Live alongside a foreclosed home? Here's a stop-gap measure to keep pipes from bursting
Barbara in Baltimore County owns a condo directly underneath one working its way through foreclosure. Last winter, after the borrower in default moved out, the pipes froze, burst and flooded several other units, she says -- one so badly that the owner had to live elsewhere for months. (Barbara's unit was damaged, too, but only a small part of it.)
When the pipes burst, the bank hadn't yet taken the property back. "It never dawned on me it would go into another winter," she said. But lo, as the temperatures began to drop in October, the condo was still in not-quite-foreclosed limbo.
The solution to avoiding a repeat performance seemed obvious: Get the heat turned back on. But that was much easier said than done.
Her property manager declared that nothing could be done, she said. An attorney she hired couldn't even turn up the name of the foreclosing bank for her (in Maryland, the plaintiff in foreclosures is usually the law firm handling the case). She had already tried -- months earlier -- to pay the empty condo's electric bill herself, to no avail. She even called elected officials, for all the good it did. And she figured that going after the not-yet-former homeowner wouldn't get her anywhere.
A lot of people are probably finding themselves in the same situation, considering how many improperly winterized not-quite-foreclosures the country has. But take note: Barbara finally got results.
One day in December, when weather forecasters were predicting 17 degree temperatures overnight, she and several neighbors called and emailed the property-management company yet again to insist that there had to be a way to get the heat on in the problem unit. This time, an assistant at the firm agreed and made calls of her own. By the end of the afternoon, the Baltimore Gas & Electric bill was in the condo association's name and the heat was back on.
"We were down to the final hours of another disaster," Barbara said. "Somehow, the impossible was done."
When she told me about this last-minute minor miracle, she wasn't sure how it had been managed. She said she'd called BGE herself early last year to try to take over the bill and said she got no satisfaction. "BGE said, 'Nothing we can do. ... It's not your account,'" she recalled.
BGE spokeswoman Linda Foy said the company doesn't have a "standing policy per se" for such a situation, but having a condo or homeowners' association "assume responsibility for the bill is an option." If neighbors can't get anywhere with their association, or if there is no association (think rowhome), they can call BGE's customer-service line "to request service to the other residence be put in their name," she said.
"We would have to approach these types of situations on a case-by-case basis," Foy added in an email.
Judging by Barbara's experience, you might need to be persistent no matter whom you call.
The heat remains on in the unit above her, so for the moment all is well. But she can't believe how much effort it took to flip a switch.
"It was nobody's problem," Barbara said. "And I still don't know whose problem it should have been."