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Foreclosures hit home for renