Reported by Ben Hallman in the Huffington Post, Everyday in neighborhoods across the country, low-paid workers with little oversight or training decide whether to break into someone else's home.
They are independent contractors working indirectly for banks, including Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America. Mortgage agreements give these banks the right to enter abandoned properties, even thoae that are locked up, to secure them against the ravages of weather and to perform other simple repairs. But the contractors they hire to do this work sometimes force their way into houses and condominiums that are still occupied by their owners, changing out locks and removing what they find inside, including family heirlooms and other valuables.
"These companies don't ask the homeowner, don't go to a court to get permission to go inside,"said Matthew Weidner, a consumer lawyer in St. Petersburg, Fla., who has handled several such cases. "They just send unlicensed, unregulated people who break down doors and do whatever they want."
In the past five years, people in 31 states have filed more than 250 lawsuits against the six largest national companies that contract directly with banks to inspect and repair homes in some stage of default or foreclosure, a Huffington Post review of court records found. The majority of these cases have come in the past 18 months.
The most-sued contractor is Safeguard Properties, based in Valley View, Ohio. The company, has been named in at least 135 lawsuits filed by homeowners alleging unwarranted break-ins. Lawyers and other industry experts say growing awareness of the national scope of the problem has pushed more consumer complaints into courts.
BANKS BELIEVE THEY ARE ONLY PROTECTING THEIR INTEREST
The bank normally claims it is simply trying to protect its investment in the property. In one case where a homeowner, Tedone and her husband had quit making monthly mortgage payments, a contractor entered the property and ripped huge holes in the walls, allegedly on a search for hazardous Chinese made-drywall. But neither the bank nor the contractor, who worked for Five Brothers, based in Warren, Mich., had bothered to inform Tedone, who still owned the house, that such a radical procedure was in store, she claims in a lawsuit.
Disputes most often arise in instances where a borrower has missed a few payments, or is in the early stages of the foreclosure process. Sometimes owners just walk away from their homes, leaving it to the bank to mow lawns, fix broken windows or patch roofs. Bank inspectors are sent each month to look for evidence of abandonment, but too often, say homeowners and even some of the contract workers themselves, they don't even get out of the car.
CONTRACTORS ACKNOWLEDGE THEFT
Adam Reynolds, a Naples, Fla., contractor who owned his own preservation company until last year, said he was routinely dispatched on such missions. "Countless times," he said, he would punch out a door lock and go inside a residence only to discover personal photos on the shelves and fresh food in the refrigerator. Reynolds said he would immediately leave the property in such situations, as the contracting companies require in written guidelines. But others go ahead with these work orders, regardless of what they discover inside, homeowners and other contractors maintain. Indeed, some appear to see a fully stocked home as an opportunity to loot valuables.
SAFEGUARD CO. ACCUSED OF MULTIPLE VIOLATIONS
Safeguard is also the target of a fraud lawsuit filed earlier this month by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. Her office has received more than 300 complaints against the company in Illinois alone, she says. More state actions could be coming. A spokeswoman for the Florida attorney general said her office was "reviewing" complaints regarding Safeguard. In addition, plaintiffs' lawyers have named Safeguard in two class-action lawsuits: one filed in Chicago federal district court and another in Ohio, in Cuyahoga County state court.
More information is being discovered, which support homeowner claims of widespread complaints against Safeguard and it's employees. The company recently sued Kevin Kubovcik, a former employee who ran its complaint department until 2010. In April, Kubovcik provided HuffPost with records that showed he was logging about 85 incidents a month involving an alleged theft or break-in. The company claims that disclosure violated a confidentiality agreement and is seeking "in excess" of $25,000 from Kubovic.
Some or parts of this article was 1st published on the Huffingtonpost.com, by Ben Hallman. Citywide Housing Services is not owned or affiliated with huffingtonpost.com. The full publication can be viewed, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/02/bank-contractor-lawsuits-safeguard_n_3975574.html?utm_hp_ref=foreclosure-crisis
COMPLAINTS FILED COMPLAINTS IN 31 STATES