My home is in foreclosure and someone boarded it up while I still live there. What should I do?

If you move out of your home during foreclosure, the lender has the legal right to protect its interest in the property.

Question

I went out of state to visit my mother for a few weeks and just came home to discover that my house is totally boarded up with some kind of clear, plastic sheeting. I can't even get in. Who did this? I'm behind on my mortgage payments and in foreclosure. What should I do?

Answer

It sounds like a property preservation company, acting on behalf of your mortgage servicer, probably boarded the place up. Your servicer probably thought you abandoned (permanently moved out of) the home. Sometimes, a homeowner who's fallen behind in mortgage payments simply walks away from the home, leaving it to the servicer to take care of the lawn, fix broken windows, or make repairs, for example.

If you abandon the property, the lender (through the servicer) has the legal right to take certain steps to maintain the home and protect the property against potential harm. Taking steps to protect the lender's interest in the house is called "property preservation" in the mortgage industry.

But in your situation, the lender shouldn't have restricted your access to the house because you still live there. You have the right to remain in the home until a foreclosure is completed.

How Property Preservation Works

When you fall behind in your home mortgage payments or go into foreclosure, one of the first things that will happen is that an inspector will go out to your home to find out if the place is occupied or vacant. If the inspector determines that the place is abandoned, the lender has the right to secure and maintain the property. This right is usually contained and described in the mortgage or deed of trust. Typically, the mortgage servicer hires a property preservation company to take care of the property.

Unfortunately, property preservation workers sometimes go into currently occupied homes, cause damage, or take valuables. Some of the reported abuses that property preservation workers have committed are:

  • changing the locks on the wrong house
  • punching holes in walls (purportedly on a search for hazardous Chinese-made drywall), and
  • removing personal property, such as computers, clothes, paintings, electronics, and jewelry.

Why Your House Was Boarded Up

The inspectors who determine whether homeowners have permanently left their properties sometimes make mistakes. Generally, these inspections are quick; in many cases, the inspector doesn't even get out of the car. In your situation, it's likely that the inspector got it wrong because you've been out of town, and the house looked vacant. Once the inspector (mistakenly) determined your home was abandoned, the lender or servicer hired a property preservation company to board it up, probably in an attempt to protect it from vandals.

In the past, boarding up a property usually involved covering the windows and sometimes doors with sheets of plywood. But now, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the government-sponsored entities that own or back many mortgages in the U.S.) have adopted a policy of using see-through polycarbonate "clear boards" to secure homes that are facing foreclosure. This change is mainly the result of some local and state governments outlawing the use of plywood on vacant properties. Even though clear boarding looks nicer than plywood, the effect on you is likely the same—you can't get into your home.

Getting Back Into Your Home

Let your mortgage servicer know that you still live in the house and that it needs to let you into the property immediately. If the servicer doesn't make arrangements to give you access to the home, you should consider hiring an attorney who can help you enforce your rights.

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