Thousands of homeowners devastated by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita are accusing their mortgage lender of recanting on its promise to suspend their mortgage payments in the immediate aftermath of the hurricanes.
In what they now consider a deal too good to be true, homeowners say Countrywide Home Loans promised they wouldn't have to make payments on their mortgages for three to six months.
From its corporate headquarters in California, the country's largest mortgage lender issued a press release about the offer and put it in writing to homeowners, adding, "Late charges will not be assessed."
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"There would basically be a freeze on our payment, and our payments would be put on the back end," Donna Hellmer of Hammond, La., told ABC News.
Donna and her husband Andrew didn't make the payments. But then Countrywide sent them a notice of default, demanding the missed payments plus late fees in a lump sum, a total of $4,300 due in 30 days.
"They basically told me this was the deal, 'You pay the lump sum, or you're going to be foreclosed on,'" recalled Hellmer, who, along with her husband Andrew, had to take out a new loan to pay Countrywide and keep their home.
The story is one Chad and Rebecca Goodwin of Houston, Texas, know all too well.
They too faced foreclosure and are now suing Countrywide after capturing on tape what their lawyers say is an important admission by a Countrywide representative:
"What they promised me was that it would be tacked on to the end of my loan," Chad says on the call, according to the recording.
"A lot of people were told that, but it wasn't the case," the Countrywide employee says. "Unfortunately, what happened is we were hoping our banks would let us do it, and they wouldn't."
Listen to the Countrywide Call.
According to the Goodwins' lawyer, Jill Bowman, that is just a cover-up. "Quite frankly what happened is they decided not to keep this promise," she told ABC News. "I think because it was going to cost them money."
For the Hellmers in Louisiana, Countrywide's broken promise means paying $200 more a month than they were before Hurricane Katrina.
"They took advantage of people while they were down," she said. "They created more of a financial hardship for us than the hurricane did."
Countrywide has denied the allegations, and in a statement to ABC News, says it "has been diligently working with customers to develop individual repayment plans."
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