Mortgage, foreclosure issues top Mass. complaints

Complaints related to mortgages and foreclosures, nearly 1,000 of them, topped the list of consumer grievances tallied by Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office in 2011.

Housing-related complaints have more than quadrupled over the past two years, Coakley said yesterday, surpassing the number recorded regarding automobile sales and leasing — the consumer issue that generated the most consumer dissatisfaction in 2010.

‘‘I believe that addressing this foreclosure crisis is the single most important task we face in restoring a healthy economy,’’ Coakley said during a meeting hosted by the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce at the InterContinental Boston.


Coakley is considered by many housing activists to be a national leader in fighting predatory lending and mortgage fraud. Last month, she filed a lawsuit against five major lenders, breaking from national settlement talks between US attorneys general and banks over the foreclosure crisis.

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Complaints and questions are registered by staff members at the attorney general’s Public Inquiry and Assistance Center and at regional and local offices. Based out of the assistance center, the state’s consumer hotline — 617-727-8400 — receives thousands of calls each year from consumers looking for help or a referral to a nonprofit or another government organization.

In addition to housing and auto issues, consumers also frequently call about home improvement projects gone wrong, aggressive tactics by debt collectors, and the sale of defective products, the state said.

Mortgage-related complaints in particular are on the increase at a time of heightened concern over allegations of sloppy and fraudulent practices among major US lenders. About 30,000 Massachusetts homeowners have lost their properties to foreclosure over the last three years, according to Warren Group, a Boston company that tracks local real estate.

At the chamber event yesterday, Coakley said she sued Bank of America Corp., Wells Fargo & Co., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Citigroup Inc., and GMAC, a subsidiary of Ally Financial Inc., because she is concerned that the settlement being negotiated won’t help enough Massachusetts homeowners. She said current estimates of a $25 billion deal would probably mean lenders would consider that sum the maximum amount they would spend to help troubled homeowners with loan modifications and other housing help.


‘‘There is no assurance that eligible Massachusetts borrowers will see their share of loan modifications before the cap is reached,’’ Coakley said. ‘‘Real relief and real accountability, those are the goals we must achieve through our suit or through a global settlement.’’

Over the last few months, lenders have begun to speed up foreclosure practices in Massachusetts. There were 714 foreclosure deeds recorded in November, almost 71 percent more than during November 2010, Warren Group said.

Virginia Pratt, a foreclosure prevention counselor with a Jamaica Plain nonprofit that offers help to homeowners, said many of her clients call the attorney general’s office because they are frustrated by lenders. Homeowners are often asked to resubmit loan modification paperwork without receiving a decision, Pratt said, while others are denied deals that would benefit them and their lender.

‘‘This seems like there is always a reason to say no and almost never a reason to say yes,’’ Pratt said.

Jenifer B. McKim can be reached at