Sunday, December 30, 2012

Foreclosure Buyer Coughs Up $5K In Damages To Tenant Over Abrupt Eviction In Violation Of Federal Law; Expiring Statute A Concern To Housing Advocates

In Miami, Florida, The Huffington Post reports:

  • On a Thursday evening three years ago, Sandra McCutchen found an eviction notice stuck to the door of her Miami rental apartment. The following day, she was in court fighting to get it delayed. The day after that, officers from the Miami-Dade police department forcibly removed her from her home, along with her daughter and six grandchildren, dumping their possessions in the front yard.

    "They was at my door to throw me out, and that’s just what they did," says McCutchen, 55, who was then living in a public housing unit. "Grandkids in diapers crying, they threw everything on the lawn."

    McCutchen, a single mother, was a bona fide tenant. She had lived peaceably in the house on SW 114th Street for seven years. She was never behind on her rent. But now, unbeknownst to her, the house had fallen into foreclosure and authorities were insisting she move out immediately.

    A federal law enacted earlier that same year was designed to protect renters like McCutchen from this very situation. Under the Protecting Tenants Foreclosure Act (PTFA), renters living in homes that land in foreclosure are entitled to stay in their homes until their lease expires or, if they have no lease, for a minimum of 90 days. McCutchen's abrupt eviction, which she described as "an emotional roller coaster" that left her clinically depressed, was a violation of this federal policy.

    "You don’t give nobody no one day eviction notice, you know what I'm saying?" she said. "I ain't never heard of that nowhere in my world!"

    With the help of Jeffrey Hearne, advocacy director of the Florida-based Tenants’ Rights Project, McCutchen was awarded $5,000 to help cover the cost of damages incurred by the eviction. (Ruined property included a television set, mattresses, and living room furniture left out in the rain.) Hearne also helped her and her family get resituated in nearby public housing, a process that took months.

    The federal law that allowed McCutchen to win her case is set to expire in 2014, absent Congressional action, and if it does, experts warn America could see an uptick in homelessness.
  • Larry Rosenthal, executive director of the Goldman School of Public Policy's program on Housing and Urban Policy, said the federal law's short-term status is cause for concern.

    "Does it represent a genuine threat?" said Rosenthal of PTFA's expiration date. "The answer is yeah. These specific protections that are now required under federal law would disappear, but," he cautioned, "that doesn't mean that tenants go into an utterly protectionless state. We'd have to look at the state where they live, and sometimes even the city where they live, to analyze what protections they have."

    State and municipal laws range from more protective than federal law -- in California, for instance, where rent control regimes have been coupled with a variety of eviction controls to prevent landlords from ousting longtime tenants and driving up rents -- to considerably less protective -- in Montana, for instance, where a fully compliant tenant can be evicted without cause within the month. In some jurisdictions, state and local laws have been interpreted to prevent eviction due solely to a foreclosure.(1)
For more, see Florida Grandmother, Renter Describes Foreclosure Eviction: 'Emotional Roller Coaster'.

(1) See National Housing Law ProjectState and Local Tenant Protections for a roundup of additional state and local protections for tenants in foreclosure situations.

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