October 14, 2008

Foreclosures Hit Unsuspecting Renters

Last week news broke nationally of an Illinois Sheriff refusing to evict renters whose landlords lost their homes to foreclosure. Via the Chicago Sun-Times, I found an interview with Sheriff Dart in which he outlines some of the reasons he chose not to follow a written mandate to evict tenants who, in most cases, were unaware that their landlord wasn't paying his/her mortgage. One of the more telling things he says is halfway down the first page:

...my experience on these evictions are truly some of the most traumatic things I have ever seen. I'm going to these homes while the family is being put outside, because we first have to clear the house, and the movers then come in and take whatever possessions these folks have, and they put them out on the street. And it's not always done with the most care, let's put it that way. And you look at these little kids and you sit there and say to yourself, "This isn't right here." This kid didn't do anything wrong, and the few possessions they have are now on the street.

Though the whole interview is pretty telling, the story of renters facing sudden homelessness because of the mortgage crisis is not a new one. This seems like a good time to remind DC renters that if your landlord goes into foreclosure, our landlord-tenant laws actually protect you from eviction. We're one of the few jurisdictions in the country (along with New Jersey and New Hampshire) with laws strict enough to allow renters to stay in their homes.

Which is good when it's enforced. The Washington City Paper picked up one story of scare tactics being used by a bank to make a woman think she had been evicted. The Washington Post wrote a similar story about renters simply not knowing what their rights are. Considering that over 50% of DC households rent (much higher than the roughly 30% national average), the fact that we have these sort of protections may come as a relief.

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