What is Residential Mortgage Foreclosure Mediation?

The Residential Mortgage Foreclosure Mediation Program (RMFM Program) has been ordered by Hillsborough County’s Thirteenth Judicial Circuit Administrative Order S-2012-053 in response to the extensive number of foreclosure cases that have been filed in Hillsborough County. This program assists in the coordination of document collection, document exchange, and scheduling mediation. The goal of mediation is to assist homeowners and lenders to work out an agreement that will prevent foreclosure.

Who is administering the RMFM Program in Hillsborough County?

The Thirteenth Judicial Circuit’s Chief Judge has appointed the Hillsborough County Bar Foundation as the designated Program Manager of the Residential Mortgage Foreclosure Program in Hillsborough County. The Hillsborough County Bar Foundation is a non-profit organization experienced in managing foreclosure mediations since August 2010.

What is mediation?

Mediation is a meeting that is attended by the homeowner (borrower/defendant), any co-borrower, the homeowner’s legal counsel (if any), the lender (plaintiff), and the plaintiff’s legal counsel (if any). A discussion is held among the parties to determine if an agreement can be reached that will help the homeowner avoid foreclosure and explore all other options. A trained Florida Supreme Court Certified mediator is a neutral third party who helps both parties negotiate a fair and voluntary agreement. The mediator does not favor either the homeowner or the lender, does not decide who is right or wrong, and does not provide legal advice. Participating in a mediation does not guarantee that a settlement will be reached or that the property will not be foreclosed, but provides an opportunity for the homeowner to discuss these matters directly with the lender with the assistance of the mediator.

What does the RMFM Program cost?

Unless the judge orders otherwise, there generally is no charge to the homeowner to participate in the program. Please refer to the specific order issued in your foreclosure case for this information. If the homeowner is able to reach a settlement, the costs of the program may be added by the lender to the costs of the loan.

Why should I participate in mediation?

There are many reasons why homeowners experience difficulty in paying their mortgage. Mediation provides an opportunity for the homeowner and lender to discuss these problems in a fair and balanced manner with the help of a mediator. Mediation can offer a chance for both parties to reach a realistic and practical solution to avoid foreclosure.

How do I enroll in the program?

You are automatically enrolled in the program if the judge presiding over your foreclosure case issues an order referring you to mediate in the Residential Mortgage Foreclosure Mediation Program (RMFM Program).

What if the court has not ordered my case to mediation?

If an order to mediate has not been issued in your foreclosure case, but you would like to participate in the mediation program, you may petition the court for an order of referral. A sample Borrower Request to Participate in Foreclosure Mediation can be found under Forms. This request should be completed and mailed to the Hillsborough County Clerk. A copy of this document should be mailed to the lender’s attorney to advise them of your wish to mediate in the program as well as to the Hillsborough County Bar Foundation. If you need additional assistance, please contact the Hillsborough County Bar Foundation.

How does the program work?

As the homeowner, you will be assigned a financial counselor at the Center for Financial Counseling to assist in the collection of the various documents which you are required to submit prior to mediation.  Once the documents are collected, a mediation session will be scheduled with the homeowner and the lender. We will attempt to call you to schedule the mediation session and our call may show as 000-0000 on your caller id.  Please advise your financial counselor if you have preferred days or times for scheduling mediation. We offer mediation sessions during the business week, Monday through Friday (closed holidays) starting at 9:00 a.m.  It is also likely that immediately prior to mediation, you will need to submit additional documents. Failure to submit requested documents may result in your losing your opportunity to mediate in the program and we will have to notify the court of your non-compliance with the court order. It is in your best interest to continue to supply the most current financial related documents.

What can I expect as a result of mediation?

The mediator will conduct a neutral and impartial session during which the homeowner and lender discuss what can realistically be done to avoid foreclosure. If the homeowner and lender can agree on a way to accomplish this, a settlement agreement will be drafted and presented to both parties for signature at the end of the mediation session. With some limited exceptions as required by law, the mediation is confidential. The Court will recognize the mediation agreement as final and binding. Mediation does not guarantee that a settlement will be reached or that the property will not be foreclosed. It offers the homeowner the opportunity to meet with the lender in person or over the telephone and discuss possible options with the assistance of a mediator.

What financial information will I need to provide?

Each case is different as lenders vary on what information they require for mediation. Borrowers may be required to complete a foreclosure mediation financial worksheet. Some of the other documents you may be required to complete are located under Forms. The information that may be requested includes some personal data, employment information, a complete list of expenses and liabilities, a complete list of assets and an explanation as to why you are unable to meet your current mortgage obligation. Some of the other typical documents you may be required to submit include tax returns, pay stubs, bank statements etc. Keep in mind each lender is different and may require different documents. The foreclosure counselor will be able to advise the borrower of the specific documents required.

