Marshallton preservationist says bank rebuffed repeated efforts to modify mortgage
By Kathleen Brady Shea, Managing Editor, The Times
A Marshallton woman recalls painfully reassuring her dying mother that their financial nightmare would soon be resolved – fervently hoping she was right.
But Linda Kaat said the death of her 79-year-old mother, Mariann D. Jankowski, in December 2010 exacerbated a long-running conflict with JPMorgan Chase Bank, a foreclosure dispute now unfolding in the legal system.
Kaat, well-known regionally as a history advocate and preservationist who values her privacy, agreed to discuss what led up to the litigation for one reason: “If I can spare someone else from enduring what I have for the past five years, it will be worth it.”
Her attorney, Louis B. Kupperman, said he was so outraged by the situation that he agreed to represent Kaat for a nominal fee. He has been working on Kaat’s case with an associate, Joseph W. Carroll, the county’s former district attorney.
A spokeswoman for JPMorgan Chase’s mortgage banking division, Amy Bonitatibus, did not return a telephone call or email seeking comment.
Kaat, credited with helping to save the Brandywine Battlefield from being shuttered, said when she first viewed her property – situated on a sliver of land between Northbrook and Strasburg Roads – in 1999, it was an eyesore. Kaat, who had been working in real estate, saw potential beyond the decrepit appearance.
Smitten by a 1740 foundation beneath a structure whose past included a gas station and a deli, Kaat envisioned a restoration that would eventually accommodate her elderly mother, who was residing on the family’s Illinois farm.
Kaat, the ex-wife of former Phillies’ pitcher Jim Kaat, said since both women had been living alone, sharing a home appealed to both. “We were going to be the Golden Girls,” Kaat said.
The gold never materialized, according to the suit.
Kaat said costlier-than-anticipated repairs to the home presented the first obstacle. Undaunted, she and her mother decided to obtain a mortgage on the property in October 2005. Because her mother’s credit score entitled them to a lower interest rate, Jankowski signed the loan with all parties’ understanding that Kaat would cover the payments since her mother had a fixed income.
For several years, the arrangement worked as planned, Kaat said, adding that painstaking restorations progressed, slowly but steadily. Problems surfaced when the real-estate market nose-dived, jeopardizing Kaat’s livelihood. She said she fell behind in mortgage payments, prompting a letter offering assistance from JPMorgan Chase in January 2009.
The letter said Jankowski might want to consider changing the terms of the mortgage under the federal Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), a program to keep homeowners afloat that the bank was required to offer because it had received $25 billion under the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), the suit said.
According to the suit, Kaat and her mother submitted the HAMP application, initiating a protracted series of attempts to get the bank to respond. In April 2009, the bank sent a letter explaining the terms of the mortgage modification program and providing a lower monthly figure. If payments and paperwork were received during a trial period, the bank would modify the mortgage to avoid foreclosure, the suit said.
Instead, according to the suit, Kaat’s submissions entered a black hole: The bank continued to request information it already had, contradicting its own letters that acknowledged receipt of the same materials. The bank also added requests for additional information that had not been mentioned earlier, such as a utility bill.
The suit alleged that the bank continued “its reckless, malicious, and outrageous pattern of denying receipt of the repeated submissions made” by Kaat and her mother. The letters all included a notification that monthly payments under the mortgage modification agreement had to be made, which they were, the suit said. However, the bank ”erroneously claimed” in a May 22, 2010, letter threatening foreclosure that no payments had been made since March 2009.
The foreclosure threat “deeply frightened and shocked” Kaat and her mother, the suit said. However, before they had time to respond, they received a letter “thanking them for making a recent request for a mortgage modification through the federal Making Home Affordable (MHA) program and instructing them to submit the materials they had previously provided multiple times, the suit said.
Confused by the contradictory mailings, Kaat repeatedly attempted to speak with a JPMorgan representative; however, they said since “she was not on the mortgage,” the bank could not communicate with her. The bank sent a second letter warning of foreclosure on July 21, 2010, the suit said, prompting Kaat, who had continued to pay the modified mortgage payment, to resubmit all of the documentation for the MHA program.
Still desperate to resolve the apparent impasse, Kaat obtained a power of attorney from her mother on Nov. 24, 2010. Jankowski died about three weeks later, initiating yet another series of unresponsive communications from the bank, the suit said. Even after Jankowski’s estate notified the bank of her death, the bank continued to send her letters requesting materials that had been submitted multiple times, the suit said.
On March 17, 2011, the bank responded to the faxed notice of Jankowski’s death “to advise that it was investigating the correspondence it had received, and would provide her with a timely response,” the suit said. Two identical letters sent separately the same month suggested that Jankowski might want to consider foreclosure-alternative programs, the suit said.
The suit said Kaat and her brother, Stephen, the executor of their mother’s estate persisted in their efforts to end the conflict to no avail. In response to the multiple death notices, in March 2011, the bank “wrote to Mariann Jankowski c/o Stephen Jankowski to let Mrs. Jankowski know that Chase had received her request for a name or address correction.” The bank provided a list of documents and a $100 name change fee it needed before it could review the request, the suit said.
In the suit, Kaat, who kept a record of all communications, listed the names of 16 JPMorgan Chase representatives with whom she had phone contact. Typical of the exchanges was a call from Jason on April 7, 2011, four months after Mariann Jankowski’s death. He allegedly told Kaat he could not discuss the situation with her because the bank had none of the faxed death certificates and no record of power-of-attorney for Kaat. The suit said Jason hung up after Kaat asked to speak with a supervisor.
Kaat said although she continued to try and avert the crisis, she received a hand-delivered foreclosure notice from a sheriff’s deputy in June. “I remember it well,” she said, shaking her head.
In the June 2012 foreclosure action, JPMorgan Chase Bank released Mariann Jankowski from liability but stated that Kaat owes more than $300,000 in principal, interest and fees.
Kaat’s counterclaim accuses the bank of fraud, deception and misrepresentation for its alleged breach of the mortgage modification agreement. The suit said she is seeking more than $50,000 plus attorneys’ fees.
Ever since the troubled economy caused many homeowners’ mortgages to exceed the value of their properties, more than a dozen Pennsylvania counties have created mortgage diversion programs that require conciliation conferences, forcing lenders to review files with homeowners before proceeding with foreclosure. Chester County does not have such a program.
Donald J. Weiss, a real-estate lawyer who has handled numerous such cases, said he doesn’t believe the programs do more than delay the foreclosures. He said he would like to see banks work with homeowners to keep them in their residences, even if they become tenants with an option to buy back the property.
Weiss said he currently has a case that mirrors Kaat’s – except that the bank is different. “It doesn’t matter which bank it is, they all behave the same,” he said. “It’s so exasperating.”
His clients frequently report contacting the bank and having a representative promise a return phone call that never materializes, Weiss said. “When you call back, you can’t get the person or find out they’ve left the company; it’s terribly frustrating,” he said. “I know many people don’t like lawyers – and I don’t ,either – but it often takes a lawyer to get a non-lawyer to do what they’re supposed to.”
Kaat said she was extremely fortunate to have found Kupperman and Carroll, but worries that other homeowners might lose battles with the bank because they don’t have counsel. “For a long time, I felt like Linda and Goliath,” she said.