Tampa Retiree Lost Everything In Foreclosure Muddle

An 82-year year old Tampa Bay retiree Benito Santiago Sr. has lost everything, including his furniture, an antique wagon wheel and pictures of his deceased wife.

As foreclosures sweep the nation, more people have come home to surprises. For contractors hired by banks to clear out houses, business is booming. But they don't always get the right place. Photo: American Legal Coral Springs/Flickr

The St. Petersburg Times reports that Benito Sr. came back from vacation to find that his house was padlocked and everything inside was gone. A sign outside taped to his window was for a company that cleans out foreclosed houses. But Benito Santiago Sr.’s home wasn’t in foreclosure, public records show.

The man called a phone number on the lock. He reached the clean-out company and talked to a worker there, the Sheriff’s Office said in a report. Santiago Jr. said that at first the company acknowledged that a mistake may have been made. “The lower-level people were saying, ‘It had to be us. We had a work order to go out to 4255,'” Santiago Jr. said.

The mistake may have been caused by Santiago’s mailbox and confusing history surrounding his address. It says 4205 on one side but on the other the “0” is missing. The land next door referred to as 4255 W. Humphrey St. doesn’t exist in the property records and both packages and services have been delivered to his house in the past intended for his neighbor.

In a lawsuit filed this month in Hillsborough Circuit Court, Santiago claims that Field Asset Services Inc., took his property and changed his locks in the fall of 2009. He sued the company, along with Countrywide Home Loans, for damages.

Santiago’s possessions were estimated $29,100A by Hillsborough County sheriff’s deputy in an Oct. 5, 2009, report. But in his interview, Santiago, who is a retired antiques dealer, guessed they were worth at least $100,000. The incident upset him enough that he moved in with a friend. “Everything was taken out of the property,” he said. “I feel nervous. I’m not going back.”

Neither Field Asset Services nor Bank of America, which now owns Countrywide, commented on the incident when contacted by the St. Petersburg Times. Field Asset Services said it doesn’t discuss client cases. Bank of America requested a copy of the suit.

In February, an attorney representing Field Asset Services sent Santiago’s attorney a letter denying any wrongdoing. “FAS has found no record of servicing the property belonging to your client,” company attorney Chris Helling wrote.

But Santiago’s attorney, J. Scott Murphy, said in the complaint that agents from Field Asset Services were hired by Countrywide Home Loans to carry out janitorial and cleanup services to a condominium next door — at 4255 W Humphrey St.

Deputy David Feenaughty investigated the incident. “At this time, it appears that a cleaning company for foreclosures (Field Asset Services) may have mistakenly arrived at the residence in error on 9/17/09 and removed its contents,” he wrote in a report.

Carlin Phillips, a Massachusetts attorney who specializes in cases of wrongful “lock-outs” and “trash-outs,” said that in the past year, he’d had hundreds. Phillips says banks didn’t manage to adopt policies to make sure they have the right house. “We have never gotten one piece of property back,” Phillips said.

Charlie and Maria Cardoso also have experienced the misery and embarrassment that come with home foreclosure. The Massachusetts couple paid for their future retirement home in Spring Hill with cash in 2005. Five years later agents for Bank of America seized the house, removed belongings and changed the locks on the doors, according to a lawsuit the couple have filed in federal court.

Early last month, Charlie Cardoso had to drive to Florida to get his home back, the complaint filed in Massachusetts on Jan. 20 states. The bank had a wrong address on foreclosure documents. The house it meant to seize is across the street and about 10 doors down. But the Cardosos and a realtor employed by Bank of America were unable to convince the company that it had the wrong house, the suit states.

For contractors hired by banks to clear out houses, business is booming. But they don’t always get the right place. Sometimes, the homeowner is delinquent, but the lockout is premature. Sometimes, cleaners go to a “road” instead of a “court.” And in some cases, people who just purchased a bank-owned home will return to find it cleaned out, because no one took it off the foreclosure list. [via Huffpost, Tampa Bay and The Consumerist]

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