D.C. Banking Office Looks at Foreclosure Laws

Article excerpt

D.C. bank officials want to stop foreclosure practices that have some D.C. residents losing their homes after missing as few as two mortgage payments.

That's why the D.C. office of Banking and Financial Institutions last week assembled a group of about 30 mortgage brokers, bankers, foreclosure attorneys and civic leaders to discuss revamping the District's antiquated foreclosure laws.

"Foreclosure laws in D.C. are nonexistent. People today have no recourse," said J. Anthony Romero III, superintendent of the agency.

The lack of adequate foreclosure laws in the District speaks to a larger problem within the city administration that Mr. Romero battles every day - the city's lack of resources.

Up until Mr. Romero took over his post three years ago, the city dedicated little to no funding to the banking office. City officials also appointed people with little to no experience to head up the banking division, local bankers say.

Mortgage lenders, check cashers, credit unions and other finance operations ran unchecked in the District. To a large extent, many still do.

Many local bankers cite Mr. Romero as the first D.C. bank commissioner with any banking experience.

After immigrating to Washington with a young family from Tangier, Morocco, in 1958, Mr. Romero landed a modest job in the back offices of the D.C.-based National Savings & Trust Co. He stayed there for 25 years, eventually becoming the institution's vice president of real estate.

"Mr. Romero was a banker for many years and understands how to get things done in the banking community," said Sharon Zimmerman, the director of marketing and community reinvestment for D.C.-based Industrial Bank. "He's much more visible and active in getting good legislation passed."

In 1996, Mr. Romero pushed for legislation that requires mortgage lenders or brokers to apply for licenses to work in the city. Already, 650 licenses have been issued, generating about $1.2 million in revenue for the city.

Check cashers came next. Mr. Romero's office wrote legislation passed earlier this year licensing that industry as well. It goes into effect this December and will also generate revenue through licensing fees.

"He's bringing some regulations and some sanity to those two areas that sometimes have the reputation of taking advantage of people," said Peter Nostrand, president of the greater Washington region for Crestar Corp. …