Foreclosuregate Update: Banks accused of illegally breaking into homes


Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

The New York Times reports, Banks Accused of Illegally Breaking Into Homes:

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 an era when millions of homes have received foreclosure notices nationwide, lawsuits detailing bank break-ins like the one at Ms. Ash’s house keep surfacing. And in the wake of the scandal involving shoddy, sometimes illegal paperwork that has buffeted the nation’s biggest banks in recent months, critics say these situations reinforce their claims that the foreclosure process is fundamentally flawed.

“Every day, smaller wrongs happen to people trying to save their homes: being charged the wrong amount of money, being wrongly denied a loan modification, being asked to hand over documents four or five times,” said Ira Rheingold, executive director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates.

Identifying the number of homeowners who were locked out illegally is difficult. But banks and their representatives insist that situations like Ms. Ash’s represent just a tiny percentage of foreclosures.

Many of the incidents that have become public appear to have been caused by confusion over whether a house is abandoned, in which case a bank may have the right to break in and make sure the property is secure.

Some of the cases appear to be mistakes involving homeowners who were up to date on their mortgage — or had paid off their home — but who still became targets of a bank.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

But determining when a house is abandoned is not always easy and is often left to inexperienced contractors, said Carlin Phillips, a Massachusetts lawyer who represents Ms. Ash, who is 45.

“It’s sometimes as little as someone looking through the windows, or knocking on the door of a neighbor and saying, “Where are they?’ ” Mr. Phillips said.

* * *

Ms. Ash’s troubles with the Truckee house became tangled in her worsening financial situation and, she claims, the bungling of the bank, originally Countrywide Financial, which was bought by Bank of America in 2008.

She intended to assume the mortgage on the house, which landed in probate court after her husband’s death. The bank required that she catch up on payments and taxes, so she sent a check for $15,000.

Hearing nothing from the bank for many months and not having ownership of the house, she made no more payments, she said. By the time Countrywide reached Ms. Ash, the real estate market was collapsing, so she sought a loan modification.

Months and years of frustration followed. The bank lost documents and rarely returned her e-mails and phone messages, she said.

When Countrywide issued a default notice in 2007, it went to the wrong address, her lawsuit says. Later, Ms. Ash said, the bank assured her it would not foreclose while she pursued the loan modification.

Even so, the bank conducted a foreclosure sale on the property in May 2008. Again, Ms. Ash said she had not been notified and learned of the sale during a summer visit. She said she had been told the sale would be rescinded.

Near Halloween 2008, work crews broke in and cleaned out the place, taking Persian rugs, china, furniture bought on a trip in Peru, skis, photos of her marriage and childhood in Iran. Her husband’s ashes were taken from the couple’s master bedroom.

A bank spokeswoman, Jumana Bauwens, said, “We take the allegations made by Ms. Ash very seriously and are thoroughly researching her claims. Bank of America will work with Ms. Ash and her counsel to determine the extent and cause of her claims and move toward an appropriate resolution of the case.”

Carlin Phillips, the Massachusetts lawyer who represents Ms. Ash, was interviewed on Countdown with Keith Olbermann on Wednesday.

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AZ BlueMeanie
The Blue Meanie is an Arizona citizen who wishes, for professional reasons, to remain anonymous when blogging about politics. Armed with a deep knowledge of the law, politics and public policy, as well as pen filled with all the colors stolen from Pepperland, the Blue Meanie’s mission is to pursue and prosecute the hypocrites, liars, and fools of politics and the media – which, in practical terms, is nearly all of them. Don’t even try to unmask him or he’ll seal you in a music-proof bubble and rendition you to Pepperland for a good face-stomping. Read blog posts by the infamous and prolific AZ Blue Meanie here.