Foreclosures have skyrocketed virtually every month since the collapse of the housing market. Across the country, people who bought homes at inflated prices and took adjustable rate mortgages are losing the properties to foreclosure in record numbers as home values decline. (To put the sheer quantity into context, consider this: foreclosures are reported to have “fallen slightly” during August, according to the Washington Post, because there were “only” 358,471 foreclosure filings nationwide during that month. That’s an 18% increase from August 2008!) However, not every story follows the typical “homeowner borrowed too much, homeowner loses home” formula. The stories below run the gamut from weird to tragic to outrageous, capturing some of the less common events on today’s foreclosure scene.
Executive Foreclosure Squatting
The typical foreclosure story is rather common: homeowner can no longer make payments, homeowner goes into foreclosure and loses the home, home goes on the market. But every once in a while a foreclosed home or two falls off the back of the proverbial truck, as DS News reported on September 11, 2009. According to the story, Wells Fargo executive Cheronda Guyton was found to have:
“…moved into a $12 million mansion in Malibu, California, and turned it into an exclusive party pad just after the owners – a couple whose savings were wiped out in Bernie Madoff’s ponzi scheme – surrendered the house to Wells Fargo to settle their debts.”
The bank also reportedly “refused to show the home to would-be buyers” while the disgraced exec was living it up, infuriating local real estate agents. What’s worse is that Guyton is not just an executive in some extraneous department, but a senior vice president responsible for foreclosed properties. In other words, precisely the type of person who should know better. Speculation has surfaced that the bank may have been complicit in the entire scam in efforts to keep the mansion in its inventory of “available housing that’s not brought to market, out of fears doing so would drive down its sales value.”
Evicting the Elderly
While Orange County deputy Dan Mendoza is quick to point out that evictions are nothing more than “business disagreements”, stories like these remind us of the human element. On September 10, 2009, Reuters tells the heartbreaking story of Mendoza’s assignment to evict a “70-year-old woman named Aida, who only speaks Spanish and cries with worry over her grandchildren’s belongings.” After discussing how Mendoza had to summon paramedics to calm the elderly woman’s stress-induced stomach pains, the article highlights some of the other things eviction offers are encountering on today’s foreclosure eviction scene:
“Mendoza talks about finding senior citizens, small kids and pitbulls left behind in the homes. Figueroa says many homes are in appalling state, with mold eating through the roof, meat rotting in the refrigerator and animal feces and urine soiling the carpet. One older man was growing marijuana upstairs, another took his life when deputies arrived.”
It’s one thing to hold parties in a foreclosed mansion or lose your home, but to be so terrified of foreclosure that you take your own life is truly something else. Fox News broke the heart-wrenching story in July 2009 of Carlene Balderrama, a 53 year old Massachusetts mother who apparently committed suicide by gunshot when it became clear that she was to lose her home. Complicating matters is the fact that Balderrama’s husband, John, claims to have had no knowledge of the impending foreclosure until now.
“I had no clue,” he told The Associated Press. He said that unbeknownst to him, his wife had been fielding letters from the mortgage company, PHH Mortgage Corp., and shredding them.
Chillingly, Fox reports that Carlene had faxed a letter to her mortgage company on Tuesday July 22 to warn that “by the time you foreclose on my house I’ll be dead.” She is also said to have left a suicide note advising her family to “take the insurance money and pay for the house.” Even more confusing is John’s income as a plumber: $95,000 per year, or roughly $6,932 a month after taxes. Why was paying the mortgage on a $230,000 home so difficult that his wife saw suicide as the only way out?
House Set Ablaze, Kids Poisoned
In the same tragic vein as the last story comes the woman who apparently set fire to her house and attempted to poison her kids in anticipation of foreclosure. Thirty-three year old Tanya Friedly of Detroit was “accused of taking her children out of school early Nov. 18, slipping a sedative in their hot chocolate and setting her own bed on fire in a suicide attempt.” Luckily, the children got away and summoned emergency services, while neighbors pulled Friedly from the inferno. Friedly’s mother, quoted for the story, suggested that her daughter’s bizarre and reprehensible actions may have stemmed from circumstances like “taking new medications for depression and anxiety, her boyfriend lost his job and she was faced with losing her home to foreclosure.” Early reports from psychiatrists indicated that Friedly “does not understand the charges” – assault with intent to murder and arson – brought against her, but she has since “regained competency” by taking anti-anxiety medication and will soon stand trial.
Arizona Couple Forced to Relocate
A somewhat similar case involves an elderly couple in Tucson, Arizona being forced out of their dream home by foreclosure. In a state where one out of every 135 housing units is in foreclosure (the nation’s third highest foreclosure rate, according to AZ StarNet), the story remains gripping.
“The couple’s saga is painful to their daughter, Marybel Ramírez, who bought the house for her parents in 2004 after they all moved here from Douglas. But she lost her job, then depleted her savings and couldn’t refinance. Then, her husband lost his job and the young couple had to survive on what was left of their savings, as well as unemployment benefits and food stamps.”
Once the mortgage payments stopped, there was nothing, not even an attempt at a payment plan, standing between Jesús and Irma Terán and foreclosure of the home they had put so much into – “about $6,000 in this house in upgrades — a tile floor, wrought-iron bars over the windows and screen doors, ceiling fans, shelving in the garage and new paint”, according to AZ StarNet. Aside from noting that Irma was “ghost-white, too weak and ill to see her prized possessions” being packed up, the story simply concludes with Marybel’s somber acknowledgment that she “cannot change reality.”
