Senate OKs foreclosure ‘rescue’ limits

The New Hampshire Senate has decided not just to study mortgage foreclosure “rescue scams” but to do something about them.

In a 23-0 vote, the Senate passed a bill that would regulate mortgage foreclosure consultants, some of whom offer to “help” those facing foreclosure by getting them to sign over the deed of their house for a rental purchase agreement. Theoretically under such agreements, the homeowner would be able to gain the equity back while living at the home, but because of undisclosed terms, the victim could end up losing the house anyway — and go deeper in the hole as well.

As amended in the Senate – at the request of the Banking Department — House Bill 365 would increase disclosure requirements, allow cancellation requirements and implement civil and criminal penalties against those who violate them, including forcing them to repay equity to the homeowner.

“With these critical consumer protections from predatory practices, the New Hampshire foreclosure process would remain fair,” said Sen. David Gottesman, D-Nashua.

In other business, the Senate passed its own version of farm aid – a $2.1 million subsidy to provide price supports to farmers if the federal government doesn’t come to the rescue. Supporters said that farmers are caught in an economic squeeze because of falling milk prices, combined with rising oil and feed costs.

“This could cause complete deterioration of the industry,” said Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester.

The money, which would be available this year only, will have to reconciled with the House version, which would provide as much as $3 million in subsidies for price supports, as well as institute a 2.5-cent-a-gallon milk tax to purchase agricultural easements.

The Senate also passed a bill proposed by Sen. Harold Janeway, D-Webster, that would require oil distributors either post a bond, get a letter of credit or set up a futures contract either before, or immediately after, setting up a customer’s pre-buy contract. It also would require consumer protection disclosures.

Supporters pointed to several companies that accepted pre-buy money from companies that later went bankrupt, leaving consumers holding the bag. They argued that the bill would help prevent that from happening again, as well as encouraging skittish consumers to pre-buy, noted D’Allesandro.

Janeway emphasized that oil dealers have signed on to the bill, but three Senators voted against it, voicing concerns that the measure would create an undue burden on oil companies, forcing some to raise their pre-buy prices or stop offering them at all. Since the proposed law was attached to another bill, it still needs to be approved by the House.

The Senate also passed a measure doubling the total amount households and businesses can “net-meter” – that is, generate their own energy and sell it to utility companies on the grid. Previously, net-metering was limited to a half-percent of capacity. If this bill is signed by Gov. John Lynch – as is expected — the limit will be increased to 1 percent.

Meanwhile, the House sent the following measures to the governor for his signature:

• A bill requiring businesses that offer family coverage to include dependents 25 and under, whether they are students or not. Supporters said the will provide coverage for those in entry-level jobs.
• A bill that would allow the insurance commissioner to conduct investigations and hold hearings regarding whether additional premium charges should be paid by an employer for workers’ compensation insurance.
• A bill that would set minimum standards for cable television in manufactured housing parks, enabling them to get local access channel as well as high-speed Internet.

The House also amended a Senate bill that would expand the opportunity to allow voluntary deductions from an employee’s paycheck when he or she contracts with a private health and fitness facility that offers discounted memberships of 50 percent or more to all employees of the employee. – BOB SANDERS

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