Linda Erkkila Weighs in on Ohio Putting Foreclosure to the “Fast-Track”

Safeguard in the News
June 15, 2015

Source: Source: DS News

Counsel’s Corner: Fast-Track Foreclosure Bill Will Put Ohio Housing and Economy On the Right Track

As General Counsel for nationwide property preservation and field services company Safeguard Properties, Linda Erkkila’s broad scope of management covers regulatory issues that impact Safeguard’s operations, pro-active risk mitigation, litigation and claims management, and counsel related to mergers, acquisition and joint ventures. Her practice spans more than 15 years, and her experience, both as outside and in-house counsel, covers a wide range of corporate matters, including regulatory mandated public disclosure, corporate governance compliance, risk assessment, and merger and acquisition activity. Linda recently spoke with DS News about proposed fast-track foreclosure legislation in Safeguard’s home state of Ohio. The bill, known as Ohio HB 134, has passed unanimously in the Ohio House and is awaiting vote in the state Senate.

How do you think the fast-track foreclosure law will impact the housing market?

First and foremost, lenders have to avail themselves of the statute for there to be any impact. That may sound like stating the obvious, but there are multiple states that enacted fast-track foreclosure statutes that are not used by lenders, and those tend to be cases where the statutes are not well crafted and provide little or no benefit to the lender, or where the procedures are overly cumbersome.

Ohio’s bill is well-drafted and, assuming lenders take advantage of and use the statute if enacted, the housing market should slowly start to improve as properties start to turnover and values slowly creep up. The inventory of abandoned and blighted houses that sell at a discount will go down, and a more traditional housing market can be restored.

How do you think it will impact the industry in Ohio?

A traditional housing market, and by that I mean normally functioning housing market, is a keystone to any state’s general economic health. Ohio has had its share of struggles, but Ohio also has a great deal to offer in critical and sophisticated industries, such as healthcare, education, aerospace, and bioscience. Getting Ohio’s housing market on an upward, positive trend coupled with continued growth in those industries can only bring positive overall economic impact in Ohio.

Do you think there is any downside to this law?

I see no apparent downside. When you reach a point where someone stops paying the mortgage, has abandoned the home and is not responding to any of the lender’s outreach efforts, there is no benefit to prolonging the inevitable. At that point, the communities in which the abandoned properties are located suffer, as do the local governments and court systems due to the overall strain that these properties put on communities, governments and court systems. To be clear, lenders want to keep borrowers in their homes, and they take many steps prior to foreclosure to make that possible. When those efforts fail and the property is abandoned, efforts have to shift to protecting the property and the surrounding neighborhoods and communities.

How do you find the balance between not dragging out the foreclosure process but at the same time making sure borrowers have been given all the loss mitigation options?

If you set timelines and milestones for responsiveness by borrowers, absolutely deference should be given to providing the borrowers the opportunities they need to modify their loans. A decent indicator of a borrower’s desire to work through a loan modification is whether the borrower continues to occupy the property. Once a borrower stops paying the mortgage and vacates the property, and is not responding to outreach, foreclosure is likely the inevitable outcome. Again, to be clear, the best outcome for a lender is to work out a loan modification with the borrower to keep the borrower in the property. To the extent there are foreclosure statutes that set forth timelines for outreach to give the borrower the opportunity to stay in the property, those opportunities take precedence. That is the better outcome. But when you get to the point where all that fails, efforts need to be redirected to protecting the community.

How do think this will affect foreclosure laws in other states?

Eight states already have fast-track foreclosure statutes. As I mentioned, some work well and some do not. Over time, I expect states that have yet to propose fast-track foreclosure statutes to look at those states which have successfully enacted statutes and for which lenders have taken advantage of and states have benefited from, and model bills after those successful states. I think Ohio will be among those states that are viewed as having a model statute if it is enacted and if lenders take advantage of it.

A critical component of a good fast-track foreclosure bill is establishing a practical and responsible definition for determining whether a property is “vacant or abandoned” to properly identify properties eligible for fast-tracking foreclosure. The Ohio bill sets forth logical and relevant factors for making that determination. Some statutes only target severely deteriorated properties, and that falls short of the goal of early intervention. Ohio’s basis for determining abandoned properties is solid, and that sturdy foundation enhances the bill’s suitability and purpose.

