Sherry Stanley’s fight to save her home
Mitt Romney, former Massachusetts governor and Republican presidential nominee, once reminded us that “corporations are people, too.”
He was suggesting corporations share some of the legal rights granted to individuals under our laws. That may be so, but there is a huge difference in allocating those rights between corporations and people.
While corporations have the power, influence and money to secure their legal rights, the average person does not, denying them the counterclaim that “people are corporations, too.”
A case in point is that of Sherry Stanley, a mother of five who said she summoned the nerve and courage to end an abusive marriage in 2012, only to begin absorbing a mental beatdown by her home’s mortgage holder, Wells Fargo Bank.
According to Ms. Stanley, while the probate court put the title of the family home in her name, she had difficulty keeping up the mortgage payments because her ex-husband failed to deliver on his financial obligations, as determined by the court.
She tried to obtain a loan modification, but Wells Fargo showed her the cold shoulder, she said.
Today, she is on the verge of being evicted from the home she shares with four of her five children.
“It’s a nightmare,” she said of the fight to keep their home.
“It wasn’t fair to me from the get-go. Wells Fargo’s refusal to grant me a loan modification was what started it.”
She noted that the bank initiated a foreclosing on the home soon after denying her loan modification request.
Representing herself, Ms. Stanley challenged the foreclosure in housing court. It’s hard to imagine a financially-strained single parent prevailing against a corporation with some $1.9 trillion in assets.
But Ms. Stanley didn’t have the luxury of contemplating the odds against her. In her position, she had to grasp at all available straws.
Her case was pending when the coronavirus hit and Massachusetts placed a temporary moratorium on evictions and foreclosures.
But the moratorium, which ended in October, didn’t prevent the bank from selling her home. She first learned of the pending sale of her home, when in the middle of getting her children set up for ZOOM classes in March, she began “having strange people without masks coming into my house, looking at it.”
“They sold my house during COVID, when the moratorium was on, and no evictions were allowed,” she said.
“I thought it was safe because I was still in housing court dealing with my case when we left off in March.
“It’s not fair. I had an open case, and there was no right for that mortgage company to sell my house.”
Michael Franklin, a local divorce lawyer, said plaintiffs such as Ms. Stanley often face an uphill battle in negotiating with mortgage holders.
“The Probate Court only has so much power,” he said.
“They may have thought the separation agreement was fair. The title of the property was transferred to her. They gave her a shot, gave her whatever they could.
“But this is the part of the deal with contracts. Whenever you take out a mortgage, if you cannot afford to maintain the payments, the bank will foreclose on you.”
City Councilor Moe Bergman, though sympathetic to individuals like Ms. Stanley, was even more pointed in his assessment during a city council discussion on the issue two weeks ago.
“That’s the risk of doing business,” he said.
“They (the banks) give out loans. Sometimes they guess right. Sometimes they guess wrong. Sometimes the unusual happens, like a pandemic, an epidemic, or a downturn in the economy. So that’s the risk of the bank doing business.”
Yet, Mr. Bergman also acknowledged that “When the banks really screw up, often times the government steps in and bails them out.”
Ms. Stanley didn’t screw up.
She had an abusive marriage that led to a divorce that led to a downturn in her financial viability. But, unlike corporations, she wasn’t eligible for any government help, at least not the kind of support that would allow her to stabilize her financial well-being.
And so, while she was granted title to her home and financial assistance from her ex-husband by the probate court, she didn’t have the wherewithal to secure the benefits of those rulings.
She exercised her right to seek a loan modification and the right to press her case in court, but both seem to have been as effective as winking in the dark.
Earlier this week, the City Council passed a resolution asking the state to reinstitute the moratorium on foreclosures and evictions.
That will be a tough political fight to win, but it seems to be the last straw left for Ms. Stanley to grasp.
And she will grasp it. She has to because hope is the only lifeline she has left.