SOMERVILLE, New Jersey (WABC) -- A New Jersey homeowner says she's been wrongly pushed to the brink of foreclosure by one of the biggest banks in the world.
At stake are 20 years of memories and $300,000 in equity.
Just days before her home's auction, she threw a Hail Mary to Nina Pineda and 7 On Your Side.
The Hummingbird garden is Mary Santorella's pride and joy.
"This is my happy place," she said.
Her home of 21 years was scheduled to be auctioned off in a sheriff's sale.
"I would be devastated," Santorella said.
Her longtime partner Michael left her the home they shared in his will when he died in 2012.
"I promised him when he was sick in the hospital that I'd take care of this house," she said. "It was a gift he gave to me."
She took care of their home and the mortgage faithfully.
"Never late, never missed a payment," she said. "Never."
Then, just before COVID, she lost her job. She appealed to the mortgage lender, Santander Bank, for a two- to three-month forbearance to get back on her feet.
But the bank denied her request six times, saying that since her name wasn't on the original mortgage, she had no rights. But they were wrong, and she kept sending in the probated clearly bequeathing the property to her as rightful owner.
"It was a level of incompetence and disorganization consistently," Santorella said.
Finally, after seven months, Santander recognized she did own the house. But days later, the bank slapped her with a foreclosure.
"They pushed my loan into default," Santorella said.
Meantime, seeing her home was in distress, real estate speculators showed up at the door circling to pounce.
"The more you tried to correct it, the deeper you sunk, it was like quicksand," Santorella said.
Congressman Tom Malinowski's office called Santander Bank on his constituent's behalf, saying she has been mistreated and was simply fighting for the right to pay her bills.
"It's a nightmare for her," he said. "It would be unjust and crazy stupid for Mary to lose her house over this, and I hope that nobody at the bank would want to be involved in anything that has that result."
There's good news, after hearing from 7 On Your Side and the US congressman, Santander Bank agreed to issue Santorella a reprieve taking her off the auction block and postponing the sheriff's sale for now.
"I was absolutely elated," She said. "I gotta tell you, the congressman...and you guys, you didn't just talk the great game, you did it.
Malinowski said he asked the Government Affairs representative of Santander Bank to look at Santorella's case with maximum flexibility in the hopes she can stay in her home well past the 30-day deadline.
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