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East Baltimore house repo goes astray

Veronica and Peter Nikoroken thought they had cleared up any confusion with Bank of America after a vacancy notice was mistakenly placed on their East Baltimore home in February. Bank of America did not even have a mortgage on their home, after all.

But one month later, Veronica Nikoroken allegedly was startled from her sleep by loud noises downstairs. The man who had broken down the doors to her home allegedly said he was hired by Bank of America to change the locks.

The Nikorokens filed suit last week in Baltimore City Circuit Court against Bank of America and Safeguard Properties LLC for, among other things, trespass and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

“I suspect this happens more often than anyone would like to hear,” said Lauren M. Geisser, the couple’s attorney.

Ohio-based Safeguard describes itself on its website as a “turnkey resource for all aspects of default property management.” Diane R. Fusco, a Safeguard spokeswoman, said the company never received a complaint from the Nikorokens or their lawyer on the matter.

“We have no evidence in our system that we ever performed any work at this address nor did we ever issue any work orders to secure a property in this area on or around this date,” she said in a statement. “The description of the behavior of the person who allegedly entered this property is a complete violation of Safeguard procedures designed to protect the safety of homeowners as well as our vendors.”

A spokesman for Bank of America said the company does not comment on pending litigation

Homeowners across the country have filed similar lawsuits against Safeguard, including at least one other in Baltimore.

Charles E. Chapman Jr. named Safeguard as a defendant in a May 2011 wrongful eviction lawsuit in which he alleged his doors were knocked down, locks were changed and household possessions removed even though he was a tenant in the house. (Chapman was renting the house near Lake Ashburton when it was foreclosed on and had written to the new loan holder that he still lived there, according to the lawsuit.) Chapman and the defendants reached a confidential settlement last year.

In September, the state of Illinois filed suit against the company, alleging unfair and deceptive business practices and consumer fraud.

“In many instances, the properties Safeguard orders its subcontractors to secure are not vacant or insecure,” the lawsuit states. “Nonetheless, Safeguard orders its subcontractors to dispossess legal occupants of their home without legal justification.”

Safeguard has said it will “vigorously defend” itself against the Illinois lawsuit.

The Nikorokens found a “Vacancy Posting Notice” on their property Feb. 18, according to their lawsuit, filed Wednesday. The notice said the mortgage servicer “intends to protect the property from deterioration” and that “it may have locks replaced and plumbing winterized,” according to court documents.

The notice included a number to call if the home was not vacant, and the Nikorokens called the bank, according to the lawsuit. A Bank of America representative who answered the phone said the notice “was a mistake,” according to the lawsuit.

One month later, however, a Safeguard representative was yelling “is anyone home?” after entering the house around 11 p.m., the complaint states. The man broke the front and back doors of the house, according to Geisser, of Gilman & Bedigian LLC in Timonium.

Veronica Nikoroken called police, who called Bank of America after arriving at the house, the complaint states. A bank representative confirmed the vacancy notice, but also said the Nikoroken house was not in the bank’s system, the complaint states. He also told police the Safeguard representative was directed by the bank “to break into the property and change the locks,” the complaint states.

The Safeguard agent did not identify himself, according to the lawsuit. Geisser said she did not know if any criminal charges were filed.

The representative said Bank of America “had made a mistake and had entered the wrong property,” the complaint states.

The lawsuit seeks more than $75,000 in damages for pain and suffering and $1,000 in damages based on the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

Geisser said her clients still do not know why their house was targeted. Another house on the street is in foreclosure, but Geisser did not know if Bank of America held the mortgage.

“We hope to find out what happened for the sign to be placed on the door in the first place,” she said.