Banks Breaking Into Occupied Homes In Foreclosure To Change Locks
UPDATE: Jacobini and her lawyer, Matthew Weidner, told MSNBC's Dylan Ratigan that Jacobini "is not in foreclosure at all." An earlier report from WFTV incorrectly stated that she was in foreclosure. Scroll down to watch.
In their zeal to complete foreclosure proceedings, some banks send representatives to change the locks on properties in foreclosure, even as they remain occupied. The incidents of lock-changing pile further skepticism on a process recently plagued by scandal.
A contractor for JPMorgan Chase changed the front door lock on a woman's home in Orange County, Florida, as she hid out of fear in her bathroom, Eyewitness News reports. The woman, Nancy Jacobini, was reportedly three months behind on her mortgage and her home was reportedly in foreclosure, but, according to Eyewitness News, the bank isn't legally allowed to change the locks on an occupied home.
The lock-changing strategy is intended to protect a property's value, since owners experiencing foreclosure often abandon their homes, leaving them vulnerable, notes Sarasota's Herald Tribune. To Jacobini, the bank representative seemed like an intruder, and she called the police.
"I'm locked in my bathroom," she said on a 911 call. "Somebody broke into my house!"
WATCH: Jacobini and attorney appear on Dylan Ratigan
WATCH: WFTV interviews Jacobini, replays 911 call
Sarasota's Herald Tribune reports similar cases: Renters in a Florida home apparently in foreclosure came home from the beach to find the locks changed -- and some of their possessions stolen. And a Sarasota landlord, the Herald Tribune reports, said Bank of America tried to change the locks on her condominium three times, even though she said the building wasn't even in foreclosure -- an often lengthy process that usually involves a default notice, a scheduled auction and, finally, a bank repossession.
As the Herald Tribune notes, the legal action against lock-changers has been civil, not criminal, because lawyers cannot establish that the banks have criminal intent. Still, it appears that the banks' agents take illegal liberties: In the rented Florida home, lock-changers reportedly stole a laptop, an mp3 player and six bottles of wine.
Bank representatives sometimes change locks even before foreclosure proceedings begin, Florida's Palm Beach Post reports. Since banks hire local companies to change locks, the paper notes, it's often difficult to figure out who has actually done the lock-changing and on whose authority.
As GMAC, JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America suspend foreclosure proceedings because of doubts about the legitimacy of some foreclosure documents, the nation's foreclosure process could face a massive stall, which in turn could further hinder a housing market recovery.
More Americans lost their homes to foreclosure in August than in any other month on record, as banks repossessed 25 percent more homes that month than in August of last year.