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REBUILDING PUERTO RICO

On Thursday, leading representatives from mortgage banks, servicers, suppliers, non-depository institutions, and government agencies engaged in a series of collaborative discussions focused on sustainable solutions for this island in recovery during The Five Star PR18 Conference (PR18) in San Juan.

It’s been more than a year since Hurricane Maria left a trail of devastation to life and property in the island nation of Puerto Rico. But even now, its shadow looms with Puerto Rico’s government estimating the amount required to rebuild and restore the region at around $139 billion. Even more sobering are the death tolls for the storm that were raised from 62 to 2,975 according to a report commissioned by Puerto Rico’s Gov. Ricardo Rossello and released in August 2018.

 

“The People of Puerto Rico are not nameless, faceless statistics. They are our countrymen, with the same dreams, values, and aspirations. Our solemn duty as an industry and as a society is to help restore and revitalize an island that so many call home,” said Ed Delgado, President, and CEO of the Five Star Institute during his address at the conference.

Some of the key topics discussed during this two-day summit included an overall “State of the Island,” a look at the policies and programs shaping the island’s recovery, an examination of Puerto Rico’s ongoing foreclosure crisis, borrower outreach options, a legal services update, and a breakdown of the unique property preservation challenges presented by Hurricane Maria’s aftermath.

“Mainland firms are not familiar with Puerto Rico, and parties based in Puerto Rico need to work with mainland partners they can trust,” Steven Horne, Founding Member of HMB Law Group told DS News in its November feature story titled “Rebuilding Paradise”. “The beauty of the Five Star PR18 Conference is that it is the perfect time in the recovery process to build those relationships.”

 

Supported by Auction.com and Co-supported by The Home Depot Renovation Services and RES.NET, PR18 featured representatives from industry-leading organizations. They included Banco Popular de Puerto Rico; Clear Capital; DIMONT; Fannie Mae; Five Brothers Asset Management Solutions; Freddie MacGilbert Garcia Group; Governor’s Office of Storm RecoveryHladik, Onorato & Federman;  HMB Law GroupHOPE NOWJGM Property Group;  National General Lender ServicesNAHREPUSRES; Wells Fargo Home Mortgage; and Xome.

 

At the crux of the conference were two key focus areas—proactive response and collaboration.

 

“When crises happen, we must all react quickly and collaboratively to effect change,” said Ali Haralson, Chief Business Development Officer, Auction.com. “This proactive response is in line with the message of PR18: hope and restoration. By convening in Puerto Rico for this important summit, our industry leaders will be bringing visibility to the needs of the island and supporting relief and recovery efforts collectively.”

The road to recovery for this paradise is a long one indeed but it is one that the industry is taking action to walk on to restore the island.

BRUSHING UP ON VACANT PROPERTY LAW

On Wednesday afternoon, the Legal League 100 continued its series of complimentary webinars with a presentation entitled “Developments in Vacant and Abandoned Property Law.” Hosted by Stephen Hladik, Partner, Hladik, Onorato & Federman LLP, the webinar provided an overview of vacant and abandoned property state statutes in effect, states with legislation pending, and what a model definition of “vacant” or “abandoned” property should be on a national level.

Many of the problems stem from the lack of a consistent, nationwide legal definition of what constitutes a “vacant” or “abandoned” property. Servicers, property preservation vendors, and financial services attorneys alike are often hampered by the inconsistency of these definitions across state lines, and by the fact that they are often confusing even within them.

"While the number of total foreclosures nationwide may be declining, there is still a major issue facing lenders, servicers, cities, and municipalities in how to deal with the problems created by vacant or abandoned properties," Hladik said. "The risk of loss on these types of properties is obviously much higher than an occupied property, and lenders or servicers need new and innovative tools to be able to minimize the risk by shortening foreclosure time frames wherever possible."

Hladik—who also participated in DS News’ “Zombie Homes—Challenges and Guidance” webinar this past summer—started with the basics, defining exactly what constitutes a “zombie property” and diving into the unique legal, servicing, and property preservation challenges presented by abandoned properties that are stranded in some stage of the foreclosure process. Hladik also discussed why this type of abandoned property is so prevalent in states with judicial foreclosure processes.

As Hladik explained, the nationwide number of zombie properties has been on the decline since peaking during the financial crisis, but they still remain abundant enough to cause problems in states such as New York, New Jersey, Florida, Illinois, and Ohio. Hladik then examined how effective so-called “fast-track foreclosure laws” had been in the states which have adopted them, including New Jersey, Washington state, and Connecticut, to name a few. The webinar then delved into recent legislation in states such as Pennsylvania, which passed two noteworthy anti-blight laws in June of 2018, designed to more clearly define “vacant” and “abandoned,” as well as to generally help expedite the process of maintaining these properties during the foreclosure process and then getting them turned and back on the market as soon as possible.