Do you think more similar legislation will follow?

If other states see positive economic impact, then yes and, again, those states will look to model their bills after those that have been successfully implemented and have yielded clear positive economic results. Again, these statues are aimed at rebuilding and reenergizing neighborhoods, communities and economies, and there still many states across the country suffering from the mortgage crisis, even seven years later. If fast-track foreclosures prove to be a viable part of multiple states’ recuperation, then I expect other states to follow suit and stick with this trend. Then, if over time, the fast-track legislation is not yielding results, there may be alternative types of companion or different legislation.

If you could add anything to this fast tracking bill in Ohio, what would it be?

Compared to other fast-track state legislation, I think Ohio got it right. The bill takes a very logical and straightforward approach to fast-tracking foreclosure on abandoned properties. Again, the Ohio bill provides clear and concise direction for identifying vacant and abandoned homes, which is a critically important first step in the process. The downfall of these statutes are usually timelines that cannot be reasonably met and forms and documents that cannot be reasonably obtained, so we will have to see how implementation eventually plays out, but, again, Ohio appears to at least have gotten the first step correct by crafting a bill with a practical process for fast-track foreclosures.

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CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER

Alan Jaffa

Alan Jaffa is the chief executive officer for Safeguard, steering the company as the mortgage field services industry leader. He also serves on the board of advisors for SCG Partners, a middle-market private equity fund focused on diversifying and expanding Safeguard Properties’ business model into complimentary markets.

Alan joined Safeguard in 1995, learning the business from the ground up. He was promoted to chief operating officer in 2002, and was named CEO in May 2010. His hands-on experience has given him unique insights as a leader to innovate, improve and strengthen Safeguard’s processes to assure that the company adheres to the highest standards of quality and customer service.

Under Alan’s leadership, Safeguard has grown significantly with strategies that have included new and expanded services, technology investments that deliver higher quality and greater efficiency to clients, and strategic acquisitions. He takes a team approach to process improvement, involving staff at all levels of the organization to address issues, brainstorm solutions, and identify new and better ways to serve clients.

In 2008, Alan was recognized by Crain’s Cleveland Business in its annual “40-Under-40” profile of young leaders. He also was named a NEO Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year® finalist in 2013.

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Chief Operating Officer

Michael Greenbaum

Michael Greenbaum is the chief operating officer for Safeguard. Mike has been instrumental in aligning operations to become more efficient, effective, and compliant with our ever-changing industry requirements. Mike has a proven track record of excellence, partnership and collaboration at Safeguard. Under Mike’s leadership, all operational departments of Safeguard have reviewed, updated and enhanced their business processes to maximize efficiency and improve quality control.

Mike joined Safeguard in July 2010 as vice president of REO and has continued to take on additional duties and responsibilities within the organization, including the role of vice president of operations in 2013 and then COO in 2015.

Mike built his business career in supply-chain management, operations, finance and marketing. He has held senior management and executive positions with Erico, a manufacturing company in Solon, Ohio; Accel, Inc., a packaging company in Lewis Center, Ohio; and McMaster-Carr, an industrial supply company in Aurora, Ohio.

Before entering the business world, Mike served in the U.S. Army, Ordinance Branch, and specialized in supply chain management. He is a distinguished graduate of West Point (U.S. Military Academy), where he majored in quantitative economics.

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CHEIF INFORMATION OFFICER

George Mehok

George Mehok is the chief information officer for Safeguard. He is responsible for all strategic technology decisions, new systems deployments and data center operations supporting a national network of more than 10,000 mobile workers.

George has more than 20 years of leadership experience dedicated to high-growth companies in the mobile telecommunications and financial services industries, spanning startups to global industry leaders.

George played a senior role in the formation of Verizon Wireless, leading the IT product development and strategic planning team. He led the integration planning for the Verizon merger including: GTE, Vodafone-AirTouch, Bell Atlantic Mobile and PrimeCo.

As chief information officer at Revol Wireless, a VC-backed CDMA wireless communications network operator, George’s team implemented an integrated technology infrastructure and award-winning business intelligence platform.

George holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and economics from Eastern Michigan University and an M.B.A. from The Ohio State University. He is a board member of Akron University’s School of Business Center for Information Technology, in addition to an advisory board member for OHTec.

In 2013, George won the Crain’s Cleveland Business CIO of the Year award for his team’s work in completing a major acquisition and technology transformation at Safeguard. In 2015, George’s team was recognized by InformationWeek’s annual Elite 100 ranking of the most innovative U.S.-based users of business technology. The mobile inspection technology developed at Safeguard was selected as InformationWeek’s “One of the top 20 ideas to steal in 2015”.

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General Counsel and Executive Vice President

Linda Erkkila, Esq.

Linda Erkkila is the general counsel and executive vice president for Safeguard, with oversight responsibilities for the legal, human resources, training, compliance and audit departments. Linda’s broad scope of oversight covers regulatory issues that impact Safeguard’s operations, pro-active risk mitigation, enterprise strategic planning, human capital and training initiatives, compliance and audit services, litigation and claims management, and counsel related to mergers, acquisition and joint ventures.

Linda’s oversight of the legal department along with multiple compliance and human capital focused departments assures that Safeguard’s strategic initiatives align with its resources, leverage opportunities across the company, and contemplate compliance mandates. Her practice spans almost 20 years, and Linda’s experience, both as outside and in-house counsel, covers a wide range of corporate matters, including regulatory disclosure, corporate governance compliance, risk assessment, executive compensation, litigation management, and merger and acquisition activity. Her experience at a former Fortune 500 financial institution during the subprime crisis helped develop Linda’s pro-active approach to change management during periods of heightened regulatory scrutiny.

Linda previously served as vice president and attorney for National City Corporation, as securities and corporate governance counsel for Agilysys Inc., and as an associate at Thompson Hine LLP. She earned her JD at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. Linda holds a degree in economics from Miami University and an MBA. In 2017, Linda was named as both a “Woman of Influence” by HousingWire and as a “Leading Lady” by MReport.

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Chief Financial Officer

Joe Iafigliola

Joe Iafigliola is the Chief Financial Officer for Safeguard. Joe is responsible for the Control, Quality Assurance, Business Development, Accounting & Information Security departments, and is a Managing Director of SCG Partners, a middle-market private equity fund focused on diversifying and expanding Safeguard Properties’ business model into complimentary markets.

Joe has been in a wide variety of roles in finance, supply chain management, information systems development, and sales and marketing. His career includes senior positions with McMaster-Carr Supply Company, Newell/Rubbermaid, and Procter and Gamble.

Joe has an MBA from The Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University, is a Certified Management Accountant (CMA), and holds a bachelor’s degree from The Ohio State University’s Honors Accounting program.

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AVP, High Risk and Investor Compliance

Steve Meyer

Steve Meyer is the assistant vice president of high risk and investor compliance for Safeguard. In this role, Steve is responsible for managing our clients’ conveyance processes, Safeguard’s investor compliance team and developing our working relationships with cities and municipalities around the country. He also works directly with our clients in our many outreach efforts and he represents Safeguard at a number of industry conferences each year.

Steve joined Safeguard in 1998 as manager over the hazard claims team. He was instrumental in the development and creation of policies, procedures and operating protocol. Under Steve’s leadership, the department became one of the largest within Safeguard. In 2002, he assumed responsibility for the newly-formed high risk department, once again building its success. Steve was promoted to director over these two areas in 2007, and he was promoted to assistant vice president in 2012.

Prior to joining Safeguard, Steve spent 10 years within the insurance industry, holding a number of positions including multi-line property adjuster, branch claims supervisor, and multi-line and subrogation/litigation supervisor. Steve is a graduate of Grove City College.

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AVP, Operations

Jennifer Jozity

Jennifer Jozity is the assistant vice president of operations, overseeing inspections, REO and property preservation for Safeguard. Jen ensures quality work is performed in the field and internally, to meet and exceed our clients’ expectations. Jen has demonstrated the ability to deliver consistent results in order audit and order management.  She will build upon these strengths in order to deliver this level of excellence in both REO and property preservation operations.

