MELISSA BLOCK, host:
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.
NPR'S Richard Gonzales tells us how one elderly couple got caught up in the mortgage mess.
RICHARD GONZALES: Shirley and William Hayes love the house they've been renting in a comfortable subdivision outside of San Francisco. Even so, they're moving.
Ms. SHIRLEY HAYES (San Francisco Resident): I have been packing. I have almost all of the linen done. We're eating out of paper plates, plastic forks and spoons and knives.
GONZALES: 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 the rental agreement and the landlord was still collecting rent even after they saw that foreclosure notice.
Ms. HAYES: He has never told us. That's how we found out what was going on.
GONZALES: Hayes has a stack of documents, which 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.
Ms. HAYES: And the management company gave us 30 days to get out. We would not get a refund on our deposit. We paid our rent.
GONZALES: And that's how the Hayeses became part of the growing number of California renters who have gotten sucked up by the foreclosure crisis. Paul Leonard heads California's Center for Responsible Lending.
Mr. PAUL LEONARD (Director, California's Center for Responsible Lending): 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.
GONZALES: There are no precise numbers of how many renters face eviction. But here in California, some estimates suggest about 20 percent of foreclosed properties were used as rentals, and in many cases, tenants have few legal protections.
Mr. JOHN RUSSO (Oakland City Attorney): What we're seeing is some very harsh tactics.
GONZALES: John Russo, a city attorney in Oakland, says banks and property managers sometimes threaten renters with lawsuits or damaged credit reports.
Mr. RUSSO: Often what they do is offer what's called cash for keys, so there is a schtick, which is we're going to throw you out, and you can either fight with us or we'll give you $500 to get out of here now. At least here in the Bay Area, $500 for moving expenses is nothing. It's not going to help any family.
GONZALES: Russo says many renters don't realize Oakland and several other California cities have rent-control laws that can stop evictions, even in 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 Shirley and William Hayes. With the help of a legal aid attorney, they negotiated another month before they will have to move. Shirley Hayes says she and her husband are both elderly and not in good health, and being forced to move is difficult.
Ms. HAYES: People all over the country are in the same position, I know that. But what do we do? You can't afford to move, and you can't afford to stay, you know.
GONZALES: There is a bill in Congress that would give tenants 90 days' notice when their rental has been foreclosed. It's been approved by the House and awaits action in the Senate.
Richard Gonzales, NPR News, San Francisco.
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