Bank Wrongly Seizes Home, Takes Parrot

Parrot Under SiegeOops, they did it again! Bank of America wrongly seized a Pittsburgh home that it mistakenly targeted for foreclosure. This time, it took the parrot, too.

The bank released a public apology on Wednesday to Pittsburgh resident Angela Iannelli for wrongly seizing her home and snatching her beloved pet parrot last October, adding to a pool of similar incidents over the past seven months.

In their rush to foreclose, cases of mistaken foreclosures by banks have been on the rise. That can leave homeowners grappling with more than outrage: In one recent case in Galveston, Tex., a couple whose home was wrongly seized ended up with 75 pounds of rotting fish locked inside. In that situation, as in Iannelli's, the homeowners had not even defaulted on their mortgage -- in fact, they didn't even have a mortgage.
But back to Ms. Iannelli and her parrot. Iannelli's attorney, Michael Rosenzweig, a partner with Edgar Snyder and Associates, tells HousingWatch that a third-party contractor hired by BofA padlocked Iannelli's door and "trashed the house" in her absence. The Wall Street Journal, which ran a photo of Iannelli and her parrot on its front page, reports that a BofA employee assumed the house was vacant and mistakenly instructed the local contractor to change the lock on her door. The issue, however, is that Iannelli had not defaulted on her mortgage, nor did she have any reason to vacate the house.

"Bank of America -- without authorization and warning, and contrary to all laws in Pennsylvania -- broke into my client's home and left her an emotional wreck," Rosenzweig says. "This is no different than if her home was burglarized."

Rosenzweig claims that BofA violated Pennsylvania laws by not following legal foreclosure processes, which require advance notice letters and a formal foreclosure complaint delivered to the resident by a sheriff.

Cases of mistaken foreclosure seizures are becoming all too common. In the Galveston case, Alan Schroit and his wife discovered that their beach house had been seized by BofA for possible foreclosure when the couple showed up one weekend planning to throw a party (which explains the 75 pounds of fish in the freezer). After multiple attempts to unlock the door, they found a poster alerting them that their home had been seized. As in Iannelli's case, the Schroits had not been notified by the lender to pay the default amount on the loan. But that's probably because the couple did not have a mortgage with BofA -- or any lender for that matter.

According to a BofA spokesperson, "very few problem lockouts have occurred" and the bank has "zero tolerance for this kind of error." According to National Mortgage News, however, BofA admits to 11 such cases in the past seven-month period alone.

In regard to Iannelli's case, the bank spokesperson says, "Since this incident occurred in October 2009, we have taken steps to repair physical damage and we made multiple attempts to reach out to Ms. Iannelli and her attorney to address their economic concerns." Rosenzweig denies those claims, calling the bank's spokespeople "bold-faced liars," and claiming a BofA representative contacted Iannelli only once, about a month after the incident. The representative left a message on Iannelli's answering machine. But after Rosenzweig returned the call, no one from BofA has reached out to him or his client, he says.

It is true, however, that the bank fixed the damages done to the property. The carpet was vacuumed, washing machine hoses were replaced and the antifreeze dumped in sinks and toilets was taken out, admits Rosenzweig. But Iannelli was responsible for paying for new door locks and no one bothered to return her parrot for a whole week after the incident.

"After a week of calling and endless voice-mail hang-ups and runaround, the people who took the bird called and said, 'We have your bird.' [Iannelli] asked them to bring the bird and they said they wouldn't, so she had to pick it up herself," says the attorney.

Rosenzweig claims that Luke, the 11-year-old parrot, was "upset and nervous," and "took a while to be acclimated" to his former environment after his distraught owner picked him up.

After the foreclosure scare, Iannelli sought medical attention and still hasn't been able to sleep alone in her house, her lawyer says.

A BofA spokesperson says the bank "sincerely apologizes for Ms. Iannelli's experience." But Rosenzweig's challenging BofA to say it to her face. "All that Bank of America did was put out a publicity apology, but [the bank] never apologized to [Iannelli], and never made it right. Does making it right mean cleaning her carpets? No."

Social etiquette aside, BofA assures it is doing its best to prevent future mishaps, promising to better train third-party contractors and to establish a 24-hour hotline for homeowners and contractors in emergency situations. Maybe they'll set up a missing parrot hotline, too.
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