The US Federal Reserve has issued a punishing court order to Morgan Stanley, as it prepares to fine the bank over the use of automated 'robo signing' of documents relating to foreclosures for struggling US mortgage payers. It ordered the bank to make significant process, data and systems improvements.
The issue relates to a troubled electronic mortgage registry created by a range of the largest banks, which is allegedly plagued with errors. Those that have brought claims against the banks have said access to the database was deliberately restricted by the banks, and that mortgage foreclosures were often based on incorrect data entered by the banks as they rushed to offload the loans.
The court order issued this week concerns the Saxon business, which Morgan Stanley has sold to mortgage servicing group Ocwen Financial. The Fed said Morgan Stanley retained responsibility for the impact of Saxon's actions. Saxon had issued over 225,000 residential mortgage loans.
Robo-signing typically involves employees of mortgage servicing companies automatically signing off foreclosure papers without checking them, in the interests of fast processing the papers.
The practice was allegedly supported by the Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems (MERS), which opponents claim may have resulted in unfair foreclosures for many home buyers. The database was created in 1995 to simplify the recording of mortgage sales and to allow banks to more easily sell on loans.
According to recent complaints by New York State against a number of banks, as well as being used fraudulently, the database was also "plagued with inaccuracies and errors". New York State Attorney General Eric Schneidermann said that employees and agents of a number of banks had used the system to "repeatedly" submit court documents on mortgage holders, "containing false and misleading information that made it appear that the foreclosing party had the authority to bring a case when in fact it may not have [had]".
"The banks created the MERS system as an end-run around the property recording system, to facilitate the rapid securitisation and sale of mortgages," said Schneiderman in February.
"Once the mortgages went sour, these same banks brought foreclosure proceedings en masse based on deceptive and fraudulent court submissions, seeking to take homes away from people with little regard for basic legal requirements or the rule of law."