SAN FRANCISCO -- California's attorney general filed lawsuits against mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac on Tuesday, demanding that the companies that own some 60 percent of the state's mortgages respond to questions in a state investigation.
Attorney General Kamala Harris, whose office filed the lawsuits in San Francisco Superior Court, is investigating Freddie Mac's and Fannie Mae's involvement in 12,000 foreclosed properties in California where they served as landlords. She also wants to find out what role the companies played in selling or marketing mortgage-backed securities.
The essentially identical lawsuits ask the mortgage firms to respond to 51 investigative subpoenas that call on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to identify all the California homes on which they foreclosed. They also want the mortgage firms to reveal whether they have information on the decreased value of those homes due to drug dealing or prostitution, as well as explosives and weapons found on those vacant properties.
"Foreclosures not only affect the families who lose their homes, but also the safety, health and welfare of the entire community," the lawsuit said.
Harris also called on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to disclose whether they have complied with civil rights laws protecting minorities and members of the Armed Forces against unlawful convictions and foreclosures.
The suits also seek to determine whether the companies are in compliance with California's securities and tax laws.
'Nothing short of staggering'
The companies were taken over by the federal government and put into conservatorship under the Federal Housing Finance Agency in September 2008 to save them from collapse.
An attorney representing the Federal Housing Finance Agency said in a letter attached to the lawsuits that the 51 subpoenas were "frequently vague and ambiguous," and said state attorneys general did not have the authority to issue subpoenas against the federal conservator.
"The burden to collect that information would be nothing short of staggering," the letter said.
Representatives of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac said the companies would not comment on the lawsuits Tuesday.
The lawsuits could determine whether states have a right to investigate the mortgage firms while they are under federal control. Harris argues that since the mortgage companies own properties in California, they are subject to state law and demands.
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac buy home loans from banks and other lenders, package them into bonds with a guarantee against default and then sell them to investors around the world. The two own or guarantee about half of U.S. mortgages, or nearly 31 million loans.
Bailout Could Cost $250 Million
The companies have so far cost American taxpayers more than $150 billion -- the largest bailout of the financial crisis. They could cost up to $259 billion, according to the FHFA.
Two former CEOs at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac last week became the highest-profile individuals to be charged in connection with the 2008 financial crisis. In a lawsuit filed in New York, the Securities and Exchange Commission brought civil fraud charges against six former executives at the two firms, including former Fannie CEO Daniel Mudd and former Freddie CEO Richard Syron.
The executives were accused of understating the level of high-risk subprime mortgages that the companies held just before the housing bubble burst.
Harris has created a task force that is pursuing criminal charges and civil judgments in mortgage fraud cases. She has said that her office would not join a planned 50-state settlement over foreclosure abuses that federal officials and other state attorneys general are negotiating with major U.S. banks.
She said the settlement gave bank officials too much immunity from civil litigation.
Harris said 768,330 residential mortgages were foreclosed on in California between January 2007 and June of this year.
Pushing the Limit: High-End Homes for 3.5% Down
State AG Sues Fannie and Freddie for Answers
FHA Conforming Loan Limit: $729,750
Sq. Ft.: 1,250
As you might expect in the country's most expensive city, New York residential real estate has the highest conforming loan limit allowed under law, $729,750. While in the chicer parts of Manhattan that'll get you beans, if you're willing to live a little south of the action, you can snatch up an apartment like this three-bedroom -- for only 3.5 percent down.
The country's second biggest -- and notoriously traffic-plagued -- city is also just about as expensive as it gets. Awesome views of Beverly Hills, Wilshire Blvd. and the mountains beyond are the highlight of this classy apartment.
This apartment's building is set on a 3.5 acre lot that offers a pool, tennis court and fitness center. There's also valet parking and a concierge. But if you have pets... well, that's OK! The listing boasts of the building's "rare pet friendly environment."
Chicago's conforming loan limit is substantially lower than those of Los Angeles or New York. At $409,000 this duplex flirts with its FHA-loan ceiling. The apartment's kitchen has a cherry-stained inlay floor with a breakfast bar.
Our country's fifth largest city doesn't have property values as high as you might think. The relatively low median sale price of $305,000 pulls the FHA conforming loan limit down to $420,000. That delivers one bedroom and one bathroom in the case of this contemporary apartment. Is the stunning skyline looming outside the apartment's floor-to-ceiling windows worth that sum? Your call.
The Loan Star State's real estate comes pretty darn cheap and Houston dirt is no exception. The FHA will only insure your loan up to $271,050. But, considering bang-for-your-buck value in the state, that means the government will sponsor some pretty comfortable digs. This 2,791-square-foot traditional home offers four bedrooms on its well-landscaped plot. If the place strikes a chord with you, be sure to make the open house this weekend. See the listing for details.
Think back to that stylish Philly apartment. You know, the one-bedroom that cost in the neighborhood of $400,000? Now consider that this home's living room alone probably comes somewhere close to rivaling that apartment in total size. A reminder of just how much location determines value.
Located on a cul-de-sac, this Phoenix home offers four bedrooms. At $345,500 it's priced close to $150,000 above the median sale price, allowing relatively well-heeled borrowers to take out substantial loans for as low as, you guessed it, 3.5 percent down.
While the space may distinguish this home on paper, the home's interior really seems to set it apart. There are stone-arched doorways, exposed-beam ceilings and black hardwood floors. All of it potentially attainable for just 3.5 percent.
Ravaged by the foreclosure crisis, Jacksonville real estate values have plummeted over the last few years, allowing deals like this large single family. Priced at $379,900, the home is just shy of the point where the government steps back and says: "It's 20 percent from here on out."
Who knew you could find a glass-enclosed pool just yards from a pond on a property below $400,000. An amenity like this, plus the home's exquisite, varnished interior should be a reminder that today's market is, undoubtedly, a buyer's one. Worried you're not up to financial snuff? In case you didn't hear, you can buy a lot of homes like this one for just 3.5 percent down.