Neighborhood Watch Report: The Southeast Quadrant Laurel Street Neighborhood

Watch 500 Block

A Cautionary Tale Concerning Squatter Tenants — and WELLS FARGO

The Laurel Street Neighborhood Watch 500 Block is very thankful for the recent police assistance and outstanding support we received from the team at Fighting Back Partnership in dealing with a problem concerning squatter tenants (people who surreptitiously move into and take over foreclosed properties).

In particular, Fighting Back’s John Allen dealt with the problem tenants promptly and professionally, and spared us a more extended confrontation.

As soon as I had noticed a truck with furniture pulled into the driveway of a vacant house across the street, I addressed the three men entering the property. I notified them that we were part of Neighborhood Watch and asked them their intentions. When they replied that they had rented the house, they were questioned further about who had rented them the property, and their answers did not match the information we had on the Neighborhood Watch register. I advised them accordingly and said that I would have to call the police.

They said that was okay.

I called the police and Fighting Back. Meanwhile two of the men left in the truck with the furniture in it and one man stayed in the house. Fighting Back’s John Allen came over immediately and talked with the man in the house who decided he would leave and did so before the police arrived.

Unfortunately, dealing with the bank (Wells Fargo) was nowhere as simple, direct or productive. I had to leave on a business trip, but the next day I called Wells Fargo and spent hours being transferred back and forth — each time ending up eventually with a recording that demanded a loan number or social security number to proceed.

I then contacted a branch manager who told me to ask for the Property Preservation Department and tell them I wanted to submit a claim so they would come out and secure the premises. Nobody at Wells Fargo could find that department, however.

I ultimately did discover a Home Preservation Department, but the person I reached there rudely said that I had the wrong department.

I did finally talk with someone at Default Resolution Network, which was listed as the Trustee on the property. They said to try to talk the renters out of moving in, which we had already achieved.

The following week I went out to talk to another man who appeared at the house. He said he was a locksmith sent out by Wells Fargo to change the locks. I asked him if he had a number for his contact at Wells Fargo; he looked at his work order but said there wasn’t a phone number for anyone at Wells Fargo on it.

A neighbor later found out that the former (foreclosed) owner called Wells Fargo asking if they had changed the locks and they had replied “No.” It remains unclear what exactly transpired with the former owner, the bank, and the locksmith, but the house is still vacant.

It is instructive—and disheartening—to see how much easier it was for this Neighborhood Watch group to interact with illegal squatters than it was with WELLS FARGO.

There is a lesson here: The community will need to exert pressure on banks to act responsibly in securing foreclosed properties.

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