When Adier died at 82, he was downstairs in the Morristown, New Jersey home where he and his late wife Rita raised their two adopted children. As of his death in August of 2012, that house held the physical and emotional spoils of the Adlersteins’ elusion. Henri’s children hadn’t lived there for years, but they began the painful preparations that follow the death of a parent.
There were practical matters to tend to, and finding the energy to crack open Henri’s handwritten memories was always a task for the future.
The stories and recollections that book contained must have been gripping. Henri didn’t just survive the war. After Paris fell and soldiers sealed his family’s apartment, the boy helped his father – David’s grandfather, a tailor by trade – to sneak into the flat and boost sacred family heirlooms: a kiddish cup, a seder plate, and some other objects.
But they didn’t survive Wells Fargo. Neither did Henri’s diary.
After Henri died and Hurricane Sandy devastated David’s business, he says, financial paperwork involving the Adier family home was slow to process. Henri’s mortgage, which had been current when he died, went unpaid for two months.
Then, a lawsuit by David and Anne Adier alleges, agents under contract to Wells Fargo visited the house in Morristown, New Jersey, and decided it was abandoned. The inspectors’ finding allowed the bank’s property management subcontractor, Lender Processing Services (LPS), to ask the bank to authorize what’s called a “lockout.” The inspectors left a sticker on the Adiers’ door warning that the bank would consider it abandoned and start changing locks unless notified otherwise.
Anne Adier discovered the sticker on November 6, 2012, the Adiers say, and called the company to inform them they were mistaken, that the house was being looked after and didn’t need to be secured on Wells Fargo’s behalf. “They thanked her for calling and assured her nothing would happen to the property,” David said. (Anne declined to be interviewed.)
Three weeks later, though, David arrived to find the locks changed and the house ransacked. David called the police, but “their party line was this is a civil matter between you and the bank.” Despite Anne’s conversation with LPS, Wells Fargo’s contractors had gotten approval to go into the Adier home. They changed the locks. When David finally got back into the house weeks later, he found it ransacked.
Wells Fargo hadn’t initiated foreclosure proceedings, but refused to deal with David until he furnished his father’s death certificate. After he sent that over, he says the bank demanded to see court papers deeming David his father’s executor. When those documents were certified, the bank finally began negotiating with David about the property’s future.
By then it was the spring of 2013. Bank agents had visited the house repeatedly. Almost every material object had been taken, including family photos and a diary Henri kept of his wartime travails.
“It became this game of cat and mouse, until everything of value — down to the brass door knocker — had been taken,” Adier said.
“The way it works in most cases is the bank engages a property preservation company, which then sub-contracts with another company, who then sub-subcontracts with day laborers to save as much money as possible,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Josh Denbeaux, referring to numerous confidential contracts he has seen in other cases but cannot discuss in detail. “The day laborers get paid $10, $12, $15 bucks a pop for doing a drive-by inspection. They get $200 to $300 for a lockout.”
There is little in the way of accountability or professional training to counteract the skewing effect of those wage incentives, according to Center for American Progress housing market expert Julia Gordon. “The compensation to do the work quickly is there,” Gordon told ThinkProgress, but not the kind of compensation that would motivate people to do it correctly.
Wells Fargo doesn’t dispute that its sub-contracted agents conducted a lockout and a trashout on Henri Adier’s home, but believes that it had the proper legal authority to perform any actions necessary to secure a home they thought to be abandoned.