In Northampton County, Pennsylvania, The Morning Call
- The end of John Barber's unpleasant foreclosure process seemed to be in sight.
Barber had arranged to sell his Easton home through a short sale, which occurs when a bank approves a sale for less than the mortgage balance.
He started packing in anticipation of moving out but said some treasured items, including a coin collection and an antique firearm, were stolen when the bank took the premature step of sending a company to secure the home while he still was living there.
Barber notified police and sued Wells Fargo. The lawsuit alleges he "discovered that his home had been broken into, the locks changed, the premises ransacked, and a large quantity of personal property belonging to him was missing."
The case is pending in Northampton County court, with a settlement conference scheduled for later this month, according to his attorney, Robert Glazer of Easton.
Barber is not suing the companies involved with securing his property. The only defendant in his lawsuit is Wells Fargo, which the suit alleges failed to "properly supervise and monitor" the contractor's and subcontractor's activities.
Easton police investigated Barber's complaint and closed the case without filing charges because leads were exhausted, according to a report provided to me by Glazer.
There often is little that a homeowner can do to prevent a property preservation contractor's visit. Banks and mortgage servicers typically point to clauses contained in most mortgages allowing them to act if a homeowner intentionally damages a property or allows it to deteriorate.
"These clauses are typically broad and far-reaching," Christopher K. Odinet, of Southern University Law Center, wrote in an article published last year in the University of Cincinnati Law Review.(1)
Whether a property is deteriorating or at risk of deteriorating often is a point of contention. Just because a home is in foreclosure doesn't mean it isn't being kept up.
The University of Cincinnati Law Review article cited several incidents similar to what Barber alleges. It noted that more than 250 lawsuits had been filed, with varying results. Many contractors hire subcontractors, which can complicate getting to the bottom of what occurred.
"My house had been ransacked, was rifled through," he told me. "They'd been through everything, from my drawers to my closets. Everything."
Barber told me it should have been apparent that he was still living there since there was food in the fridge and his bed was made. "It was not vacant and they should have known that," Glazer said.
Barber told me he had inherited the stolen coin collection from his grandfather and it included turn-of-the-century gold coins. The police report values the coin collection at $50,000. Barber said he had hoped to pass the coins to his heirs, too.
"That meant a lot to me," he said.
The sale occurred shortly after the alleged incident and Barber is living elsewhere now.