Tenants Together, California’s Statewide Organization for Renters’ Rights, is launching a new hotline for tenants in foreclosure situations. The hotline is the first of its kind to emerge in response to the foreclosure crisis. Tenants Together announced the hotline to address a growing problem the harassment and displacement of tenants who are innocent victims of the mortgage crisis.
California is seeing a steep rise in foreclosures. In 2008, nearly a quarter of a million properties were sold in foreclosure in California. This is more than double the number in 2007. Approximately 25% of buildings in foreclosure in 2008 were renter-occupied, including over 9,000 multi-family buildings. A single foreclosure filing on a rental building can affect dozens or hundreds of tenants. According to a recent study by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, an estimated 40% of the people in foreclosed properties are renters.
Innocent tenants are paying a steep price for the mortgage mess. Tenants face evictions and poor housing conditions across the state as a result of foreclosures. Tenants have the right to habitable homes at all stages of the foreclosure process, but many tenants are experiencing nightmare situations being locked out of their homes, having utilities shut off because the defaulting landlord or the bank fails to pay the bills, being displaced without getting their security deposits back and other related problems.
While foreclosures extinguish most leases, tenants in California are generally entitled to a 60-day notice to vacate in foreclosure situations. The 60-day notice requirement became law in July 2008, but many owners still do not comply with it. In cities with local ‘just cause’ eviction protections, such as Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Oakland and San Francisco, most tenants are not legally required to move as a result of a foreclosure, but many owners ignore this limitation and seek to evict anyway.
Too often, tenants in these situations are unaware of their rights. They are misled by banks and realtors into believing that they must vacate immediately upon foreclosure or that because of the foreclosure the landlord has no responsibility to continue providing heat, water and other services to the tenants. To make matters worse, tenants are often the last to know about the foreclosure. While defaulting homeowners know about the possibility of foreclosure for many months, tenants have little time to adjust to the situation and seek assistance. Most tenants don’t know where to turn for help.
To address this urgent situation, Tenants Together is launching its new statewide hotline. The hotline will provide information and referrals to tenants whose landlords are at some stage of the foreclosure process. The hotline is staffed by specially-trained volunteers, including a team of law students from University of California Hastings College of the Law.
Heather Freinkel, one of the hotline volunteers, commented: ‘The stories we hear are heartbreaking — tenants denied the most basic services like water and heat, and forced out of their homes for no good reason. We will do everything we can to arm tenants with the knowledge and tools to stand up to abusive conduct by defaulting landlords and foreclosing banks.’
Hotline volunteers will assist in many ways, including helping tenants:
Find out if a particular rental property is in foreclosure
Identify the new owner after a foreclosure sale
Learn about what to expect as the property goes through foreclosure
Connect with local activists engaged in anti-eviction organizing
Locate organizations that provide legal representation for tenants in foreclosures
Keep utilities on and get repairs done in all stages of the foreclosure process
Protect and recover security deposits
Share tenant foreclosure stories with media, policymakers and the public
Report illegal conduct to local law enforcement agencies and officials
Stand up to abusive and unfair conduct during the foreclosure process
Tenants Together encourages California tenants in foreclosure situations to call the Tenant Foreclosure Hotline at 415.495.8012.