Washington state law bans mortgage lender from changing locks and barring the borrower from her home after default but before foreclosure

Many mortgage agreements allow the lender to change the locks on the door and take over the property when a borrower-mortgagor defaults or abandons the property; this is intended to prevent the property from becoming dilapidated or taken over by squatters. However, some banks have locked owners out of their homes after they default even if they are still living there and there is no evidence of abandonment or harm to the premises.

The Washington Supreme Court outlawed this practice in  Jordan v. Nationstar Mortg., LLC, 2016 WL 3748978 (Wash. 2016), interpreting a state statute that denies the "owner of the mortgage" the power to "recover possession of the real property, without a foreclosure and sale according to law," Rev. Code Wash. §7.28.230(1). 

The court emphasized that Washington is a lien theory state that leaves title with the homeowner and gives the lender a lien on the property unlike title theory states that assign the property title to the lender and give the borrower an "equity of redemption." Under the lien theory and the terms of the statute, changing the locks without the consent of the homeowner constitutes a trespass. The court suggested that judicial remedies might nonetheless be available if the property were truly abandoned, and the value of the collateral was in jeopardy.