SALT LAKE CITY — A Pleasant View man is taking one of the biggest banks in the world to federal court over a failed loan modification that resulted in a foreclosure on his home.
And he's doing it without an attorney.
“I went to several attorneys and every attorney told me the same thing: ‘You are never going to go anywhere. Banks have bottomless pockets, and you are not going to win,’” recalled Michael Waters, who repairs computers by trade.
In what is shaping up to be a "David vs. Goliath" legal fight, Waters appears to be putting up a decent battle. He has already won a restraining order preventing the foreclosure of his home while the case is in court.
And U.S. District Judge Bruce Jenkins appears to be sympathetic to Waters’ plight and has granted him a trial.
Waters’ legal troubles began last year after he lost his job and called Bank of America to see what he could do to keep up with his mortgage payments. The bank offered a forbearance that drastically reduced Waters’ mortgage payment and told Waters he was eligible for a trial loan modification.
"I thought, 'This is like a blessing. This is wonderful,'” Waters said.
But before Waters had the chance to make his first payment, Bank of America sent a letter canceling the forbearance. The bank told him it was because his payment was late, but the letter was sent before the payment was due.
When Waters contacted the bank, he was told a different story. The bank said it could not offer a forbearance because they did not have the note to the loan.
“Well I said, 'Who does own the note? Maybe we could work something out' and they said, 'We can't give you that information,'” Waters said.
Bank of America told Waters his February mortgage payment was due immediately and he had seven days before the March payment was due. Waters said he did not have the money because Bank of America advised him to use his savings to pay off all debt to qualify for the forbearance. The bank foreclosed three months later.
Instead of giving up, Waters started doing research online to see if he could find any options that may give him a fighting chance.
"It probably took me 64 hours of legal research," he said. "I just went to the Internet and found copies of lawsuits that were filed, and I just typed in something similar."
Waters stumbled across two Supreme Court rulings (Haines v. Kerer and Platsky v. CIA) that have aided him in court. “(The rulings) said that if somebody is in court pro se, which is me — no attorney — that their case can't be rejected or thrown out on technical grounds” and the judge has to help, explained Waters.
That little boost of confidence carried him into court. But walking into the building alone has still been an intimidating process.
“Every time I go into court I’m shaking like a leaf. I’m perspiring. I’m nervous. I’m scared,” he said.
But some of the judge's reactions have given Waters hope in his battle against the big boys.
During the legal wrangling, Waters eventually got another job at a reduced salary and wanted to be current on his mortgage. Jenkins told the bank to work with Waters on a loan modification. But according to court documents, the bank came back with an offer that would have made his mortgage payments even higher than they were before because of attorney and foreclosure fees that were added to the principle.
"What have they (the bank) actually given up? All they've done is add up," Jenkins asked the attorney for Bank of America.
Several times during Waters' last hearing on Feb. 15, Jenkins questioned Bank of America’s willingness to offer Waters a loan modification.
“I read the ads," the judge said. "I even read the Bank of America ads. And I get all the interesting material that you see on television talking about how willing people are to make a deal, and what they’re doing by way of patriotic activity. I don’t see any dollar shifting on their part at all.”
Michael Black, an attorney for Bank of America, said the bank would rather foreclose because Waters has an FHA loan, and it’s insured.
“Where the bank stands right now … is they’re going to be able to collect the full face value of the note from either Mr. Waters or the property," he said. "If they’re unsuccessful … then the FHA has already guaranteed this, and they’ll get it from them.”
Black told Jenkins the bank had to look out for its shareholders.
The judge responded by chastising Bank of America and the "zillions of dollars" the feds have paid to the bank.
"With all of that, they say we're not interested in modifying our relationship ... because the FHA is on the hook, and we're going to get paid either here or there. That's just incredible — just incredible," Jenkins said. "They're not serious. I know that you're serious. I know that Mr. Waters is serious. I don't think your bank is serious at all."
Jenkins set a trial date for April 11. Calls to Black for additional comments were not returned.
Waters knows he is headed into the fight of his life.
"At this point I'm going to fight it to the end. If the judge ends up giving me nothing then so be it, but I'm going to fight," he said. "I'm fighting on behalf of everybody who is getting the shaft by the banks, saying enough is enough."