Sometimes, months or even years might pass by after a borrower stops making loan payments before the lender initiates a foreclosure. If the statute of limitations has expired, you can fight the foreclosure.
So, it's important for borrowers who're significantly behind in mortgage payments to understand what a statute of limitations is and be aware of the time limit for their particular state.
A "statute of limitations" sets a time limit for initiating a legal claim. All types of legal actions have a statute of limitations.
The time frame will vary based on the kind of action or claim. For example, different statutes of limitations exist for oral contracts, written contracts, personal injury, and fraud.
Generally, the statute of limitations for foreclosure falls under one of the following categories:
But the law varies from state to state. So, the statute of limitations could be six years, ten to twenty years, or shorter or longer, depending on state law.
The statute of limitations for an unpaid installment usually starts to run when the borrower defaults on the loan by missing a payment. Some courts treat each missed payment like a new default, which restarts the clock.
For the full loan, the statute of limitations typically begins when the loan becomes due (that is, on the loan's maturity date). The limitations period also sometimes gets triggered when the lender accelerates the loan.
If the lender initiates a foreclosure after the statute of limitations has expired, the borrower can raise it as a defense.
If you don't assert a statute of limitations defense, then this defense is deemed waived. So, borrowers must be aware of the statute of limitations in their state because it could mean a quick end to a foreclosure if the time limit has expired.
If the statute of limitations runs out after the lender starts the process, then the statute of limitations won't work as a defense to the foreclosure. Even when a foreclosure takes years to complete, which is common in some states, if the statute of limitations runs out while the foreclosure is in process, the foreclosure can still proceed.
To comply with a statute of limitations, the lender has to begin the foreclosure before the specified period expires. But if the foreclosure is canceled or dismissed, the statute of limitations will generally apply to any subsequent foreclosure—if the lender didn't revoke the loan's acceleration.
So, the lender could restart the foreclosure, but the restart would have to occur within the period provided for in the statute of limitations.
But if you make a payment in the interim, the statute of limitations usually resets. Also, the statute of limitations generally starts over if the lender de-accelerates the loan by giving clear notice that it is canceling the acceleration and permitting you to keep making payments.
However, at least one court in Florida has ruled that dismissing a prior foreclosure action de-accelerates the loan. (Bartram v. U.S. Bank, 211 So. 3d 1009 (Fla. 2016)). But in New York, the Foreclosure Abuse Prevention Act significantly restricted the circumstances under which the statute of limitations for a foreclosure may be reset or extended. Under this law, a lender's voluntary discontinuance of an action to foreclose a mortgage doesn't stop the six-year statute of limitations period from running.
But entering into a repayment plan or considering you for a loss mitigation option, such as by accepting loan modification trial payments, doesn't necessarily de-accelerate the loan. Again, state law and the circumstances determine whether the loan was de-accelerated and the statute of limitations restarted.
Statute of limitations laws are complicated and vary quite a bit from state to state. While a statute of limitations defense is a valuable tool that can stop a foreclosure, you must use it appropriately.
If you think that the statute of limitations has expired in your situation, consider talking to a lawyer in your state who can advise you about the length of limitations period and when it begins to run in your case, as well as advise you about the likelihood of success for a statute of limitations defense.
A lawyer can also identify any other defenses or deficiencies in the lender's foreclosure action.