Foreclosure Vigilantes Arrested

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A California attorney who has been helping several evicted homeowners unlawfully regain entry into their foreclosed homes this month was arrested last week along with a Newport Beach man he helped break into his former home. Meanwhile, another family he helped do the same last week was ordered back out, and a third regained access.

Rene Zepeda, 72, tried to take back possession of the property that he says is rightfully his by breaking a side window with a hammer. As his wife Otillia looked on, police officers immediately arrested him and attorney Michael T. Pines.

HousingWatch wrote about Pines last week, when he had a locksmith successfully help Danielle and Jim Earl of Simi Valley temporarily regain entry into their former house (as covered in "Evicted Family Breaks Into Foreclosed Home"). The stay might also be short-lived for the Earls, however, as Friday the Ventura County Superior Court ordered them back out by Oct. 25.
Pines, with his his vigilante approach, is undeterred. Last week he also brought out a locksmith to help an Escondido family with three children regain entry to the home from which they were evicted. He says that he's not giving up until the foreclosure process is changed, because in his clients' cases the foreclosures were conducted fraudulently. Attorneys general across the U.S. have called for a temporary halt to foreclosures because, they say, many were not conducted properly, resulting in some homeowners wrongfully being evicted from their homes.

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He was charged with trespassing and vandalism, says Pines.

The gray-haired Zepeda was evicted 16 months ago from the 4,400-square-foot home, which is now on the market for $3.8 million.

Pines, who is also well known in San DIego as a personal injury and auto accident attorney, said the foreclosure was hastily pushed through and the homeowners were denied a jury trial to present evidence in court.

JPMorgan Chase now owns the property, the lender's spokesperson, Gary Kishner, told the Register. "After two illegal break-ins and squattings in a two-week period last November, a court order was obtained and sheriffs secured the property once again. Police assistance was needed today once again because of trespassing and criminal damage to the property."

Pines said their action was part of a revolt against "illegal" foreclosure and eviction practices that have caused countless people to lose their homes, and that the system needs to change.

As for the Earl family, he said that they will leave by Oct. 25, but that their plan is to turn around and move right back in again since the judge did not order a permanent injunction.

"I do not dispute the judge said they have to leave the home," he said. "If the sheriff comes they have to leave, but they can go back in."

Because the Earls might continue to take over the property, the family who was suppose to close on the home on Oct. 12 has now backed out of the deal, says listing agent Chris Garvin of Troop Real Estate. "The most innocent of all victims in this situation are the new buyers ... a family of four who are adopting their first child this month," he wrote in a statement.

"They had already funded their loan, spent money on appraisals, given notice at their current residence and were scheduled to take possession of 5893 Mustang Drive on Tuesday the 12th," Garvin continued. "They have now cancelled the transaction and are scrambling to find a place to live as they will be homeless at the end of the month. They are scared."

Pines, however, says that he will continue to advocate for his clients. He has about 70 whom he is representing and on Oct. 12 used a locksmith to help the Bolanos family regain entry to an Escondido home that was foreclosed on in August, reported the North County Times.

The Bolanoses purchased the house for $196,000 in 1999, but after the value soared they refinanced in 2005 for $400,000 so that they could purchase a larger nearby house with a backyard pool and rent out this one to family. They eventually went into foreclosure and eviction on both homes. On Pines' advice, the family has tried to move back into the larger house three times, but each time real estate agents have called the police.

Pines told HousingWatch that he does not recommend the breaking and entering method for everyone, but still, he says, "possession is nine-tenths of the law."

Word of advice: Don't try this on your own.

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