California enacts new homeowner protection laws

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Authorities will have more time and tools to investigate mortgage fraud under legislation Gov. Jerry Brown announced signing Tuesday.

The state attorney general's office will be able to convene a statewide grand jury to investigate financial crimes involving victims in multiple counties under SB1474 by Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley. Brown also signed AB1950 by Assemblyman Mike Davis, D-Los Angeles, giving prosecutors three years instead of the current one year to file charges in mortgage-related crimes.

A third bill, AB2610 by Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, requires that new owners of foreclosed homes give tenants at least 90 days before starting eviction proceedings. The homebuyer also must honor tenants' existing fixed-term leases under most circumstances.

The bills were sought by Attorney General Kamala Harris as part of her Homeowners Bill of Rights package. Harris, a Democrat, has made responding to the mortgage crisis a priority during her nearly two years in office.

"California has been the epicenter of the foreclosure and mortgage crisis," she said in a statement. She said the bills "will provide basic fairness and transparency for homeowners, and improve the mortgage process for everyone."

Brown previously approved AB2314, by Assemblywoman Wilmer Carter, D-Rialto, which increases penalties if vacant homes are not maintained, as well as a conference committee bill that requires lenders to give borrowers a single point of contact and delay foreclosure proceedings while they negotiate with borrowers.

He also signed several other mortgage-related bills, including AB1599 by Assemblyman Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles, which requires lenders to translate key portions of foreclosure documents into borrowers' primary language. AB2521 by Assemblyman Robert Blumenfield, Sherman Oaks, specifies what landlords must do with personal property left behind by tenants.

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