Foreclosure Protesters Kicked and Pepper Sprayed
The wave of foreclosures has engulfed many homeowners who are beloved by their neighbors and communities, leading to protests and rallies aimed at getting their foreclosures called off. This was the case in Clinton, Minnesota in September, when a planned eviction was obstructed by a squad of activist protesters. The scene got ugly in a hurry, as IndyBay.org reports:
“After rallying the crowd, a handful of activists crossed the yellow tape roping off Clinton Avenue on either side of the house and were promptly assaulted by the police with kicks and pepper spray. Other supporters crossed the now-removed yellow tape from the opposite direction to ensure the activists’ safety. Officers responded aggressively; one shoved someone to the ground with a two-handed shove to the chest. A TC Indymedia volunteer was sprayed directly in the face while on the “public” side of the police tape.”
Others who simply sat down in front of the house in civil disobedience were nevertheless arrested for “obstruction of legal process”, though these people were never officially charged with anything and have since been released. Why the protesters were violently apprehended instead of simply arrested remains unexplained.
The Accidental Eviction (or was it?)
With hundreds of thousands of new foreclosure filings piling up each month, mistakes are inevitable. When a mistake winds up wrongly putting someone’s house into foreclosure auction, however, it’s worth a second look. The Wall Street Journal tells us about Anna Ramirez, a Homestead, Florida woman who “discovered her belongings in the front yard, and a man demanding she vacate the home he won at auction for $87,000.” Already bewildered by what was going on, NBC Miami reports that Ramirez and her family were even given a “leave in 3 hours or else” ultimatum by local police! Ramirez complained that the bank “took the house from right under my feet” and indeed, it was only several days later when the whole mess was linked to an error in the Miami-Dade clerk’s office. Ramirez is now back in her home, but claims that her belongings have been damaged and that she is “exploring legal options.”
But it gets better. An update to the original WSJ story claims that the foreclosure was not in error because the mortgage on Ms. Ramirez’ Florida home had not been paid “in some time.” In a case where no one seems to know the full truth and surprises keep coming out of the woodwork, a commenter on the article spoke for many of us when he wondered “who are the people who run these banks and why do they still have jobs?”
State Rep Foreclosure
It appears that government officials are not exempt from the foreclosure crisis either. In an August 23 story, the Miami Herald reveals that Florida State Rep. Erik Fresen is in foreclosure after failing to make mortgage payments on his home for over a year. The 2014 Florida House Speaker hopeful apparently “owes nearly $615,000 in principal, interest and late fees”, and claims to be “the victim of the banking crisis meltdown and sloppy record keeping by the bank.” Fresen and his attorney also claim to have spent hours on the phone with Chase loan officials to no avail. Unfortunately for Fresen, Chase does not appear to be in any mood for posturing. Spokeswoman Nancy Norris had stern remarks for the State Rep, bluntly stating that “refusing to pay your mortgage isn’t going to bring us to the table any faster. We will eventually foreclose. It’s bad for us, and it’s bad for you.”
The Near Save
A common theme of today’s foreclosure surge is homeowners and banks attempting to find other alternatives. Unfortunately (as we have already seen) these attempts are not always made. But even when they are, that is apparently no guarantee of keeping one’s home. A New Hampshire Public Radio story describes the plight of Sharon Gagnon, who thought she had negotiated a payment extension under the federal Making Home Affordable Program but instead expressed shock and indignation when “a real estate agent came by and told her she [and her husband] didn’t own her house anymore.” Gagnon did her best to patiently explain the agreement she and Chase had reached to the agent, noting that she now had a three month window to come up with some payment money before any kind of foreclosure proceedings began. But according to Gagnon:
“And she’s like, well, I hope Chase didn’t screw you was her response.”
What happened next only added more confusion to the situation. The bank, which had previously accepted the mortgage modification and Gagnon’s check that accompanied it, mysteriously sent the check back without explanation. As Gagnon then explains:
“And the next thing I know is there’s an eviction notice on the door, from the sheriff, telling us we need to be out by September 15th. This was on august 10th. So, naturally that was a whole other level of panic. Now not only are they telling me they own my house. They’re kicking me out of it.”
Chase wont comment on the matter other than to say that it is “under investigation” at present. NHPR claims that Sharon Gagnon’s situation was “unusual in New Hampshire” and blamed both the bureaucratic behavior of banks as well as the aggressiveness zeal with which they pursue foreclosure cases today.
Send in The Catfish
Distressed homeowners aren’t the only ones with mounting costs in the foreclosure surge. Municipal governments are finding themselves swamped with huge bills for common foreclosure tasks, such as cleanup and maintenance. A code enforcement officer in Florida, for example, reported that the town of Wellington was spending $7,000 per month on chemicals just to keep foreclosed swimming pools in sanitary condition! But let not your heart be troubled. While reports of government waste and inefficiency are on the rise, the town of Wellington has discovered a truly cost-effective alternative to chemicals – catfish. NBC Los Angeles breaks it down for us:
“At a typical home, the town drops 15 algae-eating fish in the pool to keep the water clean. In addition to being a potential health hazard, Mitchell believes that cleaner more sanitary pools will make the houses more attractive to buyers, as will the lower fees for upkeep.”
Asked to explain the emergence of her idea, Debra Mitchell offered “Some of us got clever and decided to try the fish-eating…er algae eating fish.”