Housing Complex

Help, My Landlord Got Foreclosed On!

Single family homes—and large apartment buildings—aren’t the only types of real estate that the recession has sent into foreclosure over the last several years. A number of smaller-scale landlords have also lost their rental properties to banks, and often try to kick out their tenants. The most important thing to know: Foreclosure is not a valid reason for eviction. But not everybody realizes this when it happens, like City Paper’s receptionist Keli Anaya, who tells his story below.

It would have been nice to keep living here. (Lydia DePillis)

I moved to Columbia Heights at the beginning of October. A coworker was moving out of her Girard Street rowhouse, and I needed a place to live—perfect.

The charm, though, started to wear off when I met the landlord, Rose*. Going over the lease, she made sure to emphasize a few sparkling bullet points. "The place is not a revolving door,” the lease read. “Please don't have multiple people coming over within minutes of each other. I don't know what you do on your own free time, but sometimes you need to go over to stay the night at their place."

I'm pretty sure landlords cannot put restrictions on your sex life. But it went on:  Another bullet point said that I shouldn't drill holes in the wall to peek on other roommates undressing. Ok, weird, but I really needed a place to live, so I hid my apprehension behind a big smile.

I signed most of the lease, but made sure that if I had any disagreements, we both edited them. For example, I made sure that she would give at least three days notice before coming to the house. I also declined to sign a sheet stating that I received four keys, because I hadn't received any at that point. I told the landlord that I would follow up when the keys were made.

A couple of weeks passed, and I realized that Rose’s mail was piling up. She hadn't come by to pick up parcels or what seemed to be formal letters. A pair of letters stood out: One with just her name and the other addressed to the tenants. I gave the letter to the roommate that had lived in the house the longest, figuring that it might be something that she would have known before I moved in.

My roommate sent a PDF of the letter the next morning. The letter stated that the house had been foreclosed upon and would be auctioned off on the 18th of November. Awesome. I just moved less than a month ago and now I have to find a new place.

Immediately, I contacted my mom and aunt, who work in real estate. They both jumped online and riffled through the landlord’s public records, finding that the house was under two mortgages with two liens. She'd been paying taxes on the property, but not the mortgages.

My mom helped me draft an email including the information we found in the public records and a request for some kind of formal letter proving that Rose owns the property and is taking proactive steps to keep it. If she didn’t, then she would use my security deposit as my last month's rent, with payments going month to month, while I looked for alternative living arrangements.

Instead, at the end of October, Rose sent me an eviction notice via email. It included this little gem: "The lease also states that I may evict anyone within 30 days for whatever reason." (Actually, it said that either party could terminate the lease with 30 days written notice, and legal reasons for doing so are stated here.)

In mid-November, we received another email saying that the house had been saved. Did we really know? No, we didn’t, because she still refused to give us a tangible letter from the bank. I was sending out fifteen to twenty Craigslist replies a day, not finding much. I mean, it's winter and the choices are slim. The auction date came and went, and we heard nothing.

Then, she started sending me emails insisting that I pay December's rent. I told her that without that letter from the bank, I wouldn’t pay her a thing. It’s just not a good idea to pay someone rent when they may not own the property, especially if she's also not paying the mortgages.

Once Rose realized that I wouldn't pay, she threatened to throw me out. "I have secured a moving van to remove your times from the house tomorrow by 6PM,” she wrote. “Your items will be placed in storage until you totally move out and return your keys." I freaked out, for obvious reasons, and started looking up my rights online. I pored over the Tenant Advocate Survival Guide, looked up information at the Housing Authority, and even called the police.

It's important to know that an eviction notice needs to do these things:

  1. State that the property is registered. (That's what I had been asking for the whole time!)
  2. Give the reason for the eviction and the deadline.
  3. State your rights for relocation help.
  4. Give the address and phone number for the Rental Accommodation and Conversion Divison (RACD).
  5. The notice must be given in person to someone at the residence who is 16 years or older, or sent in the mail.

The Housing Authority told me that an email is not a valid form of receiving an eviction. They also told me that I could call the police and have Rose arrested for robbery if she did try to remove my belongings.  The Tenant Advocate told me the same thing.  My local police station agreed, and I told them I would be contacting them to come out if she did arrive with a truck.  Finally, I sent her an email about possibly being arrested, and she sent a simple, "ok."

I raced home after work and waited. Rose never came.

The next day I decided to go down to the Housing Authority to see how far I could get exposing her for whatever crimes she may have committed. They directed me to the landlord/tenant court. I made my way over there where they told me to go to the main courthouse. Eventually, I learned that I needed to get a temporary restraining order to keep her from going to the house and taking my things. I grabbed the paperwork, and decided that I would turn it in the next day.

That night I met with a couple who were looking to fill a room. Before I could turn in the restraining order, they asked me to join their home, and I decided to leave the whole situation behind me.

Here are a few things I learned:

  1. A landlord cannot threaten you under any circumstance. It's illegal.
  2. An eviction notice must be served in the correct manner in order to be valid.
  3. From my experience, the runaround with the legal system will take you about three days to understand exactly what needs to be done, especially if you need any fee waivers.
  4. Call the Office of the Tenant Advocate for advice and assistance.
  5. If any possible illegal activities occur, you can file a petition against your landlord.
  6. If you need legal help, low-cost services may be available from these non-profits.

