Source: Grosse Pointe News Online

Everything and the kitchen sink

by Kathy Ryan

April 15, 2010

It’s a disturbing trend for foreclosed properties. As the former owner moves out, he takes not just furniture and personal possessions, but just about anything that is and isn’t nailed down.

Kitchen cabinets, built-in appliances, sinks, toilets, bathtubs and light fixtures are removed, leaving exposed wires, water pipes and damaged interiors.

Municipal building inspectors are trying to get banks that own these properties to be more aggressive in going after those who remove items they no longer own.

In Grosse Pointe Woods, one bank has stepped up and is asking police to pursue charges against a former homeowner.

“Our hands had been tied,” said Sgt. Andrew Pazuchowski, “but now banks are coming forward and pressing charges. And we welcome their change in attitude.”

The Woods case involves a house on Peach Tree. The house had gone through foreclosure and is now owned by Indy Mac Federal Bank in Austin, Texas. The previous owner gained access to the house and hired a local contractor to remove kitchen cabinets and bathroom fixtures from the house.

In March, a neighbor called police, concerned that workers were carrying items from the house. When police arrived, the previous owner was on the property and told police he was clearing the house because of a foreclosure.

When the real estate agent handling the property for the Texas bank entered the house a few weeks later, she reported to the bank that several items had been removed. On April 6, the bank notified Grosse Pointe Woods police it wished to press charges against the former owner. He was scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday, April 14 in Grosse Pointe Woods Municipal Court on charges of malicious destruction of property, a misdemeanor.

In this case, the former owner is getting off easy, because according to director of the Woods building department Gene Tutag, Macomb County officials are charging former homeowners with felonies when they remove property they no longer own.

“We applaud the bank for taking this step,” Tutag said. “Situations like this lower property values everywhere. We’re aware of other cases, where owners sell entire kitchens to contractors or just remove it and store it somewhere. So when the house finally goes on the market, it’s difficult to sell when everything has been stripped from it. But most banks just ignored it, and we couldn’t get them to take action. Hopefully this case will be the beginning of a new trend.”

Both Tutag and Pazuchowski urge neighbors to call police when they see suspicious activity at foreclosed houses.

“The former homeowner thinks the only one being hurt is the bank, but that’s not true,” said Tutag. “A house that has been stripped down to the studs sits on the market for a very long time and becomes an eyesore. It lowers everyone’s property values.”

According to Tutag, there are approximately 90 foreclosed houses in the Woods, and he urges real estate agents who are handling these houses to report any damage to the police.

“We will actively pursue these cases,” Pazuchowski said. “People need to think twice about what they’re doing, especially if they know we’ll be coming after them.”