Maine Attorney General Janet Mills has negotiated an agreement with one of the nation’s largest mortgage lenders, giving some financially stressed homeowners a bit of a reprieve through the holidays.

Mills announced Wednesday that GMAC Mortgage LLC has agreed to temporarily halt the sale of several dozen Maine homes that have been foreclosed on and whose owners face eviction.

Mills estimated that just under 100 properties may be affected. The temporary halt could last several weeks pending further talks between her office and GMAC about concerns over the company’s foreclosure procedures, she said.

GMAC, which is the nation’s fourth-largest mortgage lender, has been in the news lately for its so-called practice of “robo-signing” affidavits to speed up foreclosure cases.

Mills also singled out Bank of America, another major mortgage lender, which she said has agreed not to proceed to judgment on any pending foreclosure matters in Maine until it has completed a review of its foreclosure procedures. That could happen as soon as next month.

Mills urged all homeowners, regardless of whether they have fallen behind in their mortgage payments or are facing eviction, not to give up hope.

“It’s rarely cheaper to rent something. It’s always to your benefit to renegotiate your mortgage,” she said. “We are telling people not to give up.”

It’s unclear how many homes in Maine are in foreclosure proceedings begun by GMAC.

According to court documents, the company has initiated 1,156 foreclosure actions in Maine since January 2005, but the documents don’t say how many of those cases remain open, or how many are on the brink of sales.

GMAC’s spokesman James Olecki, who was contacted Wednesday night, offered a brief response.

“GMAC Mortgage has had constructive discussions with the Maine Attorney General related to foreclosure matters in that state,” Olecki said. “We have no further comment at this time.”

Mills said she has grown frustrated with Bank of America’s backlog of requests from homeowners trying to modify the terms of their mortgages to make them more affordable.

“My office is receiving calls every day from homeowners who complain that the bank lost the paperwork and that they are unable to speak with the same person twice about their loan,” Mills said. “My office will continue to insist that the banks devote more resources to loan modifications and to streamlining their modification processes.”

Mills said the state has not ruled out the possibility of joining a class action suit that has been filed by a group of plaintiffs from Maine against GMAC.

Tom Cox, a South Portland attorney, is one of six lawyers involved in the class action suit.

Cox said his clients are seeking a court order to halt foreclosure sales and evictions involving Maine homeowners whose loans are owned or serviced by GMAC.

Cox says his clients deserve the chance to stay in their homes as the courts sort through allegations that GMAC used fraudulent paperwork to speed foreclosures through Maine’s court system. A hearing has been scheduled for Dec. 10.

Mills said her office has become increasingly concerned about the rate of foreclosures in Maine.

She referred to a report that William Lund, superintendent of the state’s Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection, presented in October to the Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Insurance and Financial Services.

“The past several months brought an unusually high level of activity for the Bureau’s foreclosure prevention program,” Lund told the committee. “Maine homeowners have been receiving mortgage default notices from their lenders at an unprecedented rate.”

In Cumberland County alone more than 6,000 default notices were sent to homeowners between June 15 and Sept. 23, according to Lund.

Mills said community banks in Maine have been reasonable in handling foreclosure matters and try to work with their customers to avoid foreclosure and eviction during these difficult financial times.

The Maine Foreclosure Prevention Hotline can be reached by calling 1-888-664-2569.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]