MORRIS, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Being burglarized is among a homeowner’s worst nightmares.
Now, imagine the intruder is actually sent there by your bank. Those break-ins happen more often than you might think.
“All the cabinets were open, everything was in disarray,” Davide Adier recalled.
What’s worse say owners is the realization that their mortgage holder — the bank, not a burglar — may have been responsible.
How is this happening?
As CBS2’s Maurice Dubois reported, if you miss a couple of mortgage payments the bank could send someone to see if the property was abandoned — all perfectly legal.
After foreclosure proceedings start, the bank could go back to change the locks — with a court order this is legal.
Here’s the problem; homeowners say their homes were never abandoned, there was no court order, and they were actually in the midst of renegotiating their mortgages when their banks broke in. That isn’t legal.
“The question is, why would a bank deem a house abandoned, when it wasn’t abandoned and then eventually break into a house,” attorney Josh Denbeaux said.
Experts said sometimes it’s a mix up or a mistake, but Denbeaux — who specializes in foreclosure cases — believes it’s intentional.
He said the practice is well known within the industry as a ‘trash and lock out’ — ‘trash’ because the home needs to appear to have been vandalized before the locks can be changed.
“It takes money to service a loan. It takes money to track people down, knock on doors, go to court, get the order. Banks don’t want to spend money, they want to make money,” he said.
Adier admits, after the death of his father payments on his childhood home in Morris Township, New Jersey were skipped, but maintains he was in contact with Wells Fargo and working things out.
He said it came as a complete shock when the locks were changed, and even more of a shock when he found some of his father’s possessions — including a diary about his father’s escape from the Nazis — gone.
“I’m angry, I feel violated,” he said.
In a statement, Wells Fargo told CBS2 “Under the terms of the loan we have the right to secure a vacant and abandoned property in order to protect and preserve the property.”
Ari Jolovitz and his wife said they too missed payments on their Ohio home, but were in the process of refinancing with Citizens Bank when they found the locks changed and furniture missing.
In a statement the bank said they would not comment on ongoing litigation.
Attorney Phil Vinick who is handling yet another case in New Jersey said the bottom line is that laws are being bypassed.
“This kind of thing should not happen in the United States at all,” he said.
The homeowners are now suing the banks, similar suits are pending across the country.
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