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Fresno County Assessor-Recorder, Paul Dictos, CPA announced on August 6, 2012, that he would begin sending letters with know-your-rights information to tenants and homeowners in properties at risk of foreclosure. The program has been an unqualified success and is being praised by housing advocates as a model for the rest of the state.
This week, Dictos released figures covering the six months the program has been in effect, from August to February 2013. Dictos has sent 2329 letters notifying homeowners and tenants of their rights in foreclosed properties. With an 84% mailing success rate, the informational letters have reached and benefited nearly 2000 households throughout Fresno County.
Dictos overcame logistical challenges at the start and pushed forward with the program. His office mails information to property residents after a lender files a notice of default. The mailings go out weekly to ensure that tenants and homeowners learn of the filing and their rights as soon as possible.
According to Dictos, “The response to these letters has been uniformly positive. In all my experience with calls from recipients of our NOD letters, no one has been upset to receive them, and all said they were glad to know that the County was looking out for their well-being. I intend to continue this important program and would urge other assessors and recorders to take this on as well.”
Dictos cites as an example one tenant who had been renting her home for 12 years and had no idea that the landlord had defaulted on the mortgage until she received Dictos’s letter. She went to Dictos’s office, thanked him for the “heads-up” and plans to discuss the situation with her landlord. She also may reach out to the nonprofits listed in the letter to help her learn about her rights. Without Dictos’s notification, this tenant would have been kept in the dark until a bank or investor purchased the home and was trying to evict her. Now she can plan her life accordingly, look for new school for her children, and take steps to prevent a sudden displacement.
“There’s no doubt about it,” commented Dean Preston, Executive Director of Tenants Together, a statewide organization that worked with Dictos to develop the outreach strategy: “Thousands of Fresno residents learned about their rights and had access to help because of Dictos’s leadership. The program is a model for the state.” Tenants Together awarded Dictos its Housing Justice Award in October for his leadership on this. Preston urges any Assessor or Recorder in the state who wants to take similar action to contact Tenants Together.
The outreach program helps avoid foreclosure and displacement by informing occupants of foreclosure activity and available resources. Particularly for tenants, the outreach letter may be the first they learn of the fact that their home is headed to foreclosure. Tenants are innocent victims of foreclosures they had no hand in creating, but they are often kept in the dark about the foreclosure. The outreach letter lets tenants know that public filings show the home may be in default. Most importantly, the outreach letter offers resources for homeowners and tenants who are facing home foreclosures. Notably, Fresno residents can contact Tenants Together for counseling or Central California Legal Services at 559-570-1200 for legal assistance.