The foreclosure process in each state is governed, in large part, by that state’s foreclosure laws. The process will be either judicial or nonjudicial, depending on state law and the circumstances. Each state’s foreclosure law is different. By reviewing your state’s foreclosure law, you can find out:
You can find your state's statutes online, 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 article Federal Laws That Protect Homeowners During Foreclosure.)
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) to locate the citation you're looking for, or by searching online for the keywords you're interested in.
Here's an example of the general steps you would use to find the foreclosure statutes for Vermont, which are located in Title 12, Chapter 172, Sections 4931 through 4954. Say you're specifically interested in reading Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 12, § 4941. (This is the "citation.")
1. Locate Vermont's statutes online by running a search for “Vermont statutes.” You’ll find in your list of results a link to “Vermont Statutes Online – Vermont Legislature” on the Vermont General Assembly’s website. Clicking on that link will take you to a page listing Vermont’s statutes. Then look for the relevant title, chapter, and section(s) that you want to review.
2. Find and click on the relevant title. In this example, it’s “Title 12.” This opens up a list of chapters.
3. Scroll down until you reach the chapter that contains §§ 4931–4954 (Chapter 172: Foreclosure of Mortgages).
4. Click on “Chapter 172.” Then, look for § 4941.
You're good to go!
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, then click on the link to Chapter 2329, and look for the statute numbered 2323.07.
Your state might use a slightly different model from these examples, which will require a little ingenuity on your part to get to the right statutes. Generally, 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're in a state that uses a judicial process exclusively, look for a subject heading dealing with civil procedure.
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's name and "foreclosure statute." But beware of this method of searching. Quite possibly, you'll 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're looking at. For example, if you're looking for statutes dealing with notice before the foreclosure sale or the right of redemption, you might find only one of the relevant statutes and not be aware of the others.
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. Also, statutes often aren't organized very well. One relevant statute might be found in one section of the statutes, 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 might have to look in several different parts of your state's statutes to find all of the laws related to foreclosure.
If you need help finding or interpreting the foreclosure laws for your state, talk to a foreclosure attorney. An attorney can also advise you about any potential defenses you might have to a foreclosure and tell you about various foreclosure avoidance options that could be available to you. A HUD-approved housing counselor is another good resource for information about different ways to avoid a foreclosure.