The right to remain: Landlord foreclosures don’t always need to displace renters

Mariela Arteaga did everything right and still finds herself hounded by a
bank looking to evict her.

She didn’t even have a mortgage. She paid her rent on time every month, yet
that didn’t stop a bank from pressing her to move out of her apartment.

“The bank has come to my house twice offering me $3,000 to move out,”
Arteaga said at an Albany Park Neighborhood Council rally Thursday. “I told
them I have a lease till the end of the year, but they didn’t care.”

How could this happen?

It was cases like Arteaga’s that prompted Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart to
temporarily suspend evictions of tenants who had not been notified by their
landlord that their building was in foreclosure.

That was two years ago and Dart, a likely mayoral candidate, said the
problem is no longer limited to areas previously targeted by sub-prime lenders.

“We have been finding ourselves migrating more into much more high-end areas
now,” he said after the rally Thursday. “It’s almost as if those [lower-income
homes] have been foreclosed on and now it’s gone into high-end areas.”

The critical nature of the problem has intensified as delinquency rates have
increased to the point that Chicago now outpaces New York City and Los Angeles in
total foreclosure activity.

Dart said he and his deputies post informative fliers on tenants’ doors immediately
after being notified of an eviction, usually four to five weeks in advance of
the deadline to

“We’re very direct,” he said. “We lay it all out: ‘Here’s what’s happening.
Here’s the number you need to call.’”

But how effective has this policy been in preventing the aggressive tactics
of banks? As in cases such as Arteaga’s, in which the bank contacts the tenant
directly, the sheriff’s department has no way to intervene before the fact.

On top of that, despite a slight decline, eviction figures remain high.

A spokesman for the sheriff said the office received 15,366 eviction filings
in 2008 and 13,854 in 2009. In a city in which more than 50 percent of
residents are renters, those numbers have serious implications. But Dart said the
process is more about giving people more options than necessarily preventing

“We’ve managed, I think, to address all those scenarios by this really
intense effort on the front end,” he said. “Once we have engaged someone and
let them know what their rights are, they now know where to go and they can go
early enough where they can intervene.”

Some experts say the pressure applied to tenants in foreclosure cases stems
from the fact that banks who write the loan are no longer the only party
involved on the lending side of the process. Because banks now sell their loans
to multiple investors, who then hire loan servicers as middlemen, tenants are
forced to answer to more entities.

Ian Glassford, vice president of Chase Bank in Ann Arbor, said working with
tenants usually is not bankers’ forte. He noted that his bank got out of the
commercial lending business several years ago because of the risks involved.

“Banks do not make great landlords,” he said. “It’s not their business.
They’re in the business of lending money to people who will hopefully pay them
back.” Glassford added, “We’re doing what we can to help people out.”

As for Dart, he said what banks initially perceived as radical, anti-banking
politics has become a source of more cooperative discourse.

“I was trying to make some changes in Springfield, and it was made clear to
me that if I was pushing the cure for cancer, I wouldn’t be able to get it
passed,” he said. “There was some stigma that we were against the banks, which
wasn’t the case. I wasn’t trying to reinvent the system. We just needed a level
of due process.”

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