Dear PoPville – Renter’s Rights?


Photo by PoPville flickr user brunofish

Dear PoPville,

We’ve just discovered that our landlord, who has been consistently shady in communications with us (including asking for additional money, avoiding repairs, etc), has been foreclosed on, and the entire row house that we reside in is owned and for sale by the bank. We live in the basement unit, and only became aware of this by people on the street asking us if our house was the one for sale. Upon a quick Google search, we had found that it was indeed on the market without our knowledge, for almost a month now.

We were hoping to ask you some advice in the case that you have any knowledge on this type of situation. Our landlord has been MIA for a few weeks now, and we are unsure how and when we will receive notice to vacate. We don’t know our rights. All we can assume is that our lease, which is month-to-month, will give us 30 days to find a new place.

Also, we are pretty sure that he must have been aware of the house falling into foreclosure at the time of signing our lease, as we have only moved in recently. This puts us in a very uncomfortable situation.

We have read that banks sometimes pay a settlement for tenants to vacate immediately, which would be nice, since we’ve paid for paint, repairs, and other improvements to the apartment. We’re just not sure what to do, or how to proceed.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

You should def. contact the Office of the Tenant Advocate. Anyone else have experience dealing with a situation like this?

22 Comment

  • When I bought my house, it had tenants and I had to give them 60 days before we could settle, so hopefully you will receive the same time frame to plan your move. So sorry you have to go through this!

  • The advice should begin and end with what PoP suggested, with the possible p.s. that you should look into a lawyer as well. There’s not a shred of advice that anyone can give here that will serve you better than going straight to the people who can actually help. Foreclosures complicate things and some of the normal DC Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act provisions may not apply.

    Good luck.

  • One of the local law schools has a pretty good tenant rights guide in DC as well. A simple google search can find it for you.

  • Quick PSA: if you’re thinking of renting out a basement apartment, check out DCRA’s PIVS system: http://pivs.dcra.dc.gov/property/search before signing anything. This will allow you to see if the apartment is properly permitted and licensed.

    • PIVS is a horrible resource managed by the corrup bureaucrats at DCRA. It does noting to help renters with situations like this whatsoever.

      As anyone who has had their places inspected will tell you it is a crapshoot to “pass” but if you use a facilitator for a few hundred bucks you are guaranteed to pass. Get it? Corruption in action.

      Admittedly I am biased and have not seen the aformentioned in action but the stories on PoP and elsewhere are hard to ignore. DCRA and it’s PIVS system are merely cancers on the rental market and help with nothing.

  • This happened to a friend of mine in a rowhouse in the Shaw area 18 months ago. She couldn’t get the electricity or gas turned back on since the owner was $1000+ in arrears to both Washington Gas and PepCo. They wanted the balance paid before restoring service. She stayed for a few more weeks with her roommates (in the dark during the summer!) and finally left when she found a friend’s couch to crash on. She quickly moved to NYC and never looked back, LOL.

    It’s a crappy situation and it seems difficult to get deposit money back once things like this happen without court intervention (which obviously requires lots of personal time). Just make sure to get in touch with your utilities immediately to ensure service is not cut off.

  • Two things: First, verify that the bank is actually the owner of the house at this point. The Recorder of Deeds can tell you that this is the case. At that point, stop giving any money of any kind to your landlord. S/He has no more right to collect money of any sort (for rent, repairs, or anything else) from you than I do, since s/he is not actually your landlord any more – the bank is. Send a certified letter (google “demand letter” for examples) insisting that your security deposit be returned immediately.

    Then, contact the bank. Let them know that you are there and that there are (presumably) other tenants on site as well in the upper unit. Especially with so many illegal basement rentals out there, your apartment may not exist on the bank’s paperwork. Make sure you tell them you exist. Make sure the upper tenants tell them they exist as well. Many, *many* times a landlord won’t disclose that the property is rented out when they lose the place to a foreclosure – they tell the bank it’s empty and leave it to the bank to figure out what’s going on. Be proactive here.

    Lastly, figure out how long you want to try to run with this. On the one hand, you’ve probably lost your security deposit for good, as well as the cost of any repairs or upgrades you did, and you won’t likely be able to stay forever anymore, so it’s tempting to try to squeeze by with a couple rent-free months before you HAVE to move to recoup your investment as much as you can. On the other hand, your future there is now incredibly unpredictable, and you may prefer stability and flexibility even if you have to pay for it. Either way, make a plan, and start looking for a new place. You do not owe your landlord any more rent if s/he does not own the building anymore, so do not pay them. The bank may instruct you to send rental payments to them – if that’s the case, you have to do that, but most of the time they don’t bother. Use this flex time to find a new place that you’re really in love with, to save for a new security deposit (or to pay off debt, or whatever yo do with your money), and to move out at your leisure. Once you’ve left, notify the bank that owns the house that your unit is vacant and ask where to mail the keys.

    They SHOULD give you plenty of notice, treat you fairly, etc when it comes time to deal with you as a tenant in a foreclosure. But then again, your landlord SHOULD have treated you fairly as well, and look how well that turned out… Take control of your own situation! Don’t wait! And next time, try to negotiate a break in the rent for a month or two for improvements you pay for – it’s a better way to assure you don’t get screwed like this again. Good luck!

  • 1. Contact the office of tenant rights. 2. Don’t panic. Actually evicting anyone in DC is extremely difficult, especially in winter. 3. Proceed with the idea that it is actually possible that everyone involved might behave decently and fairly, whether the bank or new owner letting you stay on or offering you a reasonable payoff to vacate.

