House Stripping Common With Foreclosed Homes: What a Person Can Take From a Home After a Foreclosure

The following is an article by Natural Resources Management president Tracy Suttles, a figurehead in the Houston, Texas real estate development scene.

An individual facing foreclosure is only allowed to remove certain items from the home prior to vacating the premises. Removing unapproved items from a foreclosed property is known as “house stripping”. Many former owners engage in house stripping without ever realizing that the practice is illegal.

What A Former Owner Can and Cannot Take From the Home After Foreclosure

Many former owners are under the impression that if they purchased an item and installed the item in the home, they have the right to uninstall the item and take it with them when they leave. This is not the case. The removal of any item that directly affects the value of the home is considered house stripping at best, at worst, defacement of bank property. The former owner is free to take the following items:

  • Personal belongings
  • Unattached appliances (blender, coffeepot, etc.)
  • Garden equipment
  • Furniture
  • Unattached storage buildings

Items that cannot be removed include:

  • Attached appliances ( I.e. dishwashers, stoves, etc.)
  • Built in furniture
  • Carpet or flooring
  • Doors
  • Home fixtures (chandeliers, door knobs, fans, etc.)

Home fixtures and attached appliances may be taken by the former homeowner provided that the individual provides and installs a functional replacement.

House Stripping May Be Considered Defacement of Bank Owned Property

Because taking items such as carpets and doors reduces the value of a home, the bank may not be able to sell the home for enough money to cover the outstanding balance of the former owner’s mortgage loan. Any potential buyers will see the job of replacing flooring or repairing extensive damage done to the home when built in furniture or shelving was removed, as an added cost. The home will be less appealing to buyers and thus sometimes cause a significant financial loss for the bank.

Although this is the intent of some angry former homeowners, many individuals do not realize that when they pack up their new dishwasher and the custom fans they purchased for the bedrooms they are actually defacing bank owned property. They believe that because they purchased it, it belongs to them. Once a fixture or appliance is installed in the home, however, it must stay with the home following a foreclosure unless the former owner elects to replace the item.

Legal Consequences of House Stripping

In 2008 in the town of Sharpsville, PA a man by the name of Scott McCusky was tried and convicted for stripping his home. A local newspaper ran the story along with the verdict–that McCusky pay $174,000 in restitution to the bank and serve 3-15 months in the county jail.

In yet another piece, The Chicago Sun Times ran a story concerning house stripping and its consequences. According to Patrick Zomparelli, a Chicago realtor, some banks are offering homeowners money to leave peacefully without damaging the property.

Although house stripping is illegal, it can be difficult to prove that the act was done by the former homeowner and not thieves or vandals preying on an empty house.

Tracy Suttles can be reached on Twitter at @tracydsuttles.