While Clermont County has long been known for its high rate of growth in housing, the local market has not been immune to the downturn that has affected the housing market nationally.
Judge Robert Ringland, of the Clermont County Court of Common Pleas, said that he hopes to throw a lifeline to local lenders and homeowners and create a way to slow or even reverse the housing decline in southern Ohio.
“Basically, this is an effort by the courts to address the foreclosure glut,” said Judge Ringland. “I estimate that we’ve had about a 13-15 percent increase in filings in just this last year in this county alone. We see that there are a lot of secondary effects of this. People are losing their homes, and people who keep the homes are losing property values. The people who have the homes can’t sell them when they go on the market, the banks buy them back, and the houses stay vacant. There’s a ripple effect.”
Judge Ringland said that the idea is to create a method of getting lenders and lendees together when times are tough, a method that will be sustainable and effective enough to create answers.
"What we would like to do is address the problem," said Judge Ringland. "This isn't judicial activism, which is changing the law to meet the needs. We want to find the tools within the law to address the problem, and one way is mediation where we can get the homeowner noticed as soon as the foreclosure is filed. They can meet with the lending institution to see if there is a way to find middle ground short of foreclosure to save the home or assist in getting a better price for the home."
The goal, said Judge Ringland, is to save homes, although he knows that is not always a possibility.
"Some people will have to lose their home, they are too far in debt," said Judge Ringland. "Some may be able to work it out. There should be something short of bankruptcy and losing your home. We want to save people's homes. We're meeting with the lending institutions, and some who can't be there are interested in participating. We want to know who is interested in doing this, and that will be explored."
Judge Ringland said that he got the idea from a friend and fellow judge, who has been working on a similar project in another area in Ohio. This, however, would be the first forum of its type in southern Ohio. The state's highest court will also be watching, as the Ohio Supreme Court has been tinkering with the concept of creating its own version of this type of service.
"The Supreme Court is involved, they have a mediation department," said Judge Ringland. "They are interested in following this meeting and getting information from us. They are thinking about making this a statewide program. I'm not the first to do this, I stay in touch with my colleagues, and one is working on this program, which is where I got the idea. I'm trying to spread the word that judges need to do something in southern Ohio. We want the lending institution and homeowner to get together and work out a solution."
Last year, more than 1,000 homes were lost to foreclosure, many of which have been bought by the lending institutions responsible for their mortgage. Local authorities have been overwhelmed by foreclosure activity, specifically in the area of sheriff foreclosed property sales. Judge Ringland said that this new approach, if successful, would be worth the extra work and responsibility to his department.
"Courts are set up to resolve disputes, and this is one way to resolve it," said Judge Ringland. "The sheriff is swamped with foreclosure sales. They are overwhelmed. We're trying to find ways short of that to save additional expense and effort. The lending institutions are becoming the owners of vacant homes. They aren't in the business of owning real estate, so they are suffering too. I'm looking for a win-win situation, although it may make more work for the courts. However, the sheriff will win, the lending institutions will win and the homeowners will win, so I'm willing to put in more work to make sure that happens."