What can renters do if their landlords are in foreclosure?
Lately many tenants across the United States who faithfully paid their rents on time were surprised to find eviction notices tacked on their doors because their landlords have not been paying the mortgage. Other tenants are receiving "cash for keys" offers from the banks that reposessed the homes. If you are a renter, here are some precautions you can take to make sure you do not face an unexpected foreclosure related eviction and also a few tips on what to do if your landlord is losing the home you live in.
If you are living in a rental home now in a state with a high rate of foreclosure such as Nevada, Florida, or California, then you should definitely check the public records for any liens or judgments on the home you live in. Fortunately, many counties now have land and tax records online. For example, for San Mateo County you can simply search for "San Mateo Tax Assessor" and find the Tax Assessor's homepage. From there you can search for a specific address and see if the taxes are paid ontime. If the taxes are late or in default on the property, then that is a warning sign that the property may be in financial trouble. You can also search the land records to find any Notice of Defaults, which is usually the first step in a foreclosure in California. If public records are not available online where you live, then you could go to the county seat and search for the record at the county offices. Public records are available to anyone, but some offices charge a small fee to do a search for you. You can also find detailed information such as which bank holds the mortgage on the home, and what the mortgage amount is.
Another way to check if the home you are renting is in financial trouble is by searching the local real estate listings. It is possible that your home is on the market as a short sale and your landlord did not inform you. If that is the case then the home is probably about to foreclose.
If there is any sign of financial distress then it may be a good idea to speak to your landlord and ask what is going on. If your landlord tells you everything is okay when there is a Notice of Default in the public records, then he or she may not be completely honest with you and it is probably a good idea to find a new place and get your security deposit back.
If you already received a "cash for keys" or eviction letter from the bank then you should also check the public records to see if the bank already owns the home. If the bank is indeed the recorded owner then you should definitely stop paying your old landlord rent. At this point you could either pack your bags or try to negotiate with the bank. Some banks may prefer to have occupied homes because they are less likely to be vandalized so in rare instances they are willing to sign new leases, but you still have to be ready to leave when the home sells.
Eviction laws also differ from state to state so in some cases it is worthwhile to fight a foreclosure related eviction. In this article from the Harvard Crimson, a group called No One Leaves is helping renters in Boston stay in their homes and get settlements from banks because in Massachusetts foreclosure is not legal grounds for eviction. However, this is not true in every state so you must research if a legal battle is worthwhile for your situation. Fighting an eviction also makes a renter undesirable to other landlords in the future even if the renter wins so you must make sure that you are willing to take that risk.
The good news is that the powers that be are realizing that these unjust and surprising evictions are becoming problematic for many communities. In July California passed a law that gives tenants a 60 day notice to leave a rental unit after the property is sold in foreclosure, and yesterday Fannie Mae announced that it will not evict renters in the foreclosed homes it owns. Hopefully other banks will follow suit and keep the good renters in their homes as long as they need. For now, if you are a renter, remember to protect yourself by verifying the ownership and financial status of a home through public records. Since landlords usually run credit checks on tenants, I think it is only fair for renters to find out the financial situation of their landlords. Hopefully in the future landlords will be required to disclose their financial troubles for the benefit of renters.
Have you been evicted due to your landlord's failure to pay mortgage? What did you do?