Victories for renters' rights
February 22, 2011: “My landlord won’t make repairs.” “I only discovered that my landlord was in foreclosure because the neighbor downstairs told me.” These are some of the many situations that renters share when they call the Public Justice Center. From providing advice to representation in court, the PJC tenant advocacy team helps low-income renters assert their rights and thereby have a systemic impact on the enforcement of those rights. We share the recent victories of two tenants below.
Water was coming through a ceiling in a number of locations. The master bedroom had no heat. Extensive mold growth had invaded the basement. Mr. Smith’s* landlord refused to fix these and other serious threats to health and safety. What’s more, Mr. Smith received notice that his home had been sold at foreclosure, and yet both his old landlord and the foreclosure sale purchaser were demanding rent for the same period of time! The Public Justice Center represented Mr. Smith to assert his rights with both the old landlord and the foreclosure sale purchaser, and advise him in the payment of rent. The PJC helped him file a rent escrow petition and got it consolidated with a failure to pay rent claim that the old landlord had filed against him. After a court-appointed inspector examined the home, Mr. Smith got his day in rent escrow court. Representing Mr. Smith, the PJC educated the Court about the rights of tenants in foreclosure, and the judge ordered Mr. Smith to pay his rent into a court-established account until the repairs were completed. Because the landlord had failed to make the repairs before the next scheduled court hearing and Mr. Smith had found a new place to rent, Mr. Smith asked the Court to terminate the lease and refund him the money he had paid into escrow. At the hearing, the judge terminated the lease and awarded Mr. Smith half of the rent money that had been put into escrow.
Ms. Jones* was renting a foreclosed property in Anne Arundel County when the bank moved to evict her. But, the Bank hadn’t given her a valid 90 day notice to vacate, which is required by the Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act. The notice the bank had sent went out before the foreclosure sale was finalized. Furthermore, the bank failed to perform a “reasonable inquiry” into who was living in the home, and, because of that failure, the bank only sent one notice to the house. Ms. Jones did not receive the notice because she lived in the second floor unit. She found out about the foreclosure only by talking to her neighbor. The Public Justice Center successfully argued that the bank’s motion for judgment should be denied. The victory not only gave Ms. Jones time to find her family a new place to live, but also resulted in a written opinion from the court confirming that a foreclosure sale purchaser must: 1) acquire title to the property before sending a notice to vacate to any tenants, and 2) conduct a reasonable inquiry into who is actually occupying the property and address any notices accordingly. Through this case and others, the PJC is aggressively enforcing the rights of tenants living in foreclosed properties and educating the courts on those rights.
*Names changed to protect client privacy.