Some of the most common questions immediately following a foreclosure (or leading up to it) are related to which items a borrower can and cannot remove from the property. Many borrowers planned on living in their properties for many years to come and made alterations, sometimes significant, costly alterations, to their properties based on those plans. Can they take tile they put in? The washer and dryer that came with the property? Upgraded lighting? If so, do those things need to be replaced?
Answers tend to vary slightly, but most agree that the lender and/or insurance company have recourse if fixtures are taken or damaged. Fixtures are considered real estate because they are not personal property; they are affixed to the house.
Examples of items that generally should not be removed from a home that is in foreclosure include:
- Cabinets and counter tops
- Appliances such as stoves, built-in microwaves, dishwashers, etc.
- Furnaces and air conditioning units
- Plumbing and copper pipes
- Romex or other electrical wiring
- Light fixtures and ceiling fans
- Doors and hardware
- Flooring, ceilings and walls
- Windows and vents
- Medicine cabinets, sinks, tubs, toilets and showers
- Built-in shelving/bookcases
Examples of items a home owner can typically remove without fearing prosecution:
- All personal items brought into the home by the owner
- Stationary lamps
- Pet-related items such as dog houses, aquariums, bird cages
- Easily removable window coverings such as drapes or curtains
- Refrigerators, televisions, computers and stereo equipment
- Throw and area rugs
- Indoor plants
- Portable fans and heaters
There are also some homeowners, likely upset by the foreclosure, who feel it necessary to intentionally devalue the property. Moral issue aside, this could have criminal consequences. Mortgages normally provide that the homeowner may not commit “waste” upon the property, meaning the homeowner may not destroy, trash, neglect, or do any act upon the property which would diminish its value. If this happens, perpetrators can be charged with theft or criminal damage. Also, a civil suit can be filed for damages.
Oftentimes, it’s the home owner’s insurance companies that are most likely to pursue and prosecute sellers who vandalize or strip their homes while in foreclosure. When banks become responsible for properties through foreclosure proceedings, many will submit an insurance claim to the existing insurance company to cover any damage and/or missing real property items. Insurance companies can then go after the sellers because the company has suffered a loss due to the seller’s intentional behavior.