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Last month, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed a lawsuit against Safeguard Properties alleging that the company illegally broke into the houses of people behind on their mortgage payments or in foreclosure, and then not only removed the homeowners' property but also locked them out.

While Safeguard is indeed a company hired by lenders to maintain vacant and foreclosed homes, many homeowners are criticizing the maintenance firm for breaking into homes and removing property when there are clear indicators that the houses are in fact occupied - such as cars in the driveway and dogs inside the home.

According to the Illinois Attorney General's office, more than 200 complaints have been made by people in Illinois alleging that Safeguard has removed property from their homes. Among the complaints - and referenced in the Attorney General lawsuit - are allegations that Safeguard's representatives have informed homeowners that they are not permitted to live in their homes during the Illinois foreclosure process, which is clearly a misrepresentation of the law.

In fact, under Illinois law homeowners can remain in their homes even if they are in foreclosure or have missed mortgage payments. The right to stay in their homes continues until the foreclosure process is completed and the court enters an order of possession in favor of the lender.

  • However, in spite of these protections, the recently filed Attorney General lawsuit delineates a laundry list of alleged wrongful acts perpetrated by Safeguard and its subcontractors, including:
  • Illegally breaking into homes
  • Removing the personal property of the homeowners
  • Locking the owners out of the homes
  • Turning off the utilities for properties legally occupied
  • Refusing to allow owners to re-enter into their homes
  • Making deceptive and coercive representations to homeowners

According to court documents, many of these issues could be eliminated if Safeguard merely trained it employees and subcontractors the proper and legal methods for determining whether homes in foreclosure are actually vacant before breaking into them.

Sidestep foreclosure using bankruptcy

Importantly, one of the easiest ways to avoid the foreclosure process altogether is the simply file for bankruptcy. For instance, when struggling homeowners file for bankruptcy, all attempts by creditors to collect from the homeowners must stop, including foreclosure actions. In addition, for those homeowners who are behind on mortgage payments and wish to save their homes, a Chapter 13 bankruptcy permits individuals to discharge their debts after sticking to a court-approved monthly payment plan for three to five years - effectively becoming current on their mortgage payments at the end of that period.

But, a Chapter 13 bankruptcy may not be the ideal solution for everyone, which is why it is always best to seek the counsel of an experienced bankruptcy attorney if you are buried under a mountain of debt. A knowledgeable attorney can review your debt and help determine what option may be fit your needs given your circumstances.

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