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Banks behaving badly: Mistaken foreclosures roll on

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis December 27, 2010 08:20 AM

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Imagine returning from a visit to grandma over the holiday weekend to find your house padlocked and your furniture and possessions cleaned out.

Then imagine your shock at finding out, after you called 911, the perpetrator was not some low-life burglar but your mortgage lender.

How could this be, you might ask, having never skipped a mortgage payment?

Well it's a question homeowners across the country continue to ask as the problem of "mistaken foreclosures" continues, despite months of negative publicity for some of the nation's top banks.

In one of the more recent cases, a Florida couple worked out a loan modification agreement and was making all their payments when they received a devastating letter from J.P. Morgan Chase. Their condo, Magaly Cervantes and Julio Bermudez, was told, had been foreclosed on and sold online.

A trip to the local courthouse led nowhere - the bank only began reviewing the case after some embarrassing attention from The Wall Street Journal.

Other cases are even more heart rending. A Pittsburgh woman who was not in default on her mortgage returned home from work one day last year to find her house padlocked, the utilities cut off and her parrot, Luke, gone.

Angela Iannelli finally got her parrot back, though the bank made her drive out of her way to pick Luke up. She is now negotiating a settlement with the bank.

Mimi Ash recently filed suit against the Bank of America after her ski chalet was cleared out and padlocked and her possessions - including her late husband's ashes - hauled away. She was behind on her payments, but had been trying to catch up

Others, while their homes have yet to be seized, have had to spend thousands on legal fees to fight off erroneous foreclosure filings by their lenders.

Warren Nyerges was particularly shocked to be hit with a foreclosure notice. After all, he bought his $165,000 Naples, Fla., home back in 2009 with cash.

But despite waiving a copy of the cashier's check in front of multiple bank employees, Nyerges was forced to hire a lawyer and go to court before the bank would back down, The Huffington Post reports in an excellent story detailing the growing number of foreclosure snafus.

There's a common theme here. Once you have been thrown onto the foreclosure assembly line, even if you are a victim of mistaken identity, it can be hard if not near impossible to get off.

Reading these stories is enough to make anyone fume. But the defense offered by the banks is even worse.

The line goes something like this: Sorry, we are struggling to process an unprecedented number of foreclosures and it's inevitable that mistakes will happen along the way. Anyway, such cases are rare and we are constantly upgrading our procedures.

How in the world is this defense acceptable?

It's akin to the airline industry saying, after a flurry of tragic crashes, that we all just have to accept that mistakes will happen and people will die occasionally. After all, ten million people made it to their destinations safely during the same time period.

You can just imagine what Congress, prodded by an angry electorate, might do when confronted with such an obtuse and insensitive defense.

Well this kind of lame-brain defense shouldn't fly either for the banking industry.

OK, we are not talking about the loss of life here. But certainly property rights - and the freedom from fear that your livelihood or home or possessions can be randomly seized by either a government agency or a corporate bureaucracy - is key part of what holds our free market, democratic society together.

No city or state government would last long in office if it began seizing the homes of upstanding citizens for nonpayment of taxes and then responded, when confronted by its errors, by dragging its feet.

So how does a key part of the private sector get away with behavior that would have made the Soviet bureaucrats of old crack a smile?

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About boston real estate now
Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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