Renters Face Rapid Eviction As Foreclosures Soar

The subprime mortgage crisis continues to claim casualties, and some of them aren't even homeowners.

In California, scores of renters are being kicked out of their homes, even when they haven't missed a single rent payment.

Shirley and William Hayes love the house they've been renting in a comfortable subdivision outside San Francisco. Even so, they're moving.

"I have been packing. I have almost all of the linen done. We're eating out of paper plates, plastic forks, spoons and knives," Shirley Hayes says.

A Notice Pinned to the Door

After being in the home for about a year and a half, the Hayeses found a notice pinned to their door telling them the bank had foreclosed and the property was up for sale. It was a shock because they had just renewed their rental agreement, and the landlord was still collecting rent even after they saw the foreclosure notice.

"He has never told us. That's how we found out what's going on," Shirley says.

She has a stack of documents that she says indicate that the landlord knew he was in default when he was taking their money. Ultimately, the bank turned them over to a property management company.

"And the management company gave us 30 days to get out. We would not get a refund on our deposit. We paid our rent," she says.

And that's how the Hayeses became part of the growing number of California renters who have gotten caught up in the foreclosure crisis.

Few Protections, Harsh Tactics

"Once a foreclosure occurs, those renters are being evicted without virtually any notice, despite the fact that they have paid their monthly rental bills every month without any interruptions whatsoever," says Paul Leonard, who heads California's Center for Responsible Lending.

There are no precise numbers of how many renters face eviction. But in California, some estimates suggest about 20 percent of foreclosed properties were used as rentals, and in many cases, tenants have few legal protections.

"What we're seeing is some very harsh tactics," says John Russo, the city attorney in Oakland. He says bank and property managers sometimes threaten renters with lawsuits or damaged credit reports.

"Often what they do is offer what's called 'cash for keys,' " Russo says. "So, there is a schtick: 'We're going to throw you out, and you can fight with us or we can give you $500.' At least here in the Bay area, $500 for moving expenses is nothing. It's not going to help any family."

Buying Time

Russo says many renters don't realize Oakland and several other California cities have rent-control laws that can stop evictions, even foreclosures.

Whenever his office intervenes, Russo says, the bank's agents usually back down and agree to allow tenants more time to move out.

That's ultimately what happened to the Hayeses. With the help of a legal aid attorney, they negotiated another month before they will have to move. Shirley says she and her husband are both elderly and not in good health, and being forced to move is difficult.

"People all over the country are in the same position, I know that. But what do you do? You can't afford to move, and you can't afford to stay, you know," she says.

There is a bill in Congress that would give tenants 90 days' notice when their rental has been foreclosed on. It's been approved by the House and awaits action in the Senate.

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