Here we go again…

By Laura Elder
The Daily News
Published January 10, 2010

GALVESTON — A West End property owner is suing Bank of America Corp., asserting its agents mistakenly seized a vacation house he owns free and clear, then changed the locks and shut the power off, resulting in the smelly spoiling of about 75 pounds of salmon and halibut from an Alaska fishing trip and other damages.

Dr. Alan Schroit filed the lawsuit Monday in the 122nd State District Court in Galveston against the bank with which he has neither a relationship nor a mortgage.

Schroit, a retired professor at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, is suing for wrongful invasion of his house in the 4100 block of Green Heron Drive in the Pointe West subdivision.

He filed the lawsuit after he and Bank of America were unable to agree on a settlement, attorney Barry A. Brown said.

Bank of America officials on Friday said they had not had an opportunity to review the lawsuit and typically decline to comment on pending litigation. But the bank is familiar with the case.

“Based on previous discussions with Mr. Schroit, we do not believe the case will show merit,” spokesman Rick Simon said.

Brown has dubbed the case “Halloween Horror.”

Schroit, his wife and some friends arrived at the house Oct. 31 to prepare for about 30 guests to arrive the next day for a party, Schroit said.

When Schroit’s wife tried to unlock the door, the key wouldn’t work, he said. They noticed a poster with the message that the house had been seized by Bank of America in a foreclosure.

“We have nothing to do with Bank of America,” Schroit said.

Schroit called an emergency number on the poster and got a recording advising him to call back during normal office hours during the week, he said.

Schroit said he suspects the bank was really after a house with the same address number on the next street.

Agents working for Bank of America cut off power to the property by turning off the main switch in the lower part of the house, according to the lawsuit. They also changed the locks, so Schroit was unable to reach the switch to turn the power back on, according to the lawsuit.

The Schroits called the police and finally managed to get into the top part of their house, only to be hit by an “overpowering putrid smell of rotten fish,” according to the lawsuit.

The power had been off for about a week, Schroit said.

The Schroits had planned to grill some of the fish for the party.

“It was the most unbearable stench,” Schroit said. “It was so unbearable the police officer asked if we could leave the house so he could take the report; it was absolutely horrible, a gooey mess.”

The Schroits returned to Houston and told people they had invited that the party had been canceled.

“The property sustained water damage, potential mold contamination arising from the standing freezer residue, water, heat and high humidity conditions during the time the electrical power was off,” according to the lawsuit.

Schroit said he kept doors and windows open for days to try to rid the house of the foul odor. Cleanup efforts were substantial, he said.

The floors had to be cleaned, as did the joists of a lower-level ceiling, through which fish blood seeped, and some painting had to done to get the house back to a “preinvasion” state, according to the lawsuit.

Although Bank of America said it would investigate, it did not aid the Schroits, according to the lawsuit.

Schroit’s lawsuit is at least the second in which Bank of America has been accused of seizing the wrong house.

According to an Oct. 30 article in the Floyd County Times, a Wheelwright, Ky., man filed a lawsuit against Bank of America for repossessing his home by mistake and refusing to pay for damages other than replacing the locks.

“Christopher Hamby arrived home on Oct. 5 to find the locks on his doors changed and winterization chemicals placed in the plumbing and various lines cut at the residence,” according to the article.

Hamby also did not have a mortgage with Bank of America, according to the article.

Schroit said he understands mistakes happen. But he said agents working for the bank trespassed and invaded his house.

“I understand everyone makes mistakes, but they should be responsible for their mistakes,” Schroit said. “The whole way it’s being handled makes no sense to me.”