Saturday, June 27, 2009

Foreclosed owner puts tenants at risk

A couple of months ago a woman who had no place to live (we'll call her Sasha) came into Arise for Social Justice for some help and she got it-- Lamont happened to know about a room in a boarding house that fit her budget, and she moved in, very happy that the Worthington St. Shelter was not her next stop.

Two days ago Sasha reappeared at Arise. Apparently the owner of the building had come to her (and three other tenants) at the end of May and told her that the house was being foreclosed upon, that she needed to move in the next twelve days, and that she, the owner, wanted her rent.

Sasha was upset because it appeared that the woman knew the house was being foreclosed upon before she rented the apartment to Sasha. (This is a very common story.) That didn't seem fair to Sasha. She'd withheld her June rent and wanted to know what to do next.

Of course, the story was very much more complicated. We could tell her that if she paid her rent, she should pay it to the new owner, not the old. We could tell her that a new law allowed tenants in foreclosed properties a three month notice, not the usual 30 days. But we also knew that if the dwelling was an illegal boarding house, it might void her right to stay.

The next day, Sasha came back to say that the landlady had come to her room with a man purporting to be from Housing Code Enforcement to say that she had to move out right away. The landlady had also put a padlock on the kitchen door (access to the kitchen was supposed to be included in the rental agreement) which also meant that tenants only had one means of egress if there was a fire.

Six hours of phone calls spread over two days produced the following:
  • I could not find any program in Springfield that assists tenants in foreclosed properties-- some help for owners, but not tenants. I'll keep looking.
  • The woman who owned the house was notified in April-- before Sasha moved in-- of the bank's intent to foreclose.
  • As of June 12, the woman no longer owns the property, it is now owned by an international bank which is proving extremely difficult to reach. We did find the book and page number at the Registry of Deeds which shows the deed transfer.
  • No one from Housing Code Enforcement went to Sasha's apartment with the former owner.
We then went over to where she lives and cut the padlock off the kitchen door so that tenants could cook and escape in case of a fire. We gave Sasha the page and book number in case the former owner calls the police so Sasha can show that the woman is no longer the owner and that the tenants have the right to protect themselves. We also gave Sasha our home numbers so that if there's a problem over the weekend, she can call us.

I know that situations like this are happening all over Springfield. Some owners will continue to rent right up to the very last minute and never inform tenants about a pending foreclosure.

Our tent meeting to form a Springfield Tenants Union will take place on Wednesday, July 8, 6 pm. at the Arise headquarters, 467 State St. Spread the word.

Photo from Fotogalarie.

No comments: