Squatter Nation: 5 years with no mortgage payment

June 12, 2011: 9:23 PM ET
Foreclosed homeowners have stopped paying their mortgages.

Millions are staying in their homes without paying their mortgages.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Charles and Jill Segal have not made a mortgage payment in nearly five years -- but they continue to live in their five-bedroom West Palm Beach, Fla. home.

Lynn, from St. Petersburg, Fla., has been living without paying for three years.

In Thousand Oaks, Calif., an actor has missed 30 payments, and still, he has not lost his home.

They're not alone.

Some 4.2 million mortgage borrowers are either seriously delinquent or have had their cases referred to lawyers to pursue foreclosure auctions, according to LPS Applied Analytics. Of those, two-thirds have made no payments at all for at least a year, and nearly one-third have gone more than two years.

These cases can go on and on. Nationwide, it takes an average of 565 days to foreclose on borrowers in default from their first missed payments to the final auction. In New York, the average is 800 days and in Florida, where the "robo-signing" issue is particularly combative, it's 807.

If they want to fight evictions hard, borrowers can remain in their homes even longer while their cases are being worked through.

The Segals have been doing that -- in court. They bought their home in 2003 with an adjustable rate mortgage. After a few years, their monthly payments tripled to $3,000, just as their home-inspection business was cratering.

The Segals want the bank to modify the mortgage so payments are affordable, and they think the court will agree that their lender put them into a toxic loan.

"The evidence will show that we were defrauded," said Jill Segal.

Walk away from your mortgage? Time to get ruthless

If they lose, of course, they'll finally have to leave. And, unfortunately, more than 50 months of missed mortgage payments hasn't translated into big savings.

"It's very hard to save," said Jill Segal. "Our company's billing is 90% off and my husband is only working about four days a week."

Lynn, who didn't want her last name used, purchased a two-bedroom on Tampa Bay in 1998 for $135,000.

As the waterfront property's value skyrocketed, eventually reaching $750,000, she refinanced twice (once to expand a business), and took out a second mortgage. She now owes more than $600,000 on the home, which is worth only $235,000.

Living in this foreclosure limbo is "Hell," Lynn said. "I feel like I'm locked in a box. I work for a financial organization and if this came out, it could cost me my job."

She's still hoping to negotiate the loan. In the meantime, small things bother her. "A couple years ago, I lost my dog and I can't decide on getting a new one," she said. If she has to move, she can't be sure she'll go somewhere that allows pets.

The actor from Thousand Oaks, Calif. began having problems during the screenwriters' strike in late 2007, followed by a threat of a strike by the Screen Actors Guild.

He's working with his lender toward a mortgage modification, submitting page after page of documents, which the bank has often misplaced or waited so long to examine them that they had grown too old to use.

His ideal outcome is get the loan modified and get all his late fees waived. He feels entitled to that because the bank advised him to stopped paying in the first place to qualify for one of the government's foreclosure programs. Before that, he had missed only one payment.

Meanwhile, he has cobbled together some income streams -- small acting parts, teaching acting classes and even handyman work.

"In a way, I feel like I'm lucky because I haven't had to pay any 'rent' for 30 months," he said.

But he feels like he's always under a cloud. "I haven't slept in three years," he said. "It's terrifying. I have to have the ultimate poker face in front of my kids."

10 dirt cheap housing markets

Ruben Martinez, a Staten Island, N.Y., man trapped in a particularly bad adjustable rate mortgage, stopped paying more than three years ago. His attorney, Robert Brown, has managed to stave off one foreclosure.

Martinez, still struggling to find work, has little in savings despite the missed payments. He's earning some income as a pastor and consulting for a non-profit family counseling organization.

"There's pressure on me every day," he said. "I have a wife, three daughters and two grandchildren. Where are we going to live?" To top of page


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