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Anna and James Artisensi, shown Friday with daughters Nina, 7, and Ava, 4, were locked out of their Maple Grove house by their mortgage company. They could not afford the payments and were trying to sell.

Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

Whistleblower: Locked out by lender

  • Article by: Paul Levy
  • Star Tribune
  • November 19, 2011 - 4:26 PM

Unable to keep up with their mortgage payments, Anna and James Artisensi stopped paying the bank in July and moved out of their Maple Grove house around Labor Day.

But they insist they didn't abandon the property. They left the power on and continued to pay their utility bill. They also checked the house several times a week. In October, they even found someone willing to buy the property in a short sale for $151,000, or about $68,000 less than they owed to GMAC Mortgage.

The Artisensis say they kept GMAC informed along the way. So they can't understand why the lending giant inexplicably moved to foreclose on the property and change the locks about three weeks ago, making it virtually impossible to show the property to prospective buyers.

"The thing I'm most incensed about is they didn't listen, they don't keep track of my phone calls, they don't care about me as an individual," Anna Artisensi said. "They never should have changed the locks ... I think it's outrageous."

In response to Whistleblower's questions, GMAC said it was merely trying to protect its property.

"In states that can experience damaging climates, such as Minnesota, GMAC Mortgage's procedure is to secure and winterize a property as soon as it appears vacant," GMAC spokeswoman Susan Fitzpatrick said in the statement. "This ensures proper preservation on behalf of our investors and the borrower."

Attorney Jeffrey Zweifel, who represents the Artisensis and specializes in short sales, told Whistleblower that GMAC may have violated a number of laws and its own contract by changing the locks.

"There's a big difference between vacating a house and abandoning it," Zweifel said. "Abandoning a house means it's subject to being destroyed, and this clearly wasn't what was happening. And they were told that repeatedly."

The Artisensis' problems began in 2010, when Anna lost her job and James was laid off and then was only able to find part-time work. Paying the bills was difficult. Not only did they owe about $1,400 a month to GMAC, they also had to cover a second mortgage they took out to cover about $50,000 in credit card debt, much of it related to health care expenses.

This summer, the Artisensis decided they could no longer afford the house and the family -- including two young daughters -- moved into a nearby apartment complex.

"We moved out because we didn't think it was honest to live there when we couldn't afford the payment ... None of this was part of our grand plan," Anna said. "We drastically cut our expenses. But without benefits or health insurance, what could we do?"

GMAC showered the family with letters, sending as many as three in a single day. Some letters threatened foreclosure. Others offered help. The lender repeatedly suggested that the family consider a short sale, where the lender accepts less than is owed on a property in order to avoid costly foreclosure proceedings.

In a statement to Whistleblower, GMAC noted that short sales typically save the company an average of 18 percent, compared with foreclosure. In October, there were 402 short sales in the Twin Cities, a 45 percent increase over the same month last year. GMAC told the Artisensis that a short sale provided several advantages, including up to $3,000 in relocation assistance. Another plus: "You may remain in your home while selling it."

The Artisensis liked the idea and listed the property with a broker in early October. Within two weeks, it had been shown 15 times. The family agreed to sell the house last month, but their Realtor advised them to keep showing the property until the closing was completed.

But those efforts came to an abrupt halt at the end of October, when a company showed up to change the locks. At roughly the same time, according to Anna Artisensi, someone made off with a bunch of property the family had left at the house, including a lawnmower, table saw, aluminum ladder and other items.

The family filed a theft report with Maple Grove police.

GMAC said in a statement that it "will work directly with the borrower to address their claims" of missing items. Keys for new locks "are mailed at the borrower's request," the company said in an e-mail.

On Friday, Anna Artisensi said she found an envelope containing her new keys in the bushes.

Paul Levy • 612-673-4419

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