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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Veteran arrested after refusing to leave home after foreclosure

Posted By on Tue, Aug 13, 2013 at 2:46 PM

Mark Harris watches as his belongings are moved out of his house during his Friday eviction.
  • Joeff Davis
  • Mark Harris watches as his belongings are moved out of his house during his Friday eviction.

Desert Storm veteran and longtime metro Atlanta resident Mark Harris was arrested on Saturday for refusing to leave his property after being foreclosed upon and evicted. His eviction came after months of trying to negotiate a compromise with lender Fannie Mae over the mortgage payments on his Avondale Estates home.

According to Harris, police officers knocked on his door around 8 a.m. Friday morning, allegedly with their guns drawn, and told him he was being evicted.

"They knocked on my door at 8:15 a.m. My neighbor called and said there were a lot of police cars in front of my house ... and when I opened the door, two police officers had their guns drawn and they said they were here to evict me," Harris told CL Friday morning as he stood on his lawn and watched his belongings get removed from the house and placed in his front yard. After watching his house be emptied, Harris decided that he would not simply surrender his property.

Harris and his supporters set up tents on his front lawn on Friday afternoon and refused to leave. According to Occupy Our Homes Atlanta's Tim Franzen, who was one of the people in attendance, about 15 to 20 people joined Harris and spent the night in the yard. Police returned the next afternoon and warned the protesters that they had 30 minutes to leave. Four people, including Harris, refused to do so and were arrested.

Overall, five people were charged with criminal trespass. Two of those five people also received an additional charge of obstruction of the law for attaching their arms to a PVC pipe and threading it through a trash can filled with cement in order to prevent officers from removing them from Harris' driveway. (You can watch a video of the arrest, produced by Occupy Our Homes Atlanta, after the jump)

Harris says he made payments of $2,100 a month for 14 years and never missed a payment until he lost his job four years ago. He says he continued to make sporadic payments until June 2012, when he again lost his job, and his house was foreclosed on in October.

He says he started negotiations with Fannie Mae for a loan modification in November 2012 and made a good faith payment of $2,800. Fannie Mae responded, he says, with two options: either sign a two-year lease for the home on which he had been making payments for 18 years, or take $1,500 to move out of the house. He says he refused both offers and instead filed a wrongful foreclosure lawsuit, which he lost. He says it was still being appealed at the time of last week's eviction.

Throughout the negotiations, Harris says Fannie Mae added so many costs to his mortgage that the amount he owes is now much higher then the property's worth.

"The bottom line is, it was a land grab," Harris said Tuesday after spending Saturday in jail. "It was bait and switch. They never negotiated in good faith. Throughout the negotiation there was always one requirement I did not meet. I felt I was wrongfully arrested for being on property I have been making payments on for 18 years and meanwhile my lawsuit appeal has never even been heard."

CL reached out to Fannie Mae for comment. We'll update if we hear back.

UPDATE, 3:11 p.m. A Fannie Mae spokeswoman says in a statement:

"We want to prevent foreclosure and help as many homeowners as possible stay in their homes. In this case, we've offered Mr. Harris a loan modification, a two-year lease, and relocation assistance in an effort to provide a dignified transition. In each case, Mr. Harris either could not or would not accept the assistance we've offered. Mr. Harris is well aware of the multiple conversations he has had with Fannie Mae officers. We encourage any homeowner who is having difficulty making their mortgage payments to reach out for help as soon as possible. Homeowners can contact their servicer, or visit www.knowyouroptions.com to find resources."

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