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Court Rules Against HUD in Reverse Mortgage Non-Borrowing Spouse Suit

A court of appeals this week ruled in favor of two plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed more than two years ago by the surviving spouse of a reverse mortgage borrower.

The ruling places the Department of Housing and Urban Development as responsible for providing a remedy for the plaintiffs, who first sued the agency in March 2011 over the right to remain in their homes, protected as homeowners. 

Represented by the AARP Litigation Foundation, plaintiffs Robert Bennet of Annapolis, Maryland and Leila Joseph of Brooklyn, NY who claimed the Department of Housing and Urban Development violated federal law in foreclosing on the homes they had shared their late spouses—reverse mortgage borrowers—for which they were not on the home titles.

The court had previously dismissed the case for lack of standing, but it was brought back by AARP in early 2013 in the court of appeals. 

The judge ruled Monday on the case, in which the plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment that HUD’s regulation violates the federal law as well as demanded that HUD be required to “take steps immediately to provide Plaintiffs the protection” of the rule as interpreted. 

Under the ruling, HUD must grant “relief” through a remedy to the issue, though that remedy has not been determined. 

In its judgement, the court stated it is now HUD’s prerogative to decide how best to provide relief. 

AARP noted the implications for an unknown number of non-borrowing spouses, in response to the ruling. 

“The decision marks a turning point for surviving spouses such as our clients and ensures that they will receive the protections guaranteed by the law: that they will be able to remain in their homes, despite the loss of their husband or wife,” said Jean Constantine-Davis, senior attorney with AARP Foundation Litigation.

AARP said the decision will ultimately affect an “untold but substantial number” of similar surviving spouses.

HUD had not returned a request for comment as of press time. 

Written by Elizabeth Ecker