Bank forecloses on wrong house, changes locks, steals tons of stuff, won't compensate owner in full


#1

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#2

Maybe she shouldn't...hmm...I've got nothing.

Oh! Maybe she shouldn't live in a country where banks can get away with robbery! Yeah. She'll know that for next time.


#3

This is silly. Popehat doesn't seem to understand law. What the bank did was not illegal - there was no intent. They didn't steal her property - they made an honest (albeit really stupid) mistake.

Of course they are liable - and the bank President is an idiot for not giving her whatever she wants - if for no other reason than the incredible bad publicity he will generate.

If she is unhappy with their offer - she can sue them - that's how the law works. And what jury would not give her a ton for her suffering in this matter? Punitive damages also seem warranted for their blatant disregard for common sense behavior like knowing what address to repossess.


#4

You know that Ken White is a lawyer, right?


#5

"There was no intent"

Try to use that explanation the next time you break a law you didn't know existed and get busted for it. (yes I'm sure you're a fine upstanding law abiding person and this will never apply)

People do get charged with theft and other crimes even when no intent was present.

Also, yes she can sue, but that leads to a long expensive fight against an entity that has all the funds they need to wear a person down.


#6

You misunderstand the legal term of art "intent"

It is possible to establish criminal intent even when a crime is not
premeditated. Individuals who commit a crime spontaneously may still
understand that their actions will cause harm to another party and
contravene existing criminal law. In other words, an individual that
takes or withholds action with the knowledge that such behavior will
lead to the commission of a crime can be said to possess criminal
intent.
http://thelawdictionary.org/criminal-intent/


#7

The bank's behavior is idiotic, they're generating bad press for themselves, in order to save a not terribly large amount of money, and they're obviously liable for property damages and possibly (I'm not a lawyer) some sort of punitive damages or additional goodwill costs. They should have just paid, cheerfully, and made a show of contrition and of making good.

That said, some of their claims about their victim's behavior after they looted the house aren't implausible. They claim that her inventory has changed over time, to increase in value, and that it bears little similarity to the contents their employees recorded (and, yes, their employees aren't obviously terribly competent, but there's no reason to think they deliberately falsified a log they generated while they erroneously thought they were emptying the correct house). The bank president claims, in a letter that a lawyer undoubtedly vetted, that the house had no utilities, had been vacant a long time, and had little contents; the first two of those claims are readily falsifiable, and so are unlikely not to be true. He even claims the door was unlocked, which seems more dubious, but if the house was indeed nearly abandoned with almost no furniture, it probably indeed contained little of great value.

In short: it seems more likely than not that the inventory list submitted by the bank's victim for reimbursement was fraudulent. That said, the claim wasn't for a huge amount of money, the bank brought the situation on themselves by looting the wrong house, and the public opinion cost of fighting this is far higher. The bank should pay - but you can see why they'd get their backs up, feeling they were being extorted.


#8

They bank threw out her possessions. The bank should have to pay triple what they destroyed. Her word she be good enough evidence, since any receipts and photos of the possessions were also taken by the bank.


#9

Indeed. Former Federal Prosecutor, in fact.


#10

If a bank stole all of my stuff I would want them to replace everything at a premium, and actually pay me an hourly equivalent of the CEO's salary for the time it takes me to shop for the stuff, wait for deliveries, put it away and in all respects return my house to its original state.

Of course that wouldn't happen, but who gives a rat's ass what was actually in the house? They screwed up and are being pricks about it. They invaded something that, in US culture in particular but in much of western culture is an inviolable space - a person's home. They did so through incompetence, and can afford to pay. So they should. (if they couldn't afford to pay then they should declare bankruptcy and have their belongings foreclosed upon like the rest of us).

The police won't get involved because once a corporation or its representatives are charged with a crime there is a legal obligation on the part of all shareholders to dump the shares - and that gets into the 'immune from consequences' financial sector you have created for yourselves. It's why banks can get a fine for laundering billions in drug and terrorist money, while anyone else would get a trip to Gitmo. It is also horrific moral hazard and a recipe for an economic collapse.


#11

Why not just file it with her insurance company and point them toward the bank. Isn't that why I pay such high premiums in the first place?


#12

Honestly, what could the police do in this case? You can't put a corporation or any other abstract idea in a jail cell.

At this point, the only course of action for Ms. Barnett is to get a lawyer and take the bank to court. For better or worse, that is how our system works at the moment. Can you imagine a judge NOT siding with the homeowner?


#13

I wonder how this bank might behave if they mistakenly seized the property of the wrong person from one of their safe-deposit boxes? Banks are in the business of securing people's assets. I bet they even have to swear some sort of oaths of fiduciary responsibility in order to become a bank.

It's almost as if they want to start a run on their bank or something. But then, when's the last time something like that happened in the good old US of A? This country is not collapsing from the actions of firebrand-waving revolutionaries, but from the inertia of people who wouldn't stop shopping at their local MegaBoxStore even if they saw proof the store is making their heavily discounted products through child slavery. Or, in this case, that a bank has incompetently and irretrievably lost the possessions of an ordinary citizen, just like them, but not them in particular. What's for dinner?


#14

This is what tort is for. I only pray that Congress didn't create some tort immunity for banks in these cases. I wouldn't put it past them.


