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Foreclosures Hit Renters

Home foreclosures in this region have more than doubled in the past year. One of the consequences of this rise is the number of tenants who lose their housing through no fault of their own.

They have been unlucky to have rented from an owner who's in trouble with the bank. WBUR's Monica Brady-Myerov reports.

TEXT OF STORY:

MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: Every Thursday is Eviction Day at Boston's Housing Court.

COURT CLERK: All rise.
(court sound continues under)

BRADY-MYEROV: Three judges devote an entire day to sorting out landlord tenant problems. Judge Jeffrey Winik tells a packed courtroom the way the day works.

JUDGE JEFFREY WINIK: There are two things that can happen today in housing court; either you will settle your case...
(court sound continues under)

BRADY-MYEROV: Here, people tell stories about rats, broken heat and unpaid rent. But recently there are different stories from people such as Charlene Givens.

CHARLENE GIVENS: I rented the apartment from my mom, the first floor she lived upstairs on the second floor.

BRADY-MYEROV: Givens' mother owned the house before illness led to missing mortgage payments and foreclosure. Charlene Givens rents from her mother and is in court pleading with the bank to give her more time to move out. Outside the courtroom, Givens' sister, Abigail Bursett, says they're innocent victims in this bank's foreclosure.

ABIGAIL BURSETT: Now they want them to leave in two months they have 35 years of stuff their that can't be put into just anywhere , can't be packed up and out, just have a heart. I know it's a big bank but they've made their money for that house a long time ago.

BRADY-MYEROV: The family wants six months to find another place to live; the bank wants them out in three. On this day, Judge Winik says he'll think about it and make a ruling later.

WINIK: There is a human face to foreclosure crisis and the faces are visible when I go out on the bench to begin my morning session.

BRADY-MYEROV: In his chambers Winik says he's sympathetic to both sides of this argument, which he hears frequently.

JEFFREY WINIK: The stories I hear from the residents are touching, the needs they identify to the court and compelling. I've also found the attorneys representing the new owners have been willing to listen.

BRADY-MYEROV: Winik says he's seen a five- to ten- percent increase in the number of renter evictions because of foreclosures. And Winik says most of the tenants are not represented by a lawyer, whereas a bank always has legal representation.

Ken Vining is a private attorney in Somerville who most often represents landlords. He often volunteers to give free advice to landlords and tenants on eviction day.

KEN VINING: For the most part you think of poor homeowner subject to some predatory lender and now they are losing everything. So not only is it affecting them on a financial stage but it's also affecting their tenants because their tenants are now losing everything.

BRADY-MYEROV: Recently Massachusetts changed the law to require banks give 30 days warning of an eviction to tenants in a foreclosed property. On the federal level, Representative Barney Frank has co-sponsored legislation that would force banks to assume a lease for up to six months and give tenants 90 days notice before foreclosure. Attorney Ken Vining says these changes are a step toward protecting tenants, but the bottom line is banks don't want to be landlords.

VINING: Banks don't want to manage a property they foreclose and then they'd sell it. But now that property is worth less than they were four years ago so they are left with more choice but to hold them do what they can to manage them and sell for whatever. The risk they're exposed to. They take over property. If there are heating code, housing code, security code that can be big money and legal fees.

BRADY-MYEROV: The foreclosure rate jumped 150% last year, according to the Warren Group. The real estate data company does not keep track of how many renters have been affected but it says a little more than 2000 multi-family homes were foreclosed on in the Bay State in 2007. One renter caught in the middle is Inell Mendes.

INELL MENDES: This is my kitchen we go a stainless steel refrigerator, (sound continues under)

BRADY-MYEROV: The three bedroom apartment Mendes rents in Roxbury is brand new with a high end kitchen and Jacuzzi bathtub. She and her daughter pay $1600 a month in rent, but stopped paying a few months ago when she and the two other tenants started getting fliers in the hallway warning that eviction was coming.

MENDES: They knew what was going on when we moved here. They knew the place was under foreclosure, having a problem under foreclosure whatever.

BRADY-MYEROV: At 64 years old, Mendes says she's frustrated she's caught in someone else's financial troubles.

MENDES: But who wants to keep moving? Not even been here a year then you got to up and move again you know you have to pay for somebody to move you here, then you have to pay for somebody to move you someplace else and that's a lot.

BRADY-MYEROV: Mendes is a religious woman who says a prayer before most activities, including our interview. She's now looking for a new place to live.

MENDES: We thank you for all things god because we know you're going to work it out and it's going to for your good.

BRADY-MYEROV: If Mendes decides to fight eviction, she could end up in the Boston Housing Court facing Judge Jeffrey Winik. He says in all the cases of tenant eviction after foreclosure, he tries to balance the needs of the renters and the bank.

JEFFREY WINIK: There's a Yiddish phrase that my grandmothers used, which is the word "Rachmanus." It's broadly defined as mercy. And you have to balance law and mercy. And try to do the right thing. It's hard.

For WBUR I'm Monica Brady-Myerov.

This program aired on February 19, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.

Monica Brady-Myerov Twitter Reporter
Monica Brady-Myerov was formerly a report in WBUR's newsroom.

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