Due to overwhelming demand, Tenants Together, California's Statewide Organization for Renters' Rights, is expanding its hotline for tenants in foreclosure situations. Since emerging in March, 2009, the hotline has served nearly 2,000 tenants, mitigating the impact of the foreclosure crisis on tenants by helping them learn and assert their rights. As part of the expansion, the hotline has:
1. Added a full time Program Coordinator
2. Increased the number of trained volunteer counselors
3. Rolled out a new toll free number
4. Added an online intake form and other web-based resources
California tenants can reach the Tenant Foreclosure Hotline at www.tenantstogether.org/hotlineintake to get a call back from a hotline counselor.
California is among the states worst hit by the foreclosure crisis. In 2008, over a quarter of a million homes were foreclosed upon. According to Tenants Together's research, at least one third of these properties were rentals, with more than 225,000 renters affected. These totals are projected to increase significantly by the end of 2009.
Tenants are innocent victims in a foreclosure crisis they did nothing to create. Despite paying their rent on time, tenants in foreclosure situations are experiencing nightmare situations. Many are having their utilities shutoff, struggling to recover their security deposits, being illegally locked out and evicted from their homes. Particularly at a time of such economic uncertainty, this can be catastrophic.
Too often, tenants in these situations are unaware of their rights and are misled by banks and realtors into believing that they must vacate immediately upon foreclosure or that, because of the foreclosure, the new property owner (usually a bank) 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 in foreclosure situations are protected by the Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act, a new federal law which provides tenants with month-to-month rental agreements the right to 90 days notice of eviction. Additionally, with limited exceptions, the law requires that new owners after foreclosure allow tenants with leases to continue occupying the property until the lease term expires. 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.
According to Santa Barbara tenant Sandy Pearson, "after my home was foreclosed, the new owner tried to evict me even though I have a long-term lease. Thanks to the information I got from the Tenant Foreclosure Hotline I was able to assert my rights and stay in my home.
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 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 help tenants:
· Find out if their rental property is in foreclosure
· Identify the new owner after a foreclosure sale
· Learn about what to expect as the property goes through foreclosure
· Learn and assert their rights as tenants in a foreclosed home
· Keep utilities on and get repairs done in all stages of the foreclosure process
· Protect and recover security deposits
· Stand up to abusive and unfair conduct during the foreclosure process
· Locate organizations that provide legal representation for tenants in foreclosures
· Connect with local activists engaged in anti-eviction organizing
· Share their foreclosure stories with media, policymakers and the public
· Report illegal conduct to law enforcement and regulatory agencies
Tenants Together encourages California tenants in foreclosure situations to complete the online intake form at www.tenantstogther.org/hotlineintake to receive a call back from a counselor.