What if I have questions about my paperwork?

Feel free to contact The Center for Financial Counseling to speak to your assigned counselor by calling 877-822-4083, mail 4910-B Creekside Drive, Clearwater, FL 33760, or facsimile 877- 822-3551.

What happens if my lender and I can’t reach a settlement agreement?

If an agreement cannot be reached, the case will be returned to court. If there is a possibility of reaching a settlement, but more time is required to do so, another mediation session can be scheduled if requested.

What happens if I violate the court order, don’t submit all of the required financial documents, or I don’t attend my mediation?

If the homeowner does not submit all of the required financial documents or does not attend his/her scheduled mediation, a Notice of Non-Compliance will be filed in the foreclosure case and the case will be returned to the court. If at any time after commencement of mediation services by the RMFM Program one or both of the parties (i) fails to timely complete the necessary financial document exchange (ii) fails to make themselves available for mediation in a timely manner, or (iii) cancels a mediation conference at least five days prior to the scheduled mediation conference date and refuses to reschedule the conference for any reason whatsoever, the RMFM Program will retain the full mediation services fee as payment for the mediation services previously rendered. If the plaintiff or the borrower fails to comply with the provisions of the Order of Referral, the RMFM Program will file a Notice of Non-Compliance.

Do homeowners need an attorney to participate in mediation?

The homeowner is not required to have an attorney, however, the decision to have an attorney is a matter of personal choice. The foreclosure process is complicated and may ultimately result in the loss of your home. An attorney is recommended. Mediators are not permitted to give legal advice, but you have the right to consult with an attorney at any time and to bring your attorney to the mediation. Attorneys are not provided through this program, but homeowner may apply for a volunteer attorney if the homeowner meets certain qualifications. Information about these services can be obtained by calling Bay Area Legal Services at 813-232-1343 or 1-800-625-2257. If you need additional assistance in retaining an attorney, the Hillsborough County Bar Association has a lawyer referral service available by calling 813-221-7780.

Where will the mediation be held?

Mediations will be held in downtown Tampa at the Hillsborough County Bar Foundation, Chester Ferguson Law Center (adjacent to Stetson Law School Campus), 1610 N. Tampa Street, Tampa, FL, 33602. If travel to downtown Tampa presents an extreme hardship to the homeowner, the Program Manager will attempt to schedule the mediation in a Program-approved alternate facility. Please send the request for an alternate site as soon as possible, but no less than ten days in advance of the mediation session.

Can I bring a family member or friend with me to the mediation?

If there is more than one borrower listed on the loan or mortgage, the co-borrower is required to attend. If the homeowner is the only borrower and feels the need to have someone accompany him/her for the purpose of talking over the information/options being presented, this is permitted as long as the person accompanying the borrower is an adult, and understands that they are not allowed to take an active role in the negotiation. If one of the parties to the mediation objects to the presence of a non-party, that person may be required to wait in the lobby. Children are not allowed to come to the mediation.

What if the homeowner doesn’t speak English?

If the homeowner’s primary language is one other than English, they are strongly encouraged to bring an adult family member or friend who can translate. If the homeowner does not have someone who can translate, please inform a program representative of this need as far in advance as possible, but no less than ten (10) business days in advance of the session. While every effort will be made to assist the homeowner, translation assistance cannot be guaranteed for every language.

What if the homeowner has a disability that requires special assistance during mediation?

If the homeowner has a visual, hearing, or other disability that requires special assistance, they are strongly encouraged to bring an adult family member or friend who can provide assistance. If the homeowner does not have someone who can help, please inform a program representative of this need as far in advance of the mediation as possible, but no less than ten (10) business days in advance of the session.

What is the policy regarding cancellations?

Written notice to the RMFM Program of any change or cancellation of the scheduled mediation conference must be given at least five (5) business (excluding holidays) days prior to the scheduled mediation conference. The failure to provide timely notice of the cancellation of a scheduled mediation conference will result in the RMFM Program retaining the full mediation services fee. If the parties desire to reschedule a cancelled mediation which was not timely cancelled the party responsible for cancelling the original scheduled mediation conference will pay an additional $325.00 rescheduling fee to the RMFM Program unless the Court orders otherwise or the RMFM Program agrees to waive the rescheduling fee. The RMFM Program has the discretion not to reschedule a mediation conference until the rescheduling fee is paid.

My question was not answered above. Who do I call?

Please contact the Hillsborough County Bar Foundation if you have additional question by: telephone (813) 490-5041; facsimile (813) 221-7707; email to agreer@hillsbarfoundation.com; or by US Mail to Hillsborough County Bar Foundation, Chester Ferguson Law Center, 1610 N. Tampa Street, Tampa, FL, 33602.