s portfolio. Certain or all of these loans may well be singled out for “special handling”.

If the lender has any concern about the appraisal questioned or any other appraisals insured by the Company then it should hire an independent review appraiser to offer an independent view on the appraisal or appraisals. If there are any weaknesses in the case it is better to know up front. This may well affect the negotiation strategy with both the Company and the appraiser’s insurance company.

In these “recession” situations, it’s a simple “shoe-in” to seek guidance and move swiftly in order to preserve the credit lender’s rights. Normally the bank’s counsel will need a copy of the notifying letter, a copy of the appraisal used by the Company to determine that the underlying appraisal was “false”, a copy of the original appraisal and a copy of the Company’s Master Policy currently in effect with the credit lender.

Bari J. Gambacorta is a Shareholder in Stark & Stark’s Bankruptcy & Creditor’s and Collections groups and can be reached at 609-219-7447 or by E-mail at bgambacorta@stark-stark.com.

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