BOSTON, April 26, 2012 – Foreclosure activity in Massachusetts rose significantly during the month of March, according to the latest report by The Warren Group, publisher of Banker & Tradesman. The number of foreclosures initiated by lenders spiked nearly 55 percent from a year earlier.

Lenders filed 1,621 petitions to foreclose in March, a 54.7 percent increase from 1,048 in March 2011. A total of 4,348 petitions to foreclose have been filed in Massachusetts during the first quarter, a 71.5 percent increase from 2,535 in the first quarter of last year. Petitions to foreclose represent the first step in the foreclosure process in Massachusetts.

One of the reasons for the dramatic gains is that foreclosure activity was significantly slower in 2011. A national foreclosure suit against lenders coupled with a new law extending the right-to-cure period to 150 days caused for a major slowdown in foreclosure activity.

“Banks are stepping up foreclosures all over the country, and Massachusetts is no exception,” said The Warren Group CEO Timothy M. Warren Jr. “Since the suit by state attorneys general over foreclosure abuses has been settled, a cloud has lifted and we may see numbers continue to rise.”

Foreclosure deeds, which represent finished foreclosures, also posted a sharp increase in March. Foreclosure deeds rose 36.5 percent to 856 in March, up from 627 in March 2011. Foreclosure deeds totaled 2,254 in the first quarter of 2012, a 34.4 percent increase from 1,677 in the first quarter of 2011.

“We should note that foreclosure activity this year is well below the peak levels that we saw from 2007-2010,” Warren said. “For example, March’s elevated number of petitions to foreclose is still 37 percent below the number we saw in March 2010.”

The number of auction announcements tracked by The Warren Group fell in March compared to a year earlier. There were 1,214 auction announcements in March, a 3 percent decrease from 1,254 announcements during the same month last year. In the first three months of the year, there were 4,174 auction announcements, up 26.7 percent from 3,293 during the same period in 2011.