Can the bank winterize my home while it's in foreclosure even if I still live there?

If you haven't moved out, the lender cannot drain your pipes and otherwise winterize your home while it's in foreclosure.

Question

I’m behind in my mortgage payments and the bank started a foreclosure on my home a few weeks ago. I went out of town for a while and came home to find notices on my home that the place has been winterized. Can the bank winterize my house while it’s in foreclosure even though I still live there? What should I do?

Answer

No. While the bank has the legal right to winterize the home if you’ve abandoned the place (that is, permanently moved out), it shouldn't winterize the house if you still live there.

You should call your mortgage servicer (the company you make your mortgage payment to) and let the servicer know that you still live in the home. (To figure out who your loan servicer is, look at your monthly mortgage payment coupon.) The servicer should arrange to have someone come out to de-winterize the home, but this might take some time.

If you can’t wait for the servicer to send someone out, there are companies that you can hire to de-winterize the home or you can do it yourself. (Look online to find step-by-step instructions on how to de-winterize a house.)

What Does “Winterizing” Mean?

When a bank forecloses on a property, it often winterizes the home. (To learn the ins and outs of the foreclosure process, and foreclosure procedures in your state, visit our  Foreclosure Center.)

By winterizing, the servicer makes sure that a vacant, abandoned home’s plumbing can endure a winter freeze. Typically, this means:

  • draining the water from the pipes and the hot water heater
  • putting “do not use” notices on the sinks, toilets, and other conspicuous areas of the home; and
  • adding anti-freeze to the drains.

If these steps are not taken, the pipes could freeze during winter, causing them to split. When the ice in the pipes later thaws, the pipes will leak.

What Gives the Bank the Right to Winterize the Home?

You signed a mortgage contract when you took out your loan. That contract gives the bank the right to protect its interest in the home. This means that if you permanently move out of the house, the bank will do things like change the locks to secure the home, make necessary repairs, and, if needed, winterize the home. (Learn more about steps the bank can take to protect its interest in the home if you permanently move out in Nolo's  Protecting Your Home and Property During Foreclosure  area.)

Why the Bank Winterized Your Home

During foreclosure, the bank often hires an inspector to do a drive-by to see if you are still living in the property. In your case, it’s likely that the inspector incorrectly thought you had moved out, since you’ve been away. (Learn about  steps you can take to prevent a bank from treating your occupied home as vacant.)

You Are Still Responsible for Maintaining the Home During Foreclosure

Keep in mind that, even during a foreclosure, you are still responsible for maintaining the home and making sure that it doesn’t get damaged. If you’re planning on being out of town for a while and cold weather is expected, this might mean leaving the heat turned on and the faucets dripping to prevent pipes from freezing or taking steps to winterize the home yourself.

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