BofA: We Own Your Home, With or Without a Foreclosure

Scary thought: even though you own your home free and clear, a bank can still lock you out of it -- without even giving you notice!

That's what happened to Alan Schroit last October. The retired cancer researcher and his wife arrived at their at their beach home in the picturesque bay community of Galveston on the Texas Gulf coast for a weekend get-away. But when they went to unlock the door, the key would not work. It was then they noticed a sign saying the home they were trying to get into -- um, their home -- had been seized by Bank of America for possible foreclosure.

Never mind that the Schroits didn't even have a mortgage with Bank of America. In fact, according to their Galveston County court petition, they own the home free and clear and had never received any notice of a foreclosure action.

The couple, it seems, were among the unfortunate and growing number of Americans whose homes are wrongly possessed, padlocked and even auctioned off by overeager -- and quite mistaken -- lenders.

The problem is so widespread in high-foreclosure states that legislatures are stepping in. A new Nevada law, for example, allows for triple damages for homeowners' personal property damaged by such reckless acquisitions.

But that didn't help the Schroits out of their predicament. As they stood outside their locked home pondering the situation, something smelled fishy.

After calling the police, the Schroits managed to get into the top part of their house, where they were overcome with the stench of rotting fish --- the entree they had planned for a party the following night. That's when they realized someone had not only changed the locks but had cut off the electricity in south Texas high humidity, spoiling their food -- 75 pounds of salmon and halibut from a recent Alaskan fishing trip.

Their home was a mess. As a result of wrongful trespass, they claim, the contents of the freezer and refrigerator "sustained water damage, potential mold contamination..." and the unit had to be replaced. Flooring, lower level ceilings, and home structure was damaged due to the thawed-out, smelly food, they claim.

To add insult to injury, the Schroits claim BofA made no attempt to assist them in mitigation or even clean-up.

In fact, their attorney, Barry Brown, says it took 30 days to even get someone at the bank to call him back. On January 10, 2010, the Schroits filed their lawsuit.

This may not be the first time Bank of America has made such an error. Galveston's Daily News reported that a Wheelwright, Ky. man's home was mistakenly repossessed by BofA last October. Once he proved the bank had the wrong house, the mortgage company merely offered to cover replacing the locks.

With foreclosures becoming almost more commonplace than move-ins -- banks seized 30,000 homes last year in South Florida, or about 38 homes per day ---wrongful foreclosures are on the rise. Why is it that banks cannot seem to cut through mountains of bureaucracy despite all the bonuses and millions in taxpayer-funded relief?

As Brown, the attorney, points out in his petition:

"Perhaps in conformance to Defendant's policy of no relief for borrowers (while BAC enjoyed massive taxpayer funded relief from its own improvident actions) Defendant changed the locks... and must have observed, as only the willfully blind would not have, that the house was fully furnished and currently occupied!"

At least Citi-Residential said it was sorry when it targeted the wrong home in Kissimmee, FL. The homeowner, whose mortgage was not even with Citi, was in London at the time. Thankfully a neighbor alerted him to what was happening.

Elsewhere in foreclosure-ravaged Florida, a $260,000 Miami home was sold at a foreclosure auction for $87,000, thanks to a snafu in the Miami-Dade County clerks' office. The surprised family, who arrived home to find their belongings in the yard, was homeless for about 24 hours and didn't get back into their home, furnishings replaced, until three days later.

Then sometimes the bank just cleans up for you.

A Las Vegas woman is seeking $200,000 in damages after a foreclosure clean-up company emptied the contents of her condo while she was on vacation late last year. The home being foreclosed was next door.

Like Nevada, Texas law also protects consumers with laws requiring notice. After a foreclosure in the Lone Star state, the occupants become tenants at sufferance and banks must follow judicial eviction processes. Tenants are entitled to an eviction proceeding, and a court has to order a sheriff or constable to provide notice they need to scram.

Which, of course, never happened with the Schroits. Seems banks are perfectly able to expedite a process, just not the ones we want them to.
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