REDFORD, Mich. (WXYZ) - Imagine coming home from work – only to find everything in your house gone – and the locks changed. Even more startling, it wasn't a thief who removed everything you own, but a legitimate company.
It's a company that several large banks use to secure properties after the bank forecloses. But what if they clean out a house that you're still living in?
Unfortunately -- if that mistake happens to you, there isn't much you can do about it other than to hire a lawyer and head to court.
"Everything was just completely gone! There was nothing," said Nicole Corum.
Returning home from vacation in April 2011 to find her things missing and home damaged, Corum called the police.
Surprisingly officers told her they visited her home just days earlier, after calls came in from neighbors. Corum says officer then told her what the company on her doorstep, told them:
"He said, 'Hey I had an order. I work for Safeguard deal with them,'" said Corum.
Safeguard Properties cleans out foreclosed homes for major banks.
Baffled because she had a current lease and had paid on time-- Corum says she called the company hoping to correct the mix-up.
"She said it's all out in the dump, 'we don't keep that in storage' I think that's when it really settled in," said Corum.
All of Nicole's things were tossed in the trash.
"Just to tell my 7 year old little boy... all your toys are gone... it was just awful," said Corum.
"Imagine having your family heirlooms.. something you want to hand down to your children or whatever.. and all of a sudden one day all of that is snatched from you," said attorney Tony Stein.
Stein represents three separate families who have all had their homes cleaned out by Safeguard Properties - he says by mistake.
"We have seen this happen in 2010, 2011, 2012. This behavior continues to repeat itself. And we really have to ask ourselves ‘why is this happening,'" said Stein.
Here in Michigan, in order to evict someone from a property, you need a court order and the eviction can't take place until after the 6 month redemption period to save your home has passed.
Instead, some contractors are making a judgment call on their owner about whether a foreclosed property is occupied. If they think it isn't, they just go on in and clean it out.
Internal memos posted on Safeguard's own website show the company has repeatedly received complaints after contractors made the wrong call.
Memos from 2003, 2005, 2007 and as recently as 2011 reminds contractors to look for signs the property is occupied before entering.
One memo from 2005 even states the company will have to make costly settlements because, "the simple fact that unauthorized entry into an occupied property makes Safeguard's position difficult to defend."
The 7 Action News Investigators found lawsuits filed not only here in Michigan, but across the country in Missouri, Ohio, Florida, Colorado, and Maryland.
"It's called stealing. It doesn't matter if you work for a bank, it's still stealing," said attorney Adam Taub from the Consumer Law Group in Southfield.
Taub won a settlement against Safeguard Properties for one his clients in Redford after the client came home one day to find the locks changed on his home.
Not only were his belongings tossed onto the curb, his flat screen TV, washer, dryer and garbage disposal were gone.
Taub says the more homes Safeguard's contractors consider "abandoned" the more money they make.
"It does happen quite a bit. And there's an incentive for the people that are making money on the ground to see everything as being an abandoned house," said Taub.
In several cases like Corum's, neighbors called police, but officers refused to get involved calling it "a civil matter."
"The police are being called and they're not taking out criminal reports. The prosecutors are not getting involved," said Stein.
Leaving people like Nicole Corum searching for answers on their own.
"I am going to always have that thought ‘I don't have my daughter's baby book.' And I don't have pictures you know stuff that can never be replaced," said Corum. "Just take it. No notice. No warnings. No nothing. I guess that is what is... just flabbergasted me."
Her only recourse is filing a lawsuit against Safeguard for damages.
We contacted Safeguard Properties, they declined our request for an on-camera interview. A spokeswoman told us instances of error are rare compared to the amount of work the company performs.
She says they take careful steps to verify the accuracy of property information before taking any actions and that contractors follow hundreds of policies and procedures to assure accuracy, quality and timeliness.