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Foreclosing On Innocent Renters…Some Solutions

04/15/2009

Across America, right now, hundreds and perhaps thousands of individuals and families who rent homes, condominiums and apartments are facing sudden and unexpected evictions from their residences. The reason: property owner landlords have quietly defaulted on their mortgages and are at or beyond the point of a foreclosure judgment. In many cases, these tenants, who have written lease agreements (and who faithfully pay their rent) are being kept in the dark about threatened or pending residential property foreclosure actions. When notified about the bank’s intent to take over the property, it is often too late. Many receive notices on their doors or in their mailboxes just days and in some cases hours before they are mandated to leave. Some are just locked out, with no notice. Innocent, the renters face the prospect of sudden homelessness.

Recognizing this complex dilemma, The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty has produced an insightful report entitled, “Without Just Cause…A 50 State Review of the (Lack of) Tenant’s Rights in Foreclosure.” The February 25, 2009 report states, “Many tenants, even those who may be current in their rent payments and in full compliance with their lease terms, face an increased risk of housing loss as a direct consequence of foreclosure proceedings, collateral consequences of such proceedings or through subsequent possessory actions commenced by new owners.”  The report outlines what steps should be taken to legislatively address this growing trend, including requiring fair notice to tenants, efforts to preserve existing tenancies, and providing legal assistance.

Two creative ways to avoid last minute surprises are offered on the internet. RealtyTrac.com is offering an early warning system for renters, who pay $25 a year for advance word that the property in which they live is entangled in foreclosure. Renters who are concerned about this problem affecting them should try to mitigate their exposure by being vigilant. They can also check out the status of the rental property using on-line Court records, which in many cases are free to the public, but often unnoticed.

Here are some other potential solutions:

Why not offer “renter foreclosure protection” as an extra coverage under the traditional Renter’s policy? For a small monthly premium, renters would be entitled to emergency housing and utility payments in the event they lose their leaseholds and security deposits due to a foreclosure on the property owner. Legal representation could also be a feature of this type of coverage. This additional coverage could also be sold by an innovative insurance company as stand alone coverage, if there is reluctance to modify the traditional form of renter’s coverage.

Consider the formation of state wide non-profit tenant unions which afford housing funding in the event of a foreclosure to prevent sudden homelessness for those who qualify. With payment of annual dues to such an organization, and with strict qualification criteria, tenants across a state can band together to protect themselves by leveraged numbers by offering alternative housing payments from an emergency fund to those renters who have legitimately been kicked out of their tenancies through now fault of their own. Such unions would have tremendous clout, especially given the increased demand for rentals in light of the current consumer credit crisis.

Create tenant political action committees to push for innovative and responsible state legislation designed to protect innocent renters and lessees in the event they are displaced on short notice due to the financial hardships of their landlord/owners. For example, laws designed to require notice to all renters in any foreclosure action would go a long way toward protecting the health, safety and welfare of unsuspecting tenants. Another way to provide notice is a requirement that all tenants be notified 3o days in advance of the lender’s filing of a foreclosure action. Emergency injunction procedures and laws need to be tailored toward attacking “sudden eviction syndrome.” Some states already protect renters if they are not named in property foreclosure lawsuits, but much more needs to be done, as there is currently a wide disparity between the states on how, if at all, this issue is addressed.

The national foreclosure crisis permeates many levels. Renters in defaulted properties need protection. It’s time to provide immediate and substantive relief as the economic crisis persists.

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