Hidden Victims of the Foreclosure Crisis

Fresno, CA Bertha Aguilar is in her third residence in six months. She was evicted from the previous two places after her landlords lost the properties to foreclosure. She recalled how hard it was to move on such short notice, "We had 18 days, 18 days to move." Up until December 2008, Bertha and her family rented a Sanger home. For two and a half years Bertha says she never missed a payment. So she never imagined anything was wrong ... until one day, "We gave her the rent on a Monday, and two days later, three days later, we had a notice on the door. So I called her, and she's like, "Oh no, no, no."

Her landlords--never warned her they were going into foreclosure, and there's no law requiring them to. Bertha was upset, "So they're collecting money until the foreclosure goes through, and you have to move." Not only that, Bertha never received her $900 security deposit, a common problem for renters in foreclosed properties. Action News tried to contact her former landlord--Cesar Quintero of Sanger. But our calls weren't returned.

Realtor Mits Matsunami had to break the bad news, that the bank now owned the property and Bertha and her family had to leave. Matsunami works for Mid State Realty. It's part of his job, but that doesn't make it easy: "Here I am, and unfortunately, they're the nicest people, very cooperative. And they didn't necessarily need to be in this situation. We pretty much perform one almost every other day. So it's a lot of people being displaced. " ... while a lot of those properties sit abandoned and empty.

The renter's rights group: "Tenants Together" estimates in 2008 more than 225,000 California renters lived in properties that went through foreclosure. In fact it also happened to Bertha's next door neighbor in Sanger. And again to Bertha at a home in Clovis! And earlier this month Action News reported that renters in the Tuscany Villas in Northwest Fresno found out their condos are being foreclosed.

It's happening so often and to so many people, Central California Legal Assistance has been flooded with calls. Housing attorney Christina Skaf Hathaway says tenants have more rights now, thanks to President Obama's "helping families save their homes" act. Hathaway explains, "With this new act, it now gives them 90 days, that's an additional 30 days, which is great. Any kind of time that you can get to help you get back on your feet and find another apartment or housing is gonna very much help you." And in most cases a lease offers protection from eviction. Tenants have a right to stay through the end of their lease. Also, any eviction notice must be in writing. And even if banks offer "cash for keys" in exchange for moving out sooner, remember that it's optional, there's no obligation to accept it.

Before you rent, check with your county's assessor's office for any notice of default on the property. That's one of the first steps in the foreclosure process and a definite red flag.

Central California Legal Services

Tenants Together
Foreclosure Hotline for Renters: 415-495-8012

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