Bank of America Getting Into the Landlord Business

Bank of America, the nation's second-largest lender, is launching a pilot program this week that will offer a limited number of customers behind on their mortgages to transition from owner to renter.

Bank of America branch, New York City.
Oliver Quillia for
Bank of America branch, New York City.

The bank, which was saddled with thousands of delinquent loans when it took over mortgage giant Countrywide, says that beginning this week "in targeted hard-hit markets," it will offer a limited number of mortgage customers who are facing foreclosure an opportunity to remain in their homes, and transition to tenant status. The program is called “Mortgage to Lease.”

“This pilot will help determine whether conversion from homeownership to rental is something our customers, the community and investors will support," said Ron Sturzenegger, Legacy Asset Servicing executive at Bank of America in a statement. "This program may have the potential to further round out the broad set of solutions we offer our customers in need of assistance.”

Borrowers will not be able to apply for the program, rather it is through "invitation" only, and the pilot will be less than 1,000 customers. It will be tested in Arizona, Nevada, and New York.

"Pilot participants will transfer title to their properties to the bank and have their outstanding mortgage debt forgiven. In exchange, they may lease their home for up to three years at or below the current market rental rate," according to a statement. The rent will be less than the mortgage payment and the (former) homeowner will have no financial obligations to the property, like taxes and insurance.

Bank of America will work through property management companies to handle the pilot. This announcement comes just after FHFA, the regulator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, last month launched a pilot program for investors to buy Fannie Mae properties in bulk, as long as they rent them for a number of years.

A Bank of America spokesman tells CNBC, "We'll own the properties only in the pilot and only initially. If a decision is made to roll out a full program, Bank of America would not be in the ownership position at all."

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