- Renters in Foreclosure: What Are Their Rights? (NOLO.com)
- Foreclosure Rescue Scams and how to spot them (FTC.gov)
WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com) – When Stephanie Marshall got the registered letter in the mail she had a feeling it was bad news. When she read that the place where she was living was going into foreclosure, her eyes filled with tears and her heart started pounding.
“I couldn’t believe it. I pay my rent every month. I was concerned when the letter came because I had been late several months but hadn’t heard anything from the owner,” she told The Final Call.
She tried reaching the owner, no luck. She then called the bank and was told the bank couldn’t discuss how much was owed or when the foreclosure would take place.
“I panicked. I didn’t know what was going on. Was I going to be evicted? What happened to the money I had paid? What was I going to do? I was mad, I was sad. I was confused and didn’t know where to turn for help. It was a bad situation.”
Foreclosures are raising the ranks of the homeless across the country, according to a new report, “Without Just Cause” by the National Low Income Housing Coalition and the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. Renters of foreclosed properties are now among those most at risk of homelessness, but their plight has received little attention. About 40 percent of families facing eviction due to foreclosure are renters whose landlords defaulted on mortgages, while renters have few rights or protections.
When foreclosure hits, tenants who have consistently paid their rent on time may face eviction without notice, coming home to find locks changed and their belongings outside.
“I read about people coming home to find their things on the streets. I didn’t want that to happen to me. I had to do something. I couldn’t find the landlord so I just decided to move,” said Ms. Marshall. “This situation stressed me out but I was in a position to move quickly to avoid anymore problems. I feel sorry for families that don’t have the resources to act as quickly as I did.”
Sheriff Tom Dart of Cook County, IL, has refused to evict renters in these cases.
He suspended all mortgage foreclosure evictions in October, leading to new safeguards added to the eviction process, protecting both tenants of a building and taxpayers.
The first time too many renters learn their building is in foreclosure is when the deputies arrive to evict them. Sheriff Dart’s new protections require banks to provide sworn notice that all tenants have been notified before asking the sheriff to conduct a foreclosure eviction.
He admits he is at risk of violating court orders to evict and could be found in contempt. But the sheriff says he also is responsible for making sure justice is being done. “We will no longer be a party to something that’s so unjust,” he told reporters.
The status of renters in foreclosure cases is a matter of state law that varies from state to state and the District of Columbia. It is a complex situation with renters having few protections: even if they have rights, many renters are often unaware of them, and few have easy access to lawyers, who may also be unaware of tenants’ rights.
The report found only 17 states require any type of notice to tenants about foreclosure; only 14 states and the District of Columbia require a judicial process for renters and foreclosures; in Florida, Iowa, Wisconsin, New York and Ohio tenants can remain in properties if they are not named in foreclosure proceedings.
Only two percent of jurisdictions, New Jersey and the District of Columbia, explicitly preserve tenants’ lease rights after foreclosure.
“This lack of protection for law abiding renters can result in families losing their homes, children changing schools, and communities being destabilized unnecessarily,” said Danilo Pelletiere, National Low Income Housing Coalition research director. “Renter protections are important to stopping the cycle of decline.”
In response, the coalition has called on Congress and the Obama administration to provide:
– $10 billion for the National Housing Trust Fund over 2009-2010 to rehabilitate or build 100,000 rental homes for the lowest income households using green standards.
– $2 billion in Emergency Shelter Grants, for homelessness prevention and housing assistance.
– 400,000 new housing vouchers in 2009-2010.
– Legal protections for tenants in properties subject to foreclosure, including the requirement that existing leases and contracts be honored by new owners and in the absence of a lease, and providing renters with at least 90 days notice before eviction.
“Roughly 40 percent of the families facing eviction are renters and in some cases they receive as little as one week between foreclosure and eviction. These families have limited time and limited resources to find new housing, and without action, an increase in homelessness is imminent,” warned Sheila Crowley, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “Congress and the administration must take the needs of those suffering the most in this recession into consideration,” she said.