(WZZM)— Over the last few years, the American dream to own a home turned into a nightmare for millions, and that nightmare continues for many.
"She basically told me that's what it is… you have to pay or you are going into default," says Tory Mihalick.
Grace and Tory Mihalick married each other in 2011. Combined, they have nine kids. The need for more space forced them to buy another home, but Tory kept his old home with thoughts of one day moving back.
The mortgage on the hold home was held by Indy Mac until August 2013, when Tory was notified it was sold to Ocwen Financial. The Mihaliks watched their mortgage payment rise more than $250 in January 2014. The company was unable to explain why the payment went up from $762 to $1,033. That's when they contacted 13 On Your Side's Watchdog Team.
"Basically no matter what question I asked the simple answer [from Ocwen Financial] was 'you owe us $1,033 and you need to pay it right now,'" said Tory. "I said, 'look, until I get some kind of clarification on what these numbers represent, I'm not going to give you guys another $250.'"
Tory paid them the old amount of $762, but in Februrary, Ocwen charged him a late fee and reported him to the credit bureau. After many more phone calls, the Mihaliks were finally told that the increase was due to an escrow shortage, reflecting increased taxes and insurance. However, the Mihaliks say the numbers still did not add up. Tory says prior to finally getting an analysis in March about the escrow, he never had any prior written communication that he was in default, or that his payment was increasing because of an escrow shortage.
The Mihaliks February payment then rose again from $1,033 to $1,065. Tory said he paid the amount, out of fear the company would report him again to the credit bureau.
It didn't matter; Ocwen did report the Mihaliks were late again on payments. They received a letter saying they were two months behind on their mortgage, in default and risking foreclosure.
And their case isn't isolated. The WZZM 13 Watchdog Team scoured the Internet and found more than 20 pages of similar or worse complaints about Ocwen, including the inability to reach the same person, excessive add-on fees and not processing payments in a timely manner. The company also faced dozens of lawsuits. Nationally, the Better Business Bureau gives Ocwen Financial an "F".
"I think it's ridiculous that he is making payment within the grace period and w e were watching the bank to make sure it's coming out, and then we start getting statements saying your payment was late," added Grace Mihalik.
In December, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette joined 47 other states in a settlement with Ocwen Financial that required the company to pay $2.1 billion to those who were forced into foreclosure or denied loan modifications. The settlement stated Ocwen's practices contributed to problems.
"You send in a payment and they send it back with a note that is not enough and now it's a different name. What do you do? You kind of lose faith in the system and the motivation to pay. What should you do is keep paying," says bankruptcy attorney David Anderson.
Anderson is one of the people many troubled homeowners end up meeting, often because of the clerical errors and confusion.
"To hire an attorney to litigate them [the mortgage companies] in court you are talking thousands of dollars and if you are on the edge you don't have the money saved," says Anderson.
"As I learned, it doesn't matter if you are right or wrong, they've got the money, they've got the power, they got the time and the manpower," said Tory.
For the Mihaliks, it's been a fast rollercoaster ride for three months, with their house payment going from $762 to $1,033 then back down to $1065, then $901 and then $884.
"At that point I contacted you [the Watchdog Team] and we would have done a whole lot more, except now I have some kind of answers… but I didn't get that until I talked to you, that's when they suddenly told me, 'oh yeah your payment went down', five minutes later in the same phone conversation," explains Tory.
It may not be over for the Mihaliks, who say Ocwen Financial has not resolved their issues, changing their story since the Watchdog team last met with the family. WZZM 13's Watchdog Team tried contacting Ocwen Financial directly, but the company did not return our calls or emails.