Christmas miracle? Not quite. Mark Stopa is a defense-side foreclosure lawyer in Florida who wants to give away a house. The deadline to apply has already passed, but we wonder who the lucky winner will be.
Stopa announced November 3 that one lucky family would win a brand-new foreclosed house if they submitted a 200-word essay by December 23.
A Free House Won't Hurt Anyone
What's going on here? According to Stopa's blog, the Florida Supreme Court "enables a free house where a bank has blown its deadline to file suit." The house is "free" because Florida courts strictly apply the state's statute of limitations when it comes to mortgage foreclosures. Stopa has successfully argued that the statute of limitations starts running when a bank accelerates the balance due under the mortgage. If the bank doesn't file a suit within five years of the acceleration starting, it's barred from foreclosing on the mortgage.
Yes, Stopa admits that this "free house" routine is a stunt, but he embraces it. In his opinion, banks have always been treated differently from other plaintiffs when it comes to the statute of limitations:
But where the law works this way in every other context -- preventing plaintiffs from obtaining relief when they waited too long to file suit -- why should it be any different when it comes to a bank foreclosing on a mortgage? If the bank doesn't file suit soon enough, then bank can't foreclose that mortgage, even if it means the homeowner gets (or should get) to keep that house without fear of that mortgage being foreclosed.
Basically, giving away houses to people in need of houses is a "not-so-subtle message ... that the world will go on just fine if we give away a few free houses." That is to say, banks should continue to be subject to the statute of limitations, and any claims that allowing homeowners out of foreclosure because the bank didn't file time would destroy the economy are hokum.
It Had Better Be a 'Tear-Jerker'
Stopa emphasized that the winner of the free house had better have quite a story. "[W]e can only choose one, and I'm sure the winner is going to be an incredible tear-jerker. I'm thinking cancer, significant hardship, something of that ilk. If you're not in that boat, please spare yourself the disappointment and me and my kids the read," he wrote in a December 23 blog post.
The contest entry period has unfortunately closed now. No word yet on when a winner will be announced.