Homeowner fights bank eviction

Teresa and Sadao Uehara were in a life and death struggle with a rare form of spinal meningitis when a phone call informed them of a missed payment on their home. Teresa, who was attending to her husband in the intensive care unit, said a Wells Fargo representative told her not to worry and to contact them when Sadao was out of the ICU.

The couple had been working with the bank to avoid foreclosure on their home in the Mendenhall Valley.

But weeks after the call, Wells Fargo sold – and bought – the Uehara home at a foreclosure auction while Sadao lay dying. He passed on March 18.

On Thursday, Uehara, through her attorney, sought a temporary restraining order to keep the bank from evicting her while her case is being heard.

Superior Court Judge Philip Pallenberg delayed a decision until Friday to ensure Wells Fargo had been notified of the request.

Mark Skolnick, an attorney representing foreclosure trustee Alaska Trustee LLC, argued that an eviction hadn’t been filed yet. He said eviction proceedings had been stopped while the matter was being investigated.

“I am not giving you any promises to when we would start up again but we are also investigating this full matter,” said Skolnick, who appeared by phone. “This injunction, this pursuit of it, in a roundabout way is already happening.”

When contacted by the Empire, Wells Fargo representatives said they were not allowed to discuss the case with the media and gave a number for corporate representative Vickee Adams. Calls to Adams were not returned by press time.

Uehara’s attorney, Holly Handler, said that in Alaska, a foreclosure does not have to be initiated in court on a residence.

“They have what is known as a non-judicial foreclosure process,” Handler said. “Which means that the bank, or whoever the servicer is, can have a foreclosure trustee publish a notice of default to the homeowner, set a sale date that, if it isn’t cancelled or postponed, the trustee will actually continue with and conduct the foreclosure sale on the courthouse steps.”

According to Handler the original order of default was filed last July and an original foreclosure file date was set for October 2010. The date was postponed because of the payment plan reached by the Uehara’s and Wells Fargo. In February the missed payment call came along with the reassurance that no action was being taken.

“They just went ahead with the foreclosure,” Handler said. “She did not even know about it at the time.”

Handler said that after Alaska Legal Services Corp., for which she works, sued on Uehara’s behalf, Uehara received a copy of her house key for changed locks and a notice to remove all of her belongings in 15 days or Wells Fargo will auction them off or give them to charity. Wells Fargo still has complete access to her home via the original keys as does Juneau’s M&M Services, hired to do the lockout.

“They just boarded up the house,” Handler said. “Put up a ‘No Trespassing’ sign. They cleaned out the fridge, everything, not one ice cube is left.”

Uehara’s lawsuit also claims violations of the Alaska Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Act and Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. The complaint states that after approaching defendants Wells Fargo and Alaska Trustee about the issues last week, the defendants then illegally locked Uehara out of her home.

Handler said normally, after a foreclosure, a bank will hire an attorney to file a forcible entry and detainer lawsuit to evict the homeowner. If a court decides it is appropriate to continue as an eviction case with no dispute over title to the property and the bank wins the eviction case, they will get a court order giving them legal possession of the property. Then they will change the locks.

Handler stated Wells Fargo never filed an eviction case or got court order giving them possession of the property.

• Contact reporter Klas Stolpe at 523-2263 or at klas.stolpe@juneauempire.com.

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