According to city records, Rose’s house hasn’t been sold, so maybe she saved it after all (other tenants have had to tangle with banks after a foreclosure sale goes through). I could have fought her attempt to evict me, and probably won—it would have taken time and energy I don’t have, and it was easier just to move. But if you really want to stay where you are when a house is foreclosed upon, you should be able to. Don’t let a notice of foreclosure, or an illegal eviction notice, make the decision for you.

* Not her real name.

  • Housing Advocate

    Capital Area Foreclosure Network is a great resource to have as well: http://www.capitalareaforeclosurenetwork.org/help-for-renters

    Also, here is a quick guide to foreclosures involving rentals:
    http://www.capitalareaforeclosurenetwork.org/images/TenantForeclosure_DC.pdf

  • Phillip

    The Protecting Tenants in Foreclosure Act - means even if a property is foreclosed on the bank can't kick you out until your lease is up or after a 90-day notice if you don't have a lease.

    In DC your rights are even stronger. Call your council member and ANC rep. DC tenant rights are some of the strongest in the country they'll be able to connect you directly to free advocacy and support.

    http://www.huddlestonlawoffices.com/2010/02/protecting-tenants-at-foreclosure-act-of-2009-a-summary/

  • DCCommish

    sounds like Rose is a real jerk!

  • Sally

    The irony of DCCommish's post.

  • er

    i wish i had words of advice, but all i can say is i'm sorry you've had to deal with all that bullshit lydia.

  • http://www.nlchp.org Geraldine

    To follow up on Philip's comment, the Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act was updated as part of the financial reform bill in July. The basics are the same: following a foreclosure, the new owner (often a bank these days) has to notify you that you must leave either a.) 90 days in advance or b.) at the end of your lease period--whichever is longer. The law has been extended through December 31, 2014, but we are working hard to have it made permanent. PTFA covers every state, but your rights are stronger in MD and especially VA.

    For more information, see: http://www.nlchp.org/content/pubs/PTFA%20Fact%20Sheet%20-%20October%202010.pdf

    --Geraldine Doetzer, Housing Attorney, National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty

  • http://www.nlchp.org Geraldine

    Should say especially in DC :)

  • Lydia DePillis

    Thanks Philip and Geraldine! Also, ER, please note that this is Keli's story, not mine.

  • http://www.lee-legal.com Lee Legal

    Excellent summary, Geraldine!

  • wil

    I believe that tenants also get right of first refusal, even on an auction. This means, whatever the auction price, if a tenant meets it, they get to buy the house at that price. My former roommate did this. She also was fighting an eviction due to foreclosure (while I lived there, but she kept this secret from me, and still collected rent, though that's another matter), and was successful in buying a large Mount P. end row house with a legal dwelling unit in the basement for about $570k. Houses in the same row sold the same year for $800k, so if you can make it work, it's good to press for your full rights as a tenant. In my roommate's case, she wore down the banks, the original bank went belly-up, and the bank that took over the assets just wanted to clean things up ASAP, so they worked with her and sold it for well below market so they wouldn't have a long legal battle with a committed tenant.

  • http://washingtoncitypaper.com Keli

    Thanks everyone for you kind words. It was a pretty tenuous experience, but with the help of Lydia, and others at the City Paper, I was able to sneak by without too much trouble. These links are a great resource. Thank you.

  • er

    whoops misread it. sorry you had to go through this keli!

  • ess

    Lydia,

    Why would you allow this to be printed without fact-checking it, or at least putting in proper information? Keli had a bad experience, to be sure, but also doesn't know much about DC's landlord-tenant law. For example, the DC Housing Authority has nothing to do with a situation like this, except possibly if Keli had a Section 8 voucher (and if she did, she should note that since her experience would be very unlike other tenants').

    Also, tenant petitions are only for certain properties (if "Rose" filed a small landlord exemption a tenant petition couldn't be used against her, and section 8 tenants can't do them) and for certain types of violations. The tenant petition process is long and a judge can only order money damages, not repairs or right to access the unit.

    I'm glad you did mention the most important thing--foreclosure doesn't end a tenancy, it just means the bank is your new landlord.

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  • Adrian Bent-Me

    ess- Keli is related an experience. That doesn't mean that every step taken was necessarily the right one. It's not what he's suggesting to do, but merely steps he took himself. So, before you bash the story for inconsistencies or inaccuracies, read the prologue.

  • Adrian Bent-Me

    I meant relating an experience not related.

  • ess

    yeah, but Lydia has a platform that could be used for sharing helpful information. While "I had a bad situation and I could have handled it better" might be a vaguely interesting story, why not "I had a bad situation and here's how people in similar situations could handle it better than I did"?

    I did read the prologue. I think it's a cop-out. If Lydia doesn't know what the legal options are in this situation, she for sure knows the people who do.

  • Adrian Bent-Me

    ess- why don't you write your own story and go ahead and edit it accordingly. This is the retelling of the actions taken by a person in this situation. No need to embellish anything. He offered his perspective on what he thinks should be done at the end. He's shouldn't have to edit his story to fit your anal needs.

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