  • You have the right of first refusla. If they sell the house, THEY HAVE TO GIVE YOU THE OPPORTUNITY TO BUY IT FIRST. If you refuse, you can stay in it until it is sold at which time they have to show you the contract and you AGAIN HAVE THE RIGHT TO MATCH IT. If you do not want to match it, they have to seerve you a formal notice of eviction, which gives you more time. (The Office of tenant Advocate will go over this with you). Know your rights because you have many man many and your landlord would rsther you simply get out believeing you have to but you do not until many hurdles are crossed if your lease is in good standing.

  • Stop by the Landlord Tenant Resource Center in the DC Superior Court building (510 4th St) for some information — it’s a walk-in resource center for those with housing issues. They should be able to point you in the right direction. They’re open M-F from 9-12…I’d suggest getting there at 9am as it’s usually pretty crowded.

  • The foreclosure is the X-factor in this. DC has the most tenant-friendly laws in the nation, so you got that going for you. If it were a normal sale, you have the right of first refusal to purchase. I’m not sure if that right is removed in a foreclosure situation but it’s VERY important for you to find out. Because this right can be assigned. Or sold. So you can ask/trade for compensation to assign that right. Depending on your situation asking for several thousands (I’ve heard $15K in one case.) So ask away (but be realistic you may need the goodwill created later.)

    Additionally, your lease should exist in perpetuity, even if it’s month to month, no matter who purchases the building. If the owners are buying as investment, you may be safe. If for themselves, they can close (after obtaining your rights!) and would then need to provide you a 90-day notice to vacate, not 60, not 30, not 0. 90-days for an owner to occupy their own property.

    But foreclosure and ESPECIALLY if a bank is handling the sale is an issue. Several tenants rights could be UNKNOWN by those selling and buying SO IT’S UP TO YOU TO FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHTS. First step, learn what they are.

  • P.S. Thanks for publishing this and some of my other photos :^) I have only recently discovered the beauty of some of the regular grasses (weeds?!) we see around all year long.

  • Stay in the house as long as possible, until the bank/ new owner kicks you got, rent free! I had a friend who did this and after a year of living in the bank owned house, the friend had saved enough money from not paying rent to put a downpayment on the duplex.

    • *kicks you out

      • Don’t be “one of those” people. They are no better than looters who roam the streets after weather/natural disaster emergencies who see a broken storefront window and help themselves.

        Your situation sucks, no doubt but you don’t have to conduct yourself like a common criminal either.

        Your security deposit is gone. The bank certainly isn’t going to give it to you, but you could try to recover it from the landlord in court although he/she will likely be in bankruptcy court befor too long.

        Take a month, get your life together and move on with your life. Why anyone would want to live in such a dicey unknown and uncontrollable situation longer than you absolutely had to is beyond me.

        Last word to the wise…determining a homes status before moving in is difficult, but people who rent others private property should look up the address on DC’s real property database which gives current status on a whether they are up to date on their property tax payments. The first thing people stop paying when they get into trouble with their property, is the real estate tax, because it usually takes the District longer to take the property than it does a bank. I would venture a guess if you looked the address up online, you would see they were behind on their property tax payments before you signed your lease.

        • Nonesnese. Find your your rights and stay as long as you want to can can, legally, which is probably a very very long time. Your lease is a contyract and whoever takes over the property most likely has to honor that contract and the exisiting laws which, as other posts state, are highly in favor of tenants. The faact that your landlord is MIA is probably an indiciation he is fully aware of your rights and hopes you do not act on them. Know your ritghts and act on them. It helps you and everyone else too.

        • Nonsense. Find your your rights and stay as long as you want to and can, legally, which is probably a very long time. Your lease is a contract and whoever takes over the property most likely has to honor that contract and the exisiting laws that, as other posts state, are highly in favor of tenants. The fact that your landlord is MIA is probably an indiciation he is aware of your rights and hopes you do not act on them. Know your ritghts and act on them. It helps you and everyone else too.

  • I thought that there was a moratorium on foreclusres in D.C.?

  • I was in nearly the same situation several years ago when the place I moved into (legit rental with leasing agent) went into foreclosure 6 days after our lease was activated. After the leasing agent vanished and the owner fled the country, I was left to deal with a Fannie Mae contracted realtor who threatened me with armed US Marshals if I didn’t vacate in 30 days. Good thing TENAC, Bread for the City, and other orgs exist since I was able to find out that I had the right to stay and did so for the duration of my lease.

    I wouldn’t recommend staying since the realtor was borderline abusive, misrepresented DC tenant laws, and generally made my life hell since I chose to stay, but Fannie Mae folks were quite nice and while my security deposit was gone forever, I did save a few months rent while they sorted stuff out. I suggest being a helpful participant in this process, as long as the bank is as well. Catch more flies and whatnot.

  • Do yourself a favor and get as far away from this situation as soon as you can.  That means looking for a new apartment pronto.  The lease you signed was only month-to-month, so you assumed the risk that this was going to be a short-term stay, and that’s exactly what has happened.  The ALL-CAPS advice others are giving you to ASSERT YOUR RIGHTS! is, in my opinion, bad advice.  Move on with your life.  Also, I’d suggest you try to be a little more shrewd about future lease matters.  It wasn’t a great idea to give repair money to a landlord you already thought was shady, particularly when he could kick you out of the apartment on 30 days notice.  Yes, your landlord sounds like a jerk, but it doesn’t sound like you were doing yourself any favors here.

  • This issue was addressed in the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 (HERA). Here’s a fact sheet- http://www.heraca.org/downloads/Tenants_Rights_in_Foreclosed_On_Properties_may09_EN.pdf

    It’s from a CA organization, but since HERA was a federal law, it should still apply. Definitely contact the Office of the Tenant Advocate.

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