Finding Your State's Foreclosure Laws

The foreclosure process in each state is governed by that state’s foreclosure laws. Here's how to find them.

The foreclosure process in each state is governed, in large part, by that state’s foreclosure laws. Each state’s foreclosure law is different. By reviewing your state’s foreclosure law, you can find out:

  • how much notice you are entitled to before your home is sold in a foreclosure
  • how much notice you are entitled to before you are evicted after a foreclosure sale
  • how much time you have to reinstate or redeem your mortgage after a default (if your state provides such rights)
  • whether your lender can sue you for a deficiency judgment and if so, under what conditions, and
  • what special protections you are entitled to if you have a high-cost mortgage (one with a much higher interest rate than normal).

Most, if not all, state statutes are available online. You'll also find your state’s statutes at a law library or possibly even at your local public library.

Keep in mind that federal law also imposes some requirements on mortgage lenders and servicers in the foreclosure process. To learn more, see Nolo's New Foreclosure Laws & Settlements topic area.)

How to Find Your State's Foreclosure Laws

There are two ways to find your state’s statutes on foreclosure. By browsing through the various subject headings of the statutes (statutes are usually organized hierarchically by numbered title, article, chapter, and section), or by searching online for the keywords you're interested in. 

You can find a summary of your state's foreclosure laws by clicking on the links below.

 

Browsing Foreclosure Statutes

Here is an example of the general steps you would use to find the foreclosure statutes for Vermont. The steps should be similar for your state.

  1. Find the citation, or reference, for your state's foreclosure statute. The citation to Vermont's Strict Foreclosure Law is Vermont Stat. Ann., Title 12, Section 4526.
  2. Do an online search for the name of your state and the word "statutes." For Vermont's statutes, you would search for "Vermont statutes."
  3. There should appear at or near the top of your search results a link to your state's statutes on a state government website. (State government websites end with the domain "gov" or "us.") If you can't find a link to your state's statutes on an official state government website, go to www.justia.com, click on "Laws: Cases & Codes," and click on the law for your state. The first result of a search for "Vermont statutes" pulls up the Vermont Statutes Online hosted on the Vermont Legislature website.
  4. Click on the relevant title to open up a list of chapters. For Vermont, the relevant title is Title 12: Court Procedure.
  5. Click on the chapter that contains the section that you are looking for. Vermont's foreclosure law is in Chapter 163: Chancery Proceedings.
  6. Click on the relevant section. Vermont's foreclosure law starts at Section 4526: Foreclosure of real or personal property.

Most states arrange their statutes in a similar manner: by title, article, chapter, and section. Some states arrange their statutes in a slightly different manner. For example, if you were looking for Section 2323.07 of the Ohio Revised Code, you would use the first two numbers to find the correct title (in this case, Title 23). After clicking on Title 23, you would then look for the statute numbered 2323.07.

In New York, the citation to the foreclosure law is N.Y. Real Prop. Acts. Law, Sections 1301 to 1391. You would find these statutes by first browsing the list of legal topics until you found “Real Property Actions & Proceedings.” Click on that topic and then browse until you find the article that contains Sections 1301 to 1391 (Article 13: Action to Foreclose a Mortgage).

Your state may use a slightly different model from these examples. You may have to use a little ingenuity to get to the right statutes. As a general rule, the number at the left of the citation will be the number you use to start your search, whether it is the title, article, or chapter number. If for some reason the citation number doesn’t work, look for a subject heading dealing with foreclosure, real estate, or real property; if you are in a judicial foreclosure state, look for a subject heading dealing with civil procedure.

Searching

If you aren’t able to find your state’s foreclosure statutes by using the method described above, try an online search for your state name and "foreclosure statute." For instance, by doing an online search for “Vermont foreclosure statute,” you’ll find in your list of results a link to the Vermont Statutes Online on the Vermont State Legislature’s website. Clicking on that link will take you to a page listing all of the relevant Vermont foreclosure statutes.

But beware of this method of searching. Quite possibly, you will turn up only one statute at a time. Bankruptcy and foreclosure statutes come in swarms, and you need to be able to see the entire array (called the statutory scheme) to fully understand what you are looking at. For example, if you are looking for statutes dealing with notice before the foreclosure sale or the right of redemption, you may find only one of the relevant statutes and not be aware of the others.

Getting Help on Legal Research

Foreclosure statutes can be difficult to read. Especially in Eastern states, foreclosure statutes come from English law adopted in the 18th century. The language is very different from modern English and can be hard to understand.

Statutes also aren't organized very well. One relevant statute might be found in one section of the law, while a closely related one will appear elsewhere. For example, some foreclosure laws can be found in sections dealing with court procedure, while other foreclosure laws are in sections dealing with real estate. You may have to look in several different parts of your state's statute to find all of the statutes related to foreclosure.

If you need more help on doing your own legal research, see Legal Research: How to Find & Understand the Law, by Stephen Elias and the editors of Nolo (Nolo).

Excerpted from The Foreclosure Survival Guide, by Stephen Elias (Nolo).

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