How to Protect Your Home and Property During Foreclosure

Learn what to do if property preservation workers let themselves into your home and take your stuff or damage your belongings.

Property preservation companies—also sometimes called foreclosure cleanup companies or field service companies—working on behalf of banks are supposed to ensure that vacant properties in foreclosure are secure and properly maintained. But these companies are well known for committing serious abuses against homeowners, like breaking into still-occupied homes, stealing the homeowners’ personal property, and illegally locking people out of the wrong home.

Read on to learn what to do if a property preservation company wrongfully locks you out, takes your belongings, or damages your home, and how to protect yourself so this doesn't happen in the first place.

Understanding Property Preservation Companies

Once you default on your mortgage loan, the bank will usually send someone out to your property on a monthly basis to do a drive-by inspection to figure out if the home is occupied or empty. If the inspector determines that the home is unoccupied—sometimes by mistake—the bank will take steps to make sure that the property is secure and maintained. (The mortgage contract that you signed when you took out the loan gives the bank the right to protect its interest in the home.)

Even though you still legally own the home, the property preservation company (on behalf of the bank) may do whatever is necessary to secure an abandoned property such as:

  • winterizing the home
  • removing trash
  • making repairs, or
  • changing the locks.

Taking these steps is called “property preservation” in the mortgage servicing industry.

Common Abuses Perpetrated By Property Preservation Workers

Homeowners have reported that property preservation workers often break into currently occupied homes, causing damage and taking valuables. Some of the reported abuses that have been committed by property preservation workers are:

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

Making Sure the Bank Doesn't Treat Your Occupied Home as Vacant

There are several steps you can take to try to ensure that your mortgage bank, servicer, or the property preservation company that it hires doesn’t treat your occupied home as vacant.

  • Make sure your home looks lived in—not abandoned. Fix any broken windows, take care of the lawn, clean up any accumulated newspapers or trash on the property, and don’t disconnect the gas, electrical, or water services.
  • If you talk to your servicer, let the servicing representative know that you still live in the home. (Get more tips on how to prevent the bank from treating your occupied home as vacant.)

If a property preservation company locks you out of your home, damages the property, or takes your belongings, call your servicer right away to let them know what happened. Have a detailed list of all missing items and damage handy when you call and follow up by sending a letter to the servicer. Also, call the property preservation company to try to arrange a way to get your stuff back.

Hiring a Local Forelcosure Attorney

The abusive practices mentioned in this article represent just a few of the offenses that property preservation workers have been known to commit. There are, of course, others. If you have been the victim of a property preservation company and your servicer and the property preservation company aren’t helpful when it comes to returning your belongings or compensating you for damage caused, you should speak to a qualified attorney who can advise you what to do in your particular situation, including possibly filing a lawsuit.

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