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Foreclosure and Renters: Banks Break the Law

Saturday, 09 July 2011 14:54 By Curtis Black, Community Media Workshop | Op-Ed
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Banks routinely violate state and federal laws protecting tenants in rental buildings in foreclosure, particularly in a “foreclosure belt” stretching across the South and West Sides, according to a new report.

Lenders and their agents “willfully ignore” laws that protect tenants in foreclosures and have “institutionalized in their practices the wholesale violation of tenants’ [legal] rights,” according to a report (pdf) from the Lawyers Committee for Better Housing.

Banks “generally ignore” federal law requiring them to honor existing leases after foreclosure on a rental building, according to the report.

Banks seek to vacate properties they’ve acquired – through illegal lockouts and through “misleading, harassing and threatening communications” with tenants – in order to evade legal responsibilities under the city’s tenant landlord ordinance, the report suggests.

Common practices by banks include providing false information regarding tenancy status, misrepresenting the law, refusing to acknowledge  that they are landlords, refusing to acknowledge responsibility for security deposits, and refusing to maintain buildings including basic utilities.

Eviction filings have fallen steadily since 2007 – and one reason may be that “a substantial number of evictions are carried out extra-judicially,” according to the report.

Tenants who refer to existing leases “are routinely ignored,” and when LCBH lawyers alert banks and their attorneys to illegal practices they too “are often ignored,” according to the report.

More rental units than owner-occupied units have been impacted by foreclosure in Chicago, according to LCBH.  The committee reports that 5,904 apartment buildings with 17,467 units went into foreclosure in Chicago last year.

Last year Wells Fargo, Chase, US Bank and Citimortgage each foreclosed on Chicago buildings totalling over 1,000 units; Bank of America foreclosed on buildings totalling over 2,000 units, according to the report.

Of “the most egregious cases” of illegal evictions encountered by LCBH lawyers, three-fourths occured in 20 African American and Latino communities on the South and West Sides that have been hardest hit by foreclosure.

In these communities, more than 10 percent of rental stock has been impacted by foreclosure.  In Avalon Park on the South Side and East Garfield Park on the West Side, it’s over 17 percent.

Stretching from South Chicago and South Shore to Chatham, Chicago Lawn, Gage Park, Englewood to Brighton Park, out to North Lawndale, Austin, Garfield Park and Humboldt Park, and up to Belmont Cragin and Avondale, these communities constitute Chicago’s “foreclosure belt,” according to the report.

In these communities, the “mass destruction of rental units” has created a downward spiral of blight and disinvestment.

“Illegal constructive evictions that lead to building vacancies and boardups have a clear solution: enforce the already existing laws that protect tenants living in foreclosed buildings,” according to the report.  It calls for “adding teeth” to existing statutes.


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