Jeff Swensen for The Wall Street Journal
Angela Iannelli came home from work to find her home padlocked and her 11-year-old Blue Macaw, Luke, missing. Bank of America had erroneously told a contractor to enter the house and change the locks.
PITTSBURGH—Bank of America Corp. apologized after its local contractor entered the home of a mortgage borrower when she was away, cut off utilities, padlocked the door and confiscated her pet parrot, Luke.
Angela Iannelli, 46 years old, alleged in a lawsuit Monday that the October incident—which separated her from her 11-year-old parrot for more than a week—caused so much "emotional distress" that she needed a prescription medication for anxiety.
A Bank of America spokesman said Wednesday a bank employee erroneously believed the house was vacant and sent the contractor there with instructions to install a new lock and otherwise "secure" the property. The bank spokesman said those instructions were inappropriate because Ms. Iannelli wasn't in default and the house wasn't vacant.
Mortgage lenders have struggled in the past three years to hire and train enough people to deal with the biggest wave of foreclosures since the 1930s. Nearly eight million households, or 15% of those with mortgages, are behind on their payments or in the foreclosure process.
Many borrowers complain they get the runaround when they call their lenders for help, receive contradictory information from different employees and are required to repeatedly fax the same documents.
At the same time, suicide threats from distressed borrowers are so common that one lender, OneWest Bank Group in Pasadena, Calif., had to establish procedures for alerting the police. Lenders' call-center employees are under heavy pressure. "These people make $14 or $15 an hour, and we ask them to move mountains," said a OneWest executive at an industry conference last month.
In her civil suit filed in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, Ms. Iannelli said a contractor hired by Bank of America entered her house about 15 miles north of Pittsburgh in mid-October when she was away. According to the suit, in an "invasion" of the home, the contractor stopped utility services, cut water lines and electrical wiring, damaged flooring and finishings, poured antifreeze into sinks and toilets, and "stole" the parrot.
Ms. Iannelli, who owns a diner and works part-time as a bartender, said Bank of America representatives weren't helpful when she called in to protest. They first denied knowing where the parrot was, and later told her she could go to the offices of the contractor, about 80 miles away, to retrieve the bird herself. Ms. Iannelli said bank representatives also told her they were "tired" of hearing from her, hung up on her and advised her to seek help from the police.
Her lawyer, Michael Rosenzweig, a partner at Edgar Snyder & Associates in Pittsburgh, said Ms. Iannelli was seeking damages of more than $50,000. The amount of any damages would be decided by a jury if the case goes to trial.
A Bank of America spokesman said the bank would "quickly review the allegations in the lawsuit, the actual events that led to them and the causes of those events, and consider any hardship that resulted."
Mr. Rosenzweig said Ms. Iannelli had missed one payment around the time of the incident but quickly caught up and was now current on her loan.
After she drove two hours to reclaim her parrot in October, the bird initially seemed nervous, Ms. Iannelli said in an interview Wednesday. "He's doing very well now," she said.
Bank Sorry for Taking Parrot
Bank of America Believed Woman's
Home Was Vacant, Padlocked It
and Kept Bird Over a Week