Friday, May 4, 2012

Banksters Prohibited By Local Law From Evictions Apply Pressure Anyway In Effort To Drive Tenants From Foreclosed Homes: Bay Area Renter Advocates

In San Francisco, California, the San Francisco Bay Guardian reports:

  • Alma Sierra has been living in her home at 490 Athens for three years. Sierra, her nine year old son, and two other mothers with their children share a rental unit. They have diligently paid their rent, and her son goes to school across the street. But last year, US Bank foreclosed on the small-time landlords that owned the property- now, the tenants face eviction.

  • We’re three single mothers with children. We don’t have the means to just up and leave,” Sierra, a part-time domestic worker, told me through a translator from Causa Justa, an organization that works for tenants’ rights. Their worked helped pass the Just Cause eviction policy for which the organization is named last year.

  • Under city law, a landlord needs one of 14 reasons to justly evict a tenant. The reasons include failure to pay rent and trashing the property, as well as owner move-in and Ellis Act evictions. But the foreclosure crisis has brought on a wave of bank-owned properties. These are tricky situations legally; banks generally want to sell the property, a task made more difficult if there are pesky tenants living there.

  • The banks want to get rid of the tenants. The realtors for the banks always tell them they can get more money if there aren’t any tenants in it. Because that way they would have to do an owner move-in eviction,” said Tommi Mecca, a long-time tenants’ rights advocate in the city.

  • According to Mecca, US Bank has been pressuring the three families to leave the building, although no eviction papers have been filed yet. The Guardian is awaiting calls back from US Bank representatives.

  • It can take many months, in some cases longer, to actually sell property,” said Sarah Shortt, an organizer with the SFHRC. So in the meantime the bank is the landlord and they haven’t been responsible in lending or as landlords. They tend to disregard tenants’ rights and trample over the needs and concerns of renters.”

  • Even when tenants are made aware that the property they live in has been sold back to bank, it can often be difficult to determine who to turn to for repairs, complaints, or even the right address for rent checks. One of the things we see a lot of is, the bank acquires the property and then they’re just MIA. Tenants come to us and say, we don’t know who owns our building, where to pay rent, who to ask to fix leaky ceiling. We help them research to find who owner is,” said Shortt.

  • These situations often end with buy-outs, in which the bank pays the tenants to leave the property. The amount ranges, but according to Mecca, it can often be insubstantial. They start at $1,000, $3,000, something really insulting. And it’s only if tenants walk in somewhere like [the SFHRC] that we tell them, wait a minute, your tenancy is worth so much more than that.

  • A U.S. Bank branch in the Mission District was the site of a different kind of anti-foreclosure protest April 26, as three families who are tenants in a foreclosed building, accompanied by some 100 supporters, demanded the bank collect their rent and let them stay in their homes.

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