Local Ten News in Coconut Creek, Florida reports that a couple recently came back to their "snowbird" home away from home to find themselves locked out, eviction-style.
Mel and Harriet (last names withheld) found a lock box on their door, the power turned off, and items missing from their kitchen. It turns out the whole thing was a mistake.
Mel and Harriet were the victim of a process called "property preservation". Ordinarily, these are companies that contract to mortgage agencies and banks to winterize and secure properties that have been foreclosed on. When a homeowner leaves a foreclosed property, the entity holding the mortgage now has to make sure no one can break in and steal furnishings, vandalize the property, etc. They also need to be sure power, gas and water are cut off to prevent any accidents, freezing pipes, and other such mishaps.
Typically, the mortgage-holding entity does not even have offices in the area. They bought the mortgage second-hand from a local bank or long-gone original mortgage company. Remember how all that happened and contributed to the housing crash of 2008? This out-of-state owner of the property contracts with another company that then sub-contracts to a local person or company to winterize the home, do a "lockout", board up the windows, take pictures of the home - since no one with the mortgage has ever seen the place, sometimes a home may not even be there anymore due to fire or other events. Local contractors even cut the grass regularly to keep within local codes and make the property resell-able.
Craigslist if full of ads looking for handyman types and construction firms low on work to do these jobs. A typical ad reads:
We are a property preservation company seeking Experienced Contractors to service our lawn and maintenance work orders in ______________ and surrounding areas. Our work orders include lawn maintenance, winterizations, board-ups, initial secures, lock changes, trash outs, and any minor to major repairs inside a house.
The ads go on to list the kinds of equipment needed to qualify for doing such work. Sometimes, when no contractors can be found in an area capable of doing all that needs to be done, the company will split the duties among multiple contractors - such as lawn maintenance to a landscaping company, lockouts to a locksmith, windows board-ups to a handyman, etc.
Poor Mel and Harriet, whose property was paid off 15 years ago, had been visited by such a "property preservation" contractor. But it turns out that contractor had the wrong address. Upon further investigation, however, it was discovered that the lockout had been authorized by SafeGuard Properties, in Valley View, Ohio. SafeGuard has been the subject of legal actions in 31 states due to "illegal breakins" resulting from mistaken foreclosures.
SafeGuard has said that it is looking into the matter and will make sure it is resolved.
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