#15

I am not a lawyer, so I don't know the answer to this question, but let me give it a try: Say I work for a company that picks up old goods/appliances for recycling. Someone calls and says they want an old TV taken away. I go to the wrong house, and although nobody appears to be home, the sliding doors to the deck are unlocked, so I go in and take the TV. Hell, I even think I'm being helpful by making the customer not reschedule. Except I went to the wrong house. When the owner complains, my boss tells them, essentially, that it was an honest mistake and they should go to hell. I imagine I could still be arrested for burglary (even if it was an "honest mistake"), and possibly also my boss as an accomplice, regardless of what arguments might be made by our lawyers. As I said, IANAL, but is any of that not possible?


#16

This is not the same thing. While I am sympathetic to your argument, nobody is allowed to enter a house they don't own without permission. In the case of foreclosures, the bank owns the house. So when they make a mistake, their claim of not maliciously stealing items is credible since the employees thought they were entering company property. I do think there needs to be some criminal penalty for wrong identification of properties to foreclose on, but burglary and theft are not the right charges.


#17

What's strange is that they relied on GPS without first confirming that the house in question was actually the house in question. I used to work as a delivery driver, and it would be odd to not, for example, look for a house number, check the mailbox, check the number on the house (if it's available), check the neighbors' houses, etc. before actually delivering a package. For example, houses like 509 and 514 are usually on opposite sides of the streets, so you would note, as you're driving down the street, what numbers on the left and right side are, so you can deduce what the correct house number is. It helps if you have two people doing this, since one can work the GPS, and the other can look around, which obviously neither subcontractor was doing. Since they're not just delivering a package, but emptying out an entire house, it would stand to reason that they would want to exercise a considerable amount of due diligence before breaking into the wrong place and stealing the wrong person's stuff.

Also, I've worked quite a bit with GPS and Google Maps (another side gig, fixing Google Maps), and if they used GPS, it only works if the GPS marker is on the right place to begin with. I would never rely on GPS exclusively and instead use the rest of the components of my brain and sensory apparatus to figure out where I am.


#18

This is just repulsive behavior. I really hope she takes them to court, if only for the trauma and inconvenience. This is pretty much the point of movies like in Brazil, where a fly gets caught in a printer, resulting in the wrong family name bring printed for a SWAT team, resulting in the wrong family being incarcerated (and maybe executed, I am kinda vague on the details). The banks should not have this kind of power, and definitely not without some warning.

Moral of the story, for the Bank: You don't come into someone's home like a thief in the middle of the night - you leave a sticker on the door, to remind the inhabitants of the house that the threat of having their stuff taken is very real, and if it's the wrong house, then at least the family living there can make proper arrangements with the bank (as in, notify them they have the wrong house!).


#19

As you said, it was an honest mistake, so a reasonable person would not think that you purposefully went to that house to take their television.

Where your hypothetical diverges from the article's homeowner's situation is that the hypothetical boss tells the TV owner to "go to hell." In this case, there is no disagreement that items were taken from the wrong house, or that the bank should not compensate the homeowner. The only thing in dispute is what was taken and how much it was worth.

In your nice and clean hypothetical, the recycler would reasonably be expected to replace the television. If the TV's owner and the recycler can't come up with an agreement, then the TV's owner should take the matter to small claims court.


#20

First, I don't believe police involve themselves in civil matters, which this seems to be.

Second, banks themselves don't clear out houses. It's not like the tellers roll up their sleeves after lunch and start stuffing hefty bags... banks will hire a contracting service, which will then hire vendors or other contractors to do the work. therein lies the main snafu- there are several people translating orders down a chain of command and addresses often are screwed up.

Having done this type of work for a year, I've had my share of wrong addresses. And because the banks put us under a very tight deadline, and because we usually have several houses to handle each day, errors are unavoidable. None of the guys I know doing REO work want to deal with tenants or occupants, much less deal with personal possessions. But being on the end of the shit chain, we are the ones who catch most of the flack for this work- which doesn't pay a lot, isn't what we want to be doing for a living, and costs us a fortune in insurance expenses. It would be great if we weren't further victimized by blogs and news reports as bumbling and incompetent, though. A quick look at a google map of Wellston shows a very small town, which likely means the team headed to the house were from a ways away and not familiar with the area. That we are characterized as not being able to use GPS- seriously, my truck has a new $1000 GPS-integrated head unit in it and the garmin software still sends me on wild goose chases, especially in rural areas like this.

One other point- almost never is a team sent to an address to clear it out without a tedious bidding process taking place first. We go to a site, enter the house, document everything in the house with digital cameras and notes because we'll have to separate personals from household trash from metals, etc. We bid the job, and when we receive the order to execute it, our bosses have sent those pics and bids back up the chain of command.

Working in Florida, the state with the highest number of foreclosures, I've handled these types of jobs thousands of times. 90% of the work orders we receive have some type of error. When human judgment comes into play and human error has occurred, this type of thing happens. It sucks, and I would be absolutely pissed to come home to an empty house. While not trying to defend banks, I will say that I've never seen this type of work done without a lot of pre-order diligence such as letters to the residence, notes on doors, etc. Far too often when I do come across a befuddled and angry resident, 99% have received some correspondence that they typically ignored.