“Intolerable” and “beyond the bounds of decency.” Those are the words a Seattle federal judge used to describe the conduct of a nationwide mortgage lender in its campaign to drive a Bellevue single mother out of her home. “He saw it too. I wasn’t going crazy. These guys were trying to take my house,” Leticia Lucero said of the ruling by Judge Robert Lasnik. Lucero was awarded $213,000 in damages against Cenlar, the servicer of her home loan, for “emotional distress.” Lucero’s lawyers, Ha Dao and Omar Barraza, say the case is a first of its kind ruling in Washington state and could set a precedent for in litigation against lenders and loan servicers. Lucero was given a modification to her home loan in 2013, after a divorce and the housing crash sent her account into default. But after the modification, Cenlar inexplicably continued to report to creditors that Lucero’s home was in foreclosure. Her repeated requests to correct the record went unanswered. Lucero filed a lawsuit against Cenlar and, according to court records, that’s when things turned dirty. Mysterious charges started showing up on Lucero’s monthly mortgage bill. Soon, she had more than $26,000 for charges owed that Cenlar refused to explain. During a trial last year, Judge Lasnik determined Cenlar was “annoyed that plaintiff had sued it” and started tacking Cenlar’s legal fees onto Lucero’s mortgage.
Cenlar gave at least eight excuses for why it did this. However, Judge Lasnik ruled that nothing in Washington law made it permissible for the lender to toss its legal fees onto the back of the Bellevue mom. “Such conduct is beyond the bounds of decency and is utterly intolerable,” Lasnik wrote in a January decision. “The message was clear: continue this litigation and we will take your home,” Lasnik wrote. Cenlar did not respond to KING 5’s emails and phone call seeking comment. Cenlar has appealed the January decision. Attorney Barraza says the case could open the door for other struggling homeowners who want to argue that their lender or loan servicer is causing emotional distress in negotiations.