Jen joined Safeguard in 1997 and was promoted to director of inspections operations in 2009 and assistant vice president of inspections operations in 2012.

She graduated from Cleveland State University with a degree in business.

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AVP, Finance

Jennifer Anspach

Jennifer Anspach is the assistant vice president of finance for Safeguard. She is responsible for the company’s national workforce of approximately 1,000 employees. She manages recruitment strategies, employee relations, training, personnel policies, retention, payroll and benefits programs. Additionally, Jennifer has oversight of the accounts receivable and loss functions formerly within the accounting department.

Jennifer joined the company in April 2009 as a manager of accounting and finance and a year later was promoted to director. She was named AVP of human capital in 2014. Prior to joining Safeguard, she held several management positions at OfficeMax and InkStop in both operations and finance.

Jennifer is a graduate of Youngstown State University. She was named a Crain’s Cleveland Business Archer Award finalist for HR Executive of the Year in 2017.

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AVP, Application Architecture

Rick Moran

Rick Moran is the assistant vice president of application architecture for Safeguard. Rick is responsible for evolving the Safeguard IT systems. He leads the design of Safeguard’s enterprise application architecture. This includes Safeguard’s real-time integration with other systems, vendors and clients; the future upgrade roadmap for systems; and standards designed to meet availability, security, performance and goals.

Rick has been with Safeguard since 2011. During that time, he has led the system upgrades necessary to support Safeguard’s growth. In addition, Rick’s team has designed and implemented several innovative systems.

Prior to joining Safeguard, Rick was director of enterprise architecture at Revol Wireless, a privately held CDMA Wireless provider in Ohio and Indiana, and operated his own consulting firm providing services to the manufacturing, telecommunications, and energy sectors.

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AVP, Technology Infrastructure and Cloud Services

Steve Machovina

Steve Machovina is the assistant vice president of technology infrastructure and cloud services for Safeguard. He is responsible for the overall management and design of Safeguard’s hybrid cloud infrastructure. He manages all technology engineering staff who support data centers, telecommunications, network, servers, storage, service monitoring, and disaster recovery.

Steve joined Safeguard in November 2013 as director of information technology operations.

Prior to joining Safeguard, Steve was vice president of information technology at Revol Wireless, a privately held wireless provider in Ohio and Indiana. He also held management positions with Northcoast PCS and Corecomm Communications, and spent nine years as a Coast Guard officer and pilot.

Steve holds a BBA in management information systems from Kent State University in Ohio and an MBA from Wayne State University in Michigan.

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AVP, Mobile and Analytics

Jason Heckman

Jason Heckman is the assistant vice president of mobile and analytics for Safeguard. He is responsible for both Safeguard’s mobile development and strategy as well as the company’s data warehousing and business intelligence. Jason oversees the design, development and release of all Safeguard’s internally developed mobile applications. He also oversees the development and delivery of operational and analytical data technologies throughout the organization.

Jason joined Safeguard as manager of mobile in 2012. During that time he led the development and integration of Safeguard’s mobile applications across the company’s vendor network to provide real-time data from the field. In 2014, he was promoted to director of mobile applications and named assistant vice president in 2017.

Prior to joining Safeguard, Jason was the director of application development and business intelligence for Revol Wireless, a privately held wireless provider in Ohio and Indiana.

Jason holds a bachelor’s degree in business management from Case Western Reserve University in Ohio.

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AVP, Business Development

Tim Rath

Tim Rath is the AVP of business development for Safeguard. He is responsible for developing innovative growth strategies for Safeguard and developing and overseeing potential partnerships, mergers and acquisitions.

Tim joined Safeguard in 2011 as project director and has filled numerous roles within Vendor Management, most recently serving as director of vendor management, a role he assumed in 2011.

Prior to Safeguard, Tim worked as director of supply chain at PartsSource Inc. in Aurora, Ohio, a provider of medical replacement parts, procurement solutions and healthcare supply chain management technology services. He also has held sales positions with Rexel, ComDoc, and Pier Associates, all based in Ohio.

Tim holds a degree in marketing and sales from The University of Akron in Akron, Ohio. He also earned his FAA Certified Commercial UAS (Drone) Pilot license in 2017.