There's not much satisfaction for Martha Rodash in her world. She's a sick woman. She is crippled by multiple sclerosis and blind. Her daughter, Nadia, must feed her.
But the Argentina-born immigranthas a place in mortgage history. This wheelchair-bound woman, who wants only to be able to work again, has mothered one of the most significant legal threats ever faced by home lenders. The precedent set by her victory is supporting a wave of class actions that could debilitate lenders nationwide.
"This is available for everybody to use, thank God," said the Miami resident about the precedent, set in Rodash v. AIB Mortgage. "That's great."
Lenders are not as enthusiastic. At the recent Mortgage Bankers Association of America conference in Boston, executives at a workshop sat with their heads in their hands as two lawyers moaned about the case and its potential impact.
"After 20 years of hypertechnical laws thrown at us by unsympathetic courts, we end up with this absurdity," said Robert J. Jacobs, chief legal officer of Chase Home Mortgage Corp., Tampa, Fla.
Rodash originated out of a rather simple mistake. When Ms. Rodash applied to refinance her home loan to pay for medical treatment, AIB Mortgage listed a $22 Federal Express fee and a Florida intangibles tax of $204 as "amount financed" instead of "finance charge"
The "amount financed" is the amount of money the borrower receives from the lender. "Finance charge" discloses the cost of credit to the borrower.
Of all the details that could go wrong when trying to comply with the Truth in Lending Act, this one the listing of two finance charges was seemingly a tiny slip. But the ruling of the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit has attracted a legion of class action lawyers. Today, more than a dozen class actions are pending across the nation.
Borrowers may ask that the loans be rescinded most advantageous if interest rates have declined. Rescission would force lenders m pay back interest and fees. and this means they could potentially lose many millions of dollars.
Lenders are also open to,the Truth in Lending Act's $500,000 maximum penalty.
In Martha Rodash's cas6, her loan was rescinded, according to court papers. A final settlement is pending.
Lawyers are scurrying 9n behalf of major .mortgage banks to stem Rodash-inspirekt legal actions. Sen. Connie Mack, R-Fla.. was recently moved to propose an amendment neutralizing the Rodash decision in the 1994 Fair Credit Reporting Act.
The amendment would have corked any class actions related to Rodash by eliminating the requirement to disclose comer fees and intangible state taxes. It Ifailed to pass the Senate before Congress brolCe for elections, and it's unlikely that it will pass before 1995."
It took Florida lenders four days to steam roll a "Rodash amendment" into law. The legislation, tacked on to a tax bill provides lenders with a loophole for future loans.
All this has given Martha Rodash endless joy. She can't indulge her passion for cooking. She can't watch movies. But as she sees it, she is helping others who were wronged by mortgage banks.