In the United States, size equates to status, which further determines how far an organization can push the boundaries of rules and regulations. Banks are no exception and, though they are charged with operating fairly and justly, they, too, are only looking out for themselves. Some banks will even turn down a borrower’s payment purely to allow them to induce a default.
This is what happened with Chase bank.
Black businesswoman Anne Kihagi is a real estate investor. She had no problems securing competitive loan rates with any lender for more than 15 years, including Chase, who had the best prices about 5 years ago and thus earned her business. She already had a few loans with them and had even fully paid off some prior loans, so she thought everything would go as smoothly as before – that as long as they got their full monthly payment, the bank would leave her alone.
And for more than four years, it did. Chase received all the proper payments through automatic withdrawals, the fastest and surest way for the bank to get its money on time.
Then, with no explanation, in March 2018, they stopped making withdrawals. Ms. Kihagi immediately called them and inquired what had happened. She was transferred from one department to another, and another, and another… and not a single person at Chase could explain to her why her payments suddenly stopped being accepted.
About three months later, Chase produced a list of concocted items, citing a technical default. Fabricated defaults like these are never about improper payments – they’re about tricky commercial lenders who want to force their borrowers to pay them off now.
This would often go unnoticed and unreported, but Chase picked a bad time to game this particular borrower; Ms. Kihagi had already been tortured by the City of San Francisco, whose vindictive staff continually showed its dirty hand. The City had been strategically recording restraints on Ms. Kihagi’s buildings as a “reason” for punishment, which the court has allowed despite the baselessness of the claims.
With the publicity of these attacks, Chase took its cue from the nasty City and found an opportune time to manufacture a default and force repayment.
But can a bank really play dirty and get away with it? Chase is the largest bank in the United States, but is that any excuse for abusing its customers?
This is not the first time such sinister behaviors have been investigated. A 2015 article exposed a handful of “sneaky tactics banks use to drive homeowners into foreclosure.” The article’s first example describes a bank “refus[ing] to accept a check to drive up fees and arrears or to eat up the time.” This requires “you, the homeowner… to call an attorney for help. Your bank could refuse a payment for any reason, but one of the most common techniques is to tack on extra fees – and then decline your check for not including these phony costs up front.”
About a decade ago, some banks were brought into court to answer for these kinds of actions, and the threat of the juries toned down banks’ behavior – for a time.
Today, most commercial mortgage agreements force borrowers into arbitration – and unless borrowers have amazing (expensive) attorneys, the arbitrators will normally side with the banks, as they provide repeat business.
But battles aren’t only won or lost in the courtroom; societal expectations of fair play can be a powerful weapon of the people. In every mortgage contract, there’s a duty of fair dealing which requires the bank to conduct itself in a fair manner and not take advantage of its size or status. Only two months ago, Wells Fargo’s chief executive announced his departure amid public outcry against the bank’s abuses.
All this press and theory prove that banks’ violations of their borrowers are not new, nor are they over – unless we speak up. The public needs to be educated, vigilant, and vocal in order to stop this rogue madness – what will you do to help?
For information on Anna Kihagi please go to @annekihagi1, https://annekihagisf.com/