As if a homeowner in or facing foreclosure doesn’t have enough to worry about, there is a little known trend occurring in the area of foreclosure that could cost you financially and in the loss of precious memories. With people simply walking away from their underwater homes since the beginning of the Great Recession of 2008, mortgage companies and servicers have begun hiring “home preservation companies” in greater numbers. These are independent companies that are hired by the mortgage servicer to enter a home that has been or will be foreclosed upon for the purpose of securing or “winterizing” the property. The premise under which the companies act is conditioned upon the homeowner having up and walked away from the home and having no one looking out for the general welfare of the property. When conducted properly, a “home preservation” can prevent pipes from bursting in cold weather or keep the yard from becoming overgrown. However, the devil is always in the details and many homeowners are experiencing problems with improperly conducted home preservations.
First, there are times when home preservation companies are entering into homes before a foreclosure sale has occurred. This likely means there is a homeowner still residing in the home when the preservation company enters to do its work. I have had multiple clients report to me that in the midst of taking action to save their home, like the filing of a Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition, they have returned home to find strangers from a preservation company marauding through their home. Some clients have returned to their home to find the locks changed and their personal property missing after a preservation company has entered. Heartbreakingly, homeowners have come home only to discover that their personal pictures, personal financial and identification documents, collectibles and sentimental treasures have simply vanished.
There is recourse when a homeowner has been the victim of an unscrupulous home preservation company. First, a claim can be filed with the company’s claims department. Just the fact every home preservation company I have dealt with has a “claims” department is a large indicator of how big of a problem this is. However, my clients have filed claims and been reimbursed for their losses. However, it is hard to put a monetary value on the picture of a loved one that has since passed away. Second, a complaint can be lodged with the attorney general of your state or with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an agency created by the federal government for the express purpose of giving consumers a venue to seek redress through the complaint process. But the best advice I can impart is this – if you move from your home because you are going to lose it in a foreclosure process, do not leave anything behind when you move out that you cannot live without. If you are fighting to keep your home but in the middle of the foreclosure process, put signs up on your doors and/or windows that informs anyone who may be seeking to enter that your home is still occupied. These two simple steps could save a you from significant grief.
An experienced bankruptcy attorney can help a person who is trying to save their home from foreclosure. If you are considering a filing for bankruptcy relief and wish to consult with a qualified bankruptcy attorney about your options, please contact one of our locations nearest you in Alabama, Mississippi or Tennessee for a free, confidential consultation.
Carla M. Handy is the Managing Partner of the Bond & Botes Law Offices in Gadsden and Anniston, Alabama. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from Auburn University, and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Alabama School of Law. She has been helping families navigate consumer bankruptcy cases since 1994.Read her full bio here.