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Home loss filings swamp courts

Hillsborough officials scramble to handle more than four times the typical number of foreclosures.

By COLLEEN JENKINS, Times Staff Writer
Published January 31, 2008


TAMPA - When new mortgage foreclosure filings hit an all-time high of 1,220 cases in November, the Hillsborough County Clerk of the Circuit Court's Office formed a task force to get a handle on the influx.

Good plan.

As of noon Wednesday, January filings have already hit a high: 1,256.

In this housing market meltdown, the uptick in foreclosure suits has become a familiar headline. Behind those harried homeowners and bothersome banks are a group of clerk's office employees doing their best to keep up with mountains of paperwork.

Here's a telling snapshot: This month's total is nearly three times the number of foreclosure suits filed in January 2007.

Pat Frank, clerk of the circuit court, is doing what she can to keep up. She formed the task force in late fall, seeking advice from employees who had proved efficient. Frank decided the circuit civil department needed more staffing. Of the four people added, two came from the official records branch. That branch of the clerk's office has seen its workload drop; people aren't buying property, so they aren't recording mortgages.

To make room for the new files, employees sent 300 boxes of old files to the warehouse and added 19 shelving units. They pushed the front counter forward to make room. And still, they feel the squeeze. "If we get an overload of more, we're going to have a problem," Frank said.

Things aren't great in Pinellas County either. The numbers aren't in yet for January, but civil court records manager Patti Hager expects them to be high. Foreclosure filings in 2007 peaked at 899 in October. Shelf space is scarce, Hager said. She's begging for a larger staff. "I know we've got enough work out there," she said.

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at cjenkins@sptimes.com or 813 226-3337.

FAST FACTS:

Filings quadruple

Mortgage foreclosure filings in Hillsborough County:

January 2006: 296

January 2007: 477

January 2008: 1,256