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.
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:
- State that the property is registered. (That's what I had been asking for the whole time!)
- Give the reason for the eviction and the deadline.
- State your rights for relocation help.
- Give the address and phone number for the Rental Accommodation and Conversion Divison (RACD).
- 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:
- A landlord cannot threaten you under any circumstance. It's illegal.
- An eviction notice must be served in the correct manner in order to be valid.
- 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.
- Call the Office of the Tenant Advocate for advice and assistance.
- If any possible illegal activities occur, you can file a petition against your landlord.
- 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.