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April 16, 2014

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They foreclosed on the wrong house

A neighboring property was going into foreclosure, but her condo was cleaned out. A new law might help.

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Justin M. Bowen

All her possessions gone, Nilly Mauck says she will miss the personal things, photographs and her father’s military records, the most.

A Las Vegas woman whose condo was mistakenly emptied in a bungled foreclosure action could be the first person to benefit from a new state law.

Part-time photographer Nilly Mauck, a 31-year-old student at the College of Southern Nevada, had left Las Vegas in mid-December for a snowboarding trip to Utah and returned to stay with a friend for a few days when she received a disturbing phone call. Something was amiss at the Coronado Palms condominium on Badura Avenue that she had owned for the past two years.

She raced to her three-bedroom, two-bathroom ground-floor unit to discover the only things left in her condo were a curtain rod and a satellite dish. She said her couch, bed, dining room set, computer, clothes, pots and pans were gone. So, too, were her financial and medical documents, immigration papers from the Philippines, her father’s military records and photographs of her family, she said.

A crew that clears out foreclosed properties had been sent into Mauck’s condo by the Brenkus Team, a Henderson real estate group. Brenkus has accepted responsibility, saying it was just a mix-up. The foreclosure was a neighboring condo unit.

Mauck learned most of her furnishings were hauled to the dump in Sloan. She said she still has no idea what happened to her papers and photos.

Brenkus initially offered Mauck $5,000 in compensation, which she viewed as adding insult to injury.

“They came into my home and violated my dignity,” Mauck angrily said Wednesday while seated on the floor of her barren living room.

After she discovered the condo had been emptied last month, Mauck contacted Metro Police to file a report that her home had been broken into and everything she owned had been stolen.

Metro spokeswoman Barbara Morgan said she was unaware of any similar cases, but Mauck figures if there’s not more yet, there may be soon enough.

“This can happen to anybody because of all the foreclosures out there,” she said.

Mauck said the removal of her property was actually Brenkus’ second mistake. She said the first occurred earlier in December when the company entered her unit without permission and changed the locks. When Mauck called to complain, Brenkus gave her a new set of keys, she said.

It all appears to add up to a solid lawsuit for Mauck, and she has a law that took effect Oct. 1 that will work in her favor.

Under the state’s old law for a case like hers, aggrieved homeowners could collect triple the amount of damages only for the real estate — for the loss of the property if it was sold out from under the real owner or for loss of use of the property if the real owner was locked out, or if the building itself was damaged, for example.

The change allows for triple damages for personal property. So Mauck could be awarded three times the value of what was removed from her condo.

“The law’s intent was to make sure people in power — banks and real estate companies — could not treat Nevadans poorly without consequences. This law sends a message to people who manage real estate that they must be careful before they take over property,” said Reno attorney Bill Bradley, who advocated for passage of the law as a volunteer lobbyist with the Nevada Justice Association.

The lawyer representing Brenkus in Mauck’s case is Albert Marquis. Ironically, he was the attorney who represented a Las Vegas couple in a high-profile foreclosure mix-up a few years ago — the one that spurred the Nevada Legislature and Gov. Jim Gibbons to approve the new law.

The couple, Gerald and Katrina Thitchener, were mistakenly placed on a foreclosure list in 2002 and were out of town when their residence was cleaned out. They won a $3.1 million judgment against Countrywide Home Loans, but that award was reduced by the Supreme Court to $2.2 million. The high court disallowed the tripling of damages for the loss of personal property.

Marquis said what happened to Mauck was the result of an “honest mistake.” He has recommended they avoid litigation by reaching a settlement through a court-appointed arbitrator.

“There is no question that Ms. Mauck is entitled to fair compensation,” Marquis said. “But we think that her demand for $200,000 is greatly exaggerated.”

Brenkus is offering her $20,000. The company maintains it has photos that show the condo had been largely cleared out before its crew went in. Marquis said the Brenkus photos show signs the condo had been abandoned. The electricity had even been turned off, Marquis said.

Mauck has photos that she took of her condo last year showing it with more furnishings. She said that although she had fallen behind on her mortgage and had agreed with her bank to list the property for a short sale, she had no intention of moving out at the time her belongings were taken.

“I have no time for this drama,” Mauck said in her empty condo Wednesday. “I just want my things back. For all I know I could have been scammed.”

But what hurts the most, she said, is all “the memories that were taken,” the memories that were attached to her photographs and her father’s military records, for example.

She wonders how to put a price on those memories.

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