LACEY, Wash. – Jerod Fiscus had the American dream in his grasp, and then watched it all slip away.
“Those memories are in my head. That’s all I got, ” he said. “I lost my job. I was on unemployment.”
He lost his livelihood, his marriage and like so many others during the economic downturn, his home in Lacey. His voice wavers and he nearly wipes away a tear. Even with his emotions in check, Fiscus takes the blame.
“That’s all my fault. That’s nobody else’s fault but mine, ” he said.
Fiscus says there is another loss he believes is illegal, painful, and just plain wrong.
Attorney Chelsea Hicks with the Northwest Justice Project represents Fiscus and other clients in the same situation. She says Washington state law gives homeowners exactly twenty days to vacate a house with the clock starting the day of the foreclosure sale.
“Most people rely on that and they have to pack up their belongings and move out, ” Hicks said.
The suit claims the Fiscus house was sold on March 8th, 2013 but was essentially gutted just ten days later by a company called Safeguard Properties.
“Gone. Cleaned out. Everything, ” Fiscus said.
Fiscus and Hicks showed pictures from inside his house of piles of clothes, mementos, the birth video of his daughter, that had all been bagged up and moved to the lawn to be tossed away.
When banks take back a home they hire companies like Safeguard to do what’s called a “trash out.”
Workers go in to secure the property, change the locks and throw out property left behind by the owners. But there are rules and Fiscus says Safeguard broke them.
He’s not alone.
The KOMO 4 Investigators uncovered dozens upon dozens of similar cases filed against Safeguard in federal and state courts across the country.
The state of Illinois has sued Safeguard over its alleged illegal trash out tactics. That case is still happening.
Locally, the Washington Attorney General’s office can’t reveal the status of any ongoing investigations it may have but did confirm ten active complaints filed against Safeguard.
“They just have no regard for your personal property. They took anything that was there, ” said Byron Brassfield.
He sued Safeguard back in 2010, accusing the company and its contractors of illegally trashing out his Port Townsend home.
Instead of violating that twenty day rule, Brassfield says Safeguard had the place cleared out even before an eviction notice was served.
“All my tools were there. I’ve been a contractor for 35 years. So that hurt, ” Brassfield said.
In his trash-out, Brassfield says he also lost hundreds of small, expensive and sometimes irreplaceable parts for the family sailboat he was rebuilding in the driveway. He claims the only thing that kept Safeguard from removing his 20, 000 lbs. boat was the estimated tow bill of $5, 000.
The boat has been and is now moored in Port Angeles.
“Took everything off the property, including toilet paper, you name it, ” he said.
Brassfield’s attorney Chalmers Johnson built a theory around money for contractors. “Safeguard pays them by the cubic yard and so in order to get paid this guy takes all of Byron’s stuff and piles it in the yard and then takes a photograph so he can show how many cubic yards it is so he can get paid more, ” Johnson said.
As far as getting into houses too soon, Hicks chalks that up to a breakdown in communication.
“Honestly, I think it’s just sloppiness, ” she said.
Hicks believes Safeguard and the banks are so overwhelmed with foreclosure cases that the 20 day waiting period gets lost in the shuffle.
Safeguard admitted no wrongdoing in Brassfield’s settlement and couldn’t speak about Fiscus’ case either. In a statement, the company said the goal is to clean up blighted properties. “It is important to us that we are an active participant within the communities in which we work, ” the company said.
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