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From the nytimes.com, via cnbc.com:

Truckee, Calif. When Mimi Ash arrived at her mountain chalet here for a weekend ski trip, she discovered that someone had broken into the home and changed the locks.

When she finally got into the house, it was empty. All of her possessions were gone: furniture, her son’s ski medals, winter clothes and family photos. Also missing was a wooden box, its top inscribed with the words “Together Forever,” that contained the ashes of her late husband, Robert.

The culprit, Ms. Ash soon learned, was not a burglar but her bank. According to a federal lawsuit filed in October by Ms. Ash, Bank of America had wrongfully foreclosed on her house and thrown out her belongings, without alerting Ms. Ash beforehand.

In Texas, Bank of America had the locks changed and the electricity shut off last year at Alan Schroit’s second home in Galveston, according to court papers. Mr. Schroit, who had paid off the house, had stored 75 pounds of salmon and halibut in his refrigerator and freezer, caught during a recent Alaskan fishing vacation.

“Lacking power, the freezer’s contents melted, spoiled and reeking melt water spread through the property and leaked through the flooring into joists and lower areas,” the lawsuit says. The case was settled for an undisclosed amount.

More common are cases like Ms. Ash’s, in which a homeowner was behind on payments, perhaps trying to work out a modification, when bank crews changed the locks.

In Florida, contractors working for Chase Bank used a screwdriver to enter Debra Fischer’s house in Punta Gorda and helped themselves to a laptop, an iPod, a cordless drill, six bottles of wine and a frosty beer, left half-empty on the counter, according to assertions in a lawsuit filed in August. Ms. Fisher was facing foreclosure, but Chase had not yet obtained a court order, her lawyer says.

The break-in was discovered when a Canadian couple renting the house returned from the beach.

Alan Jaffa, chief executive of Safeguard Properties, which inspects and maintains foreclosed properties for mortgage servicers, acknowledged that a handful of mistakes had been made. In most instances, he said, his company provided a valuable service that protected properties and neighborhoods.

“There is a stigma that we go in, kick the door in and throw grandma out head first and board up the windows,” Mr. Jaffa said. “We are doing a lot of good out there.”

But Alan M. White, a consumer law expert at Valparaiso University in Indiana, says: “Volume is not an excuse for violating someone’s rights.”

A clause in most mortgages allows banks that service the loan to enter a home and secure it if it is in default, meaning if the mortgage payment is 45 to 60 days late, and if the house has been abandoned, authorities said.

Banks do so to protect the property from vandalism or damage for which the bank could be liable.

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