You can view the full PowerPoint presentation for the webinar here.

SERVING THE LEGAL NEEDS OF A RECOVERING PUERTO RICO

On Wednesday, attorneys Stephen M. Hladik, Miguel Maza, Rose Marie Brook, and Steven Horne announced the formation of HMB Law Group, LLC, a new law firm headquartered in the heart of San Juan’s financial district.

 

HMB has been designed from the ground up to meet the dynamic legal challenges of both financial institutions and Puerto Rican community members as the island recovers from the devastating storms.

 

Specializing in the needs of the real estate finance industry in Puerto Rico and beyond, HMB Law Group offers a complete suite of legal services. The Default Servicing Department will be headed by founding members Stephen Hladik and Miguel Maza.

 

Hladik is a former Pennsylvania Deputy Attorney General in charge of the Harrisburg office of the state’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, a recognized expert in lending law, mortgage foreclosure and tax sale law, and has represented clients from every sector of the mortgage industry.

 

Maza has practiced in all aspects of consumer finance law for almost a quarter century, successfully representing lenders and creditors in numerous matters across the Territory and in the United States.

 

Hurricane Maria's impact on Puerto Rico caused $90 billion in damages to the island, and independent study from George Washington University's Milken School of Public Health in August increased the official death toll from 62 to 2,975. In late September, HUD Secretary Ben Carson and Puerto Rico's Governor Ricardo Rosselló announced the formal execution of a $1.5 billion grant agreement to help citizens in Puerto Rico to recover from Hurricanes Irma and Maria, $1 billion of which will be allocated to rebuilding housing.

With many Puerto Rico residents having fled before and after the storm, the island's housing and foreclosure crisis has been exacerbated by the difficulty in communicating with those borrowers—a problem that the newly formed HMB Law Group hopes to help address.

 

“In addition to my experience as an attorney, I am very happy to apply my years of special servicing experience to work with clients to deliver an effective borrower outreach solution," Horne said. "Many borrowers have left the island; some permanently, some planning to return. We have the ability to quickly locate them and help them to identify the best alternative for their particular situation.”

 

“I am very pleased to be working with Steve, Rose Marie, and all of the members of the firm," said Maza. "We have put together an all-star team that will make a very positive impact on the island.”

 

HMB is also a flagship sponsor of PR18, an upcoming industry conference that will gather industry and government leaders in Puerto Rico to help design the next phase of the rebuilding process. To learn more, click on the banner below.

WORKING TOWARDS A COMMON GOAL

HMB Law Group, LLC, a law firm headquartered in the heart of San Juan’s financial district welcomed two new members to its team. Michelle Garcia Gilbert, of Gilbert Garcia Group and Janette Frankenberg of Stern, Lavinthal and Frankenberg are the latest addition to the team.

HMB has been designed from the ground up to meet the dynamic legal challenges of both financial institutions and Puerto Rican community members as the island recovers from the devastating storms.

Managing member Rose Marie Book believes “it is the right time to focus their combined strength on providing solutions as the industry comes together to help the island.”

 

HMB is also a flagship sponsor of PR18, an upcoming industry conference that will gather industry and government leaders in Puerto Rico to help design the next phase of the rebuilding process.

“We have the skills and capability Puerto Rico needs today. I was drawn to HMB not only for the immediate good we do today but we will do beyond the immediate needs,” said Gilbert of Gilbert Garcia Group.

 

Gilbert handles a wide variety of legal matters for HMB, given her litigation experience in both default and non-default cases. She has managed the company's expansion into probate, estate planning, business transactional and corporate law. Gilbert has practiced real estate and business law since 1989, specializing in default servicing legal work, including litigated foreclosures, real estate closings, evictions, and commercial litigation.

“I am pleased to be part of such a forward-looking team. I look forward to accomplishing great things together,” said Frankenberg. Her areas of expertise include creditor’s rights, foreclosure law, commercial transactions, commercial law, and REO. As the Managing Member of the firm, she focuses on foreclosure, REO, and related work. Twenty years ago, Frankenberg served as the outside counsel to the FDIC.

“With new members and new firm affiliations, HMB will be able to help that many more clients and homeowners recover in Puerto Rico. Our work makes a real impact in the recovery effort,” said Founding Member Miguel Maza.