Joseph Keller doesn’t expect he’ll live to see the end of 2013. He blames the three story house at 190 Avondale Avenue.
Five years ago, Keller, 10 months behind on his mortgage payments, received notice of a foreclosure judgment from JP Morgan Chase. In a few weeks, the house would be put up for auction at a sheriff’s sale.
The 58-year-old former social worker and his wife, Jennifer, packed up their home and moved. Joseph thought he would never have anything to do with the house again. And for about a year, he didn’t. Then it started to stalk him.
He had become caught up in a little-known horror of the U.S. housing bust: the zombie title. Six years in, thousands of homeowners are finding themselves legally liable for houses they didn’t know they still owned after banks decided it wasn’t worth their while to complete foreclosures on them. With impunity, banks have been walking away from foreclosures much the way some homeowners walked away from their mortgages when the housing market first crashed.
First, in 2010, the county sued Keller because the house, already picked clean by scavengers, was in a shambles, its hanging gutters and collapsed garage in violation of local housing code. Then the tax collector started sending Keller notices about mounting back taxes, sewer fees and bills for weed and waste removal. And last year, Chase’s debt collector began pressing Keller to pay his mortgage, which had swollen, with penalties and fees, from $62,100.27 to $84,194.69.
The worst news came last January, when the Social Security Administration rejected Keller’s application for disability benefits; the “asset” on Avondale Avenue rendered him ineligible. Keller’s medical problems include advanced liver disease, hepatitis C and inactive tuberculosis. Without disability coverage, he can’t get the liver transplant he needs to stay alive.
Real estate horror continues with ‘zombie foreclosures’.