(Pictured L to R: Shruti Joshi – LASNNY Staff Attorney, Donna Connors, Donald Connors. In front: Butters & Betty White)
By Megan Harrington
Donna Connors and her husband, Donald, purchased their Columbia County home back in 2004 when Donna says, “Banks were giving away mortgages like hot dogs at a baseball game.” Their modest $225,000 home sits on 5 acres of property, just outside the city of Hudson and at first; their monthly payment was a reasonable $1,300. However, they soon saw their payment spike under an adjustable-rate mortgage. During this same time period, their small business began losing money due to the downturn in the economy and the Connors found themselves unable to keep up with their mortgage payments. Donna explains, “The most lucrative areas of our business were major kitchen and bath renovations and water treatment. When the economy started heading down the toilet, most of our customers (as well as ourselves) were mainly concerned with keeping their homes and the focus became repairing instead of renovating or upgrading.” She continues, “At the same time, our mortgage payments doubled. It was the perfect storm. Legal aid was the lifeline that saved us, and I am certain, many others too.”
Donna and Donald first contacted a local housing agency where they discussed their options. From there, they were referred to the Legal Aid Society of Northern New York (LASNNY). Donna says, “We visited the LASNNY office and met with Shruti Joshi, a staff attorney.” Joshi was assigned to the Connors’ case and immediately got to work. Donna says, “Shruti was so professional and it was so easy to work with her.”
Joshi says, “The Connors reached out to us in early 2017 because they had fallen behind in payments due to loss of income. They had already been declined for a loan modification, but they were given vague boilerplate reasons for the denial.” Joshi says that fortunately when she got involved, the Connors were still in settlement conferences. She explains, “It’s required under law that both parties [lender and homeowner] negotiate under good faith to try and avoid foreclosure.” In an effort to reach a deal, Joshi went over the modification denial in more detail and she was able
to point out to the bank why their initial responses were incorrect.
Thanks to Joshi’s diligence, the Connors were granted a loan modification and their new payment is much more affordable. Joshi says, “The bank eventually came back with an offer and now the Connors have a lower monthly payment and a lower interest rate.” She continues, “Donna and Donald’s life really turned around at this point and things started looking up.”
Donna couldn’t agree more. She says, “After we received the modification, we were able to reconstruct our lives and move forward.” With their load lightened, Donald was able to secure a new job as a full time plumber and Donna began running her own home business, a doggie daycare. Donna says, “Our property has great fencing and a big yard – it’s ideal for the daycare as well as the therapy dogs that we raise.”
By staying in their home/at their property, the Connors have been able to keep their dogs – something that might not have been possible if they lost their home and had to look for a rental. The pets are a part of the Connors family, but they also benefit the local community – Donna takes the therapy dogs for visits at a nearby assisted care home and youth detention center.
The Connors’ story has a happy ending, thanks in part to Joshi’s hard work and Donna and Donald’s willingness to seek help. Joshi says, “Homeowners don’t always understand legal jargon…the Connors could have just ‘Okay, we’re headed for foreclosure, there’s nothing we can do,’ but instead we were able to help them understand their options.”
Geri Pomerantz, managing attorney of Legal Aid’s foreclosure prevention project, reiterates the importance of having legal help. She says, “Donna’s case demonstrates the difference that having an attorney—especially a highly competent, tenacious, and dedicated attorney like Shruti Joshi—can make for a homeowner in a residential mortgage foreclosure action.”