Alvin and Pat Tjosaas, a retired couple in Woodland Hills, Calif., had the bad luck of having their home mistaken for a neighboring foreclosed home and being cleared by contractors hired by Wells Fargo -- not once but twice.
The Tjosaas' home before contractors mistakenly cleared it. (Courtesy Pat Tjosaas)
A retired bricklayer, Alvin Tjosaas, 77, was the caretaker of his late parents' two-bedroom home in Twentynine Palms, about 200 miles east of his home in Woodland Hills, north of Los Angeles. He is a part owner of the home with his sisters.
Alvin Tjosaas visited the home every four to five months, he said, for maintenance and to work on hobbies in the garage.
"He just loves it up there," Pat Tjosaas, 75, said. "He was in the process of getting ready to re-plumb the house, so he had lots of his tools up there – just a garage full of tools that any man would die for."
But on June 1, a neighbor in Twentynine Palms called the Tjosaas family, asking if they had authorized people to clear out their home.
"We assumed it was a break-in and, really, it was a break-in," Tjosaas said. "They weren't legally supposed to be there."
Tom Goyda, vice president of corporate communications for Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, told ABC News the company had foreclosed appropriately on another property near the Tjosaas house and the error was made when a contractor mistakenly went to the Tjosaas house instead of the correct house.
The Tjosaas home had actually never had a mortgage or lien on it because it was paid for in cash as it was being built about 50 years ago.
"We are deeply sorry for the very personal losses the Tjosaas family suffered as a result of their home being mistakenly secured and entered by a contractor hired to address a different nearby property," the company said in a statement. "We moved quickly and have been in contact with the Tjosaas family to resolve this unfortunate situation and right this wrong."
Once the neighbor called, the Tjosaases called the police but were not able to drive to the property immediately because they were attending their granddaughter's wedding.
When her husband drove to the property three days later, she said the workers said they were authorized to clear out a foreclosed home. Finally, the sheriff came and escorted the workers to the intended location, 10 acres away, she said.
"Alvin was left to sit among the ruins of the house," Tjosaas said of her husband.
She later learned the contractors had used a satellite photo and an address given to them by Wells Fargo.
"They simply were at the wrong location," she said, "not even on our road.
The Tjosaases contacted an attorney and Wells Fargo, but Pat Tjosaas said her attorney "was having trouble getting a contact to return his calls" at the company.
The couple did their best to clean up the mess and asked Wells Fargo to have another subcontractor replace the locks on their home.
However, over Labor Day weekend, Alvin Tjosaas, went to check on the home and saw that it had been broken into and "vandalized" again.
"They had taken things like propane tanks, tires, rims that belonged to vintage cars, and put them on the lawn," his wife said.
The Tjosaases later learned Wells Fargo had hired another contractor who made the same mistake as the first.
Frustrated again, the Tjosaases called their son-in-law, a captain with the Los Angeles Fire Department, who contacted the local media.
"He said, 'Enough is enough'," Pat Tjosaas said.
On Wednesday, the local CBS affiliate produced a story about Wells Fargo twice mistaking the home for a foreclosed property.
The Tjosaases said a representative from Wells Fargo came Thursday morning to issue an official apology in person.
"The representative was very apologetic and we appreciated that," Pat Tjosaas said, "and that they would initiate discussions on settlement issues and that's where we are right now."
However, Tjosaas said antiques (including her late father-in-law's World War I uniform), the American flag that had previously hung in the yard, and appliances had been taken.
"The items are gone and are irreplaceable," she said. "We have to ask for monetary compensation for items that we lost. We will have to see how that plays out with Wells Fargo."
Tjosaas said not only had contractors cleared their belongings and those of her husband's late parents from the home, but it had appeared as though someone had been living in the home once the contractors had broken the locks. While the summer weather can surpass 100 degrees, an electric blanket was plugged in, indicating someone had been there during the evenings, she said.
"They had taken the food," she said. "And there were bottles of beer and bongs."
Tjosaas said she is thankful to the initial media story for grabbing Wells Fargo's attention directly.
"It turned a corner for us. We're not the type of people who seek out that," she said.