Marin Renters Feel the Squeeze of Foreclosures

Saturday, May 3, 2008
Jim Staats
Marin Independent Journal

Amid a clutter of partially packed boxes, San Rafael resident Celeste Hurtado deals with a painful move.

Hurtado, 49, has been evicted from her room in a Santa Venetia home because the property is going through foreclosure.

She is among a growing number of tenants who have become victims of the mortgage crisis as homes are repossessed by lenders. Scores of homes occupied by tenants like her are tied up in foreclosure proceedings in Marin.

"I feel like my rights have been violated," Hurtado said, noting "renters have no recourse other than suing landlords and taking them to small claims court.

"The banks are going to get their money first. I'm going to be the last to get anything."

Though alerted by a friend in the mortgage business, Hurtado was still in shock to see an eviction notice on her front door three weeks ago.

"She told me, 'Celeste, you better start looking for a place because this is going into foreclosure,'" said Hurtado, among four groups who rented the five-bedroom home at 28 Jefferson Ave.

Hurtado, who is on disability, said she paid her $1,000 monthly rent on time since moving in in October, although records indicate the owner stopped making mortgage payments late last summer.

Property owner Trang Nguyen, reached at her home in Boca Raton, Fla., said "letting the house go into foreclosure has been a real shame."

Nguyen said she designed the house herself "and now I will lose it."

"A lot of people go into foreclosure nowadays."

And more renters are getting stuck in the middle.

About one-third, or 156 of the 628 Marin properties in foreclosure proceedings in the past four months, are nonowner-occupied, according to data specialist

San Rafael has 38 nonowner properties in foreclosure, and 141 owner-occupied homes. In Novato, 43 foreclosed properties are listed as nonowner-occupied, while 257 are owner-occupied.

"We're definitely seeing it as an issue for renters," said Sean O'Toole, ForeclosureRadar.comfounder.

Catherine Ross-Perry, staff attorney with Fair Housing of Marin, said she has seen a "dramatic increase" in tenants with homes being foreclosed. She said the San Rafael agency has been involved in 14 such cases over the past year, compared with one other such instance since 2003.

"They contact us to see what their rights are," she said. "People are afraid when they find out they are losing their housing due to this reason, (which has) nothing to do with them."

Nancy Kenyon, executive director of Fair Housing of Marin, said, "People forget about the tenants that are being foreclosed.

"They think it's all homeowners."

Kenyon said her agency makes sure renters do not pay rent beyond the foreclosure date. She said renters have to stick to the contract but issues such as change in ownership to banks are among the "very difficult things about the foreclosure situation."

"Renters often don't understand what their rights are or are not in this situation," O'Toole said. "It's one of those things where you need to be a little careful."

Sandra DeRango, owner of Palmaris Property Management Inc. in Larkspur, has not had to deal directly with any properties in foreclosure.

"I know (property owners) would be between a rock and a hard place (and) wouldn't want to notify their tenant prematurely and scare income away," she said. "But for somebody who's living there, this is their livelihood."

Across the street from Hurtado's rental, one home is involved in a "short sale" in which it is being sold for less than its mortgage, while another foreclosed property was sold at auction last month.

Realtor Flavia Wiltey with Avalar Realty in Larkspur is representing the owners at 33 Jefferson Ave. in a short sale.

"This is my second short sale, but a lot of people in my office are dealing with many of them," she said. "There's a lot of foreclosures and short sales happening."

Hurtado credits the Ritter Center with helping her get housing in San Rafael's Canal area, but remains frustrated.

"The homeowners at least have time to get out," she said. "We have 30 days.

"It's not right, and it's not fair."


For more information on renter rights and housing, call Fair Housing of Marin at 457-5025, Marin County Mediation Services at 499-7454 or Ritter House at 457-8182.

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