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Borrower’s Death Does NOT Automatically Accelerate a Reverse Mortgage

Does the death of the borrower automatically accelerate a reverse mortgage? In a decision that is good news for reverse mortgage lenders, a recent New York appellate court answered no. In Mortgage Solutions v. Fattizzo, _ AD3d_, (2d Dep’t, May 1, 2019), the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Second Department, considered whether the statute of limitations for enforcing reverse mortgage loans begins to run upon the death of the borrower. Defendant contended that the foreclosure action, filed August 6, 2014, was time-barred by the six year New York Statute of Limitations because the cause of action accrued on the date the borrower died, February 19, 2008.

The Court focused on the language in the reverse mortgage at issue – “[l]ender may require immediate payment in full of all outstanding principal and accrued interest if …” (emphasis added) – and noted that it confers upon the holder of the note and mortgage the option, but not the obligation, to accelerate payment of the debt. The Court held that an affirmative act by the lender was needed to accelerate the debt.

Accordingly, in New York, absent different language in the mortgage, the death of the borrower does not automatically amount to accrual of a cause of action for purposes of the statute of limitations. This is a departure from prior New York case law, although the same conclusion recently reached under Florida law.

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Statute of Limitations on Reverse Mortgages

In Hayes v. Reverse Mortgage Solutions, Inc., No. 3D17-1603 (Fla. 3d DCA Nov. 21, 2018), a case of first impression, the Florida Third District Court of Appeals considered whether the statute of limitations for enforcing reverse mortgage loans begins on the date the note matures or upon the death of the borrower.

Defendant contended that the foreclosure action, filed in 2014, was time-barred by the Florida statute of limitation because the cause of action accrued on the date the borrower died in 2008, or alternatively, upon the mortgagee’s acceleration of the reverse mortgage when a prior foreclosure action was filed in 2009. Finding that the language in the reverse mortgage at issue (“[l]ender may require immediate payment in full of all sums secured by this Security Instrument if: (i) A Borrower dies …”) confers upon the mortgagee the right, but not the obligation, to accelerate payment of the debt, the Court held acceleration of the debt based on the death of the borrower is optional and therefore does not automatically amount to accrual of the cause for purposes of the statute of limitations.

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