LAKEWOOD RANCH — Jodie Meyers knew it was a matter of time before the bank would take her Lakewood Ranch home.
She already had moved herself and her children into an apartment before the June 10 deadline. But what she didn’t anticipate was when she found the locks changed — two days after the foreclosure sale and days before GMAC Mortgage formally could take title of her home. Upon further investigation, she also saw someone had disconnected her dryer and posted notices that she should contact the buyer about renting her house back.
There were still clothes hanging in the closet, pictures hanging on the walls and fresh fruit in the refrigerator.
“I had planned to use the 10 days to get as much stuff out as possible,” Meyers said. “I think what they did was completely improper and unlawful. If for some reason I had not been able to move out in advance as I had been — and many families can’t —we would have been waiting in the house until we thought it was time. That would have really blindsided us.
“The bank had no business being there,” she said.
Technically, until the bank or purchaser has the certificate of title, the home still belongs to Meyers and her husband, Don.
In foreclosure proceedings, debtors have until the end of the sale to pay what they owe on their property in full. Otherwise, it goes to the highest bidder.
State law dictates a 10-day waiting period between purchasing the property and receiving a certificate of title to allow time for parties to raise objections to the sale. At that point, however, the owner’s right to go in and save the property, is over.
But until the property is formally conveyed when the buyer receives the certificate of title, it still belongs to the original owner, attorney Fred Moore of Blalock, Walters & Johnson said.
“You could potentially make a claim that it was forcible entry,” Moore said of Meyers’ situation. “You could make an argument there’s a violation of landlord-tenant statute.”
However, Moore said damages in such a case would be nominal, especially in a case such as Meyers’ in which no property was taken or damaged.
Attorney Damion Ozark of Ozark, Perron & Nelson, PA, said banks often can use the mortgage as a means to secure and take action to preserve and protect the property through their mortgage documents.
“It sounds like they jumped the gun, but sometimes, there are times to do that in the name of property preservation,” Ozark said. “There’re two sides to every story.”
Although Meyers was able to contact her mortgage company and get the access code for her house to remove more of her things, she still is upset proper procedure wasn’t followed. Although she was no longer living in the home at the time of the sale, Meyers was still paying for lawn service, checking on the property several times a week and having neighbors keep an eye on it.
Meyers said she did not plan to sue the mortgage company but hopes her case will alert others of a situation happening far too frequently.
“If there is a process, the bank should be expected to follow it and there should be repercussions if they don’t,” she said.
In the meantime, Meyers’ and her husband are trying to secure steady jobs in the area and rebuild their lives, Meyers said.
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MAKING A CASE
In a March case in Suffolk County, N.Y., a judge ordered Wells Fargo to pay more than $150,000 for entering a foreclosed home without permission and changing the locks.
In that case, the bank first entered the home to “inspect and secure it” before changing the locks on the basis it had been abandoned. Its owner, Steven Tyson, had been storing furniture and other items there and visited the property weekly. After receiving a new house key, Tyson was promised the bank would not return. But a month later, an agent of the bank entered the property again, ordering Tyson to leave immediately. Tyson later found numerous items missing and filed a police report.
New York Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey Spinner said the bank did not have an “absolute and unfettered right” under the mortgage to enter the home and awarded Tyson punitive damages as a deterrent to future cases.
A CIVIL MATTER
After finding her locks changed, Meyers contacted the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office to file a report charging her home’s buyer, GMAC Mortgage, with trespass.
But deputies said the matter was a civil suit and did not respond as Meyers had hoped. She called twice before convincing the office to send a deputy to her home rather than making her come in to file a report.
A sheriff’s office report taken around 8 p.m., June 15, states that Meyers was able to enter the home after getting a code for the lock box from the mortgage company.
“Everything that transpired is a civil issue,” Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube said of Meyers’ case. “We don’t get involved in civil matters except to keep the peace. There’s nothing for us to do. This is between her and the bank and the mortgage (company).”
Even if Meyers still owned the home at the time, the deputies would have no way of knowing for sure what Meyers told the officers was correct, Steube said.
“It’s for a judge in a civil court to make a judgment as to whether something was done illegally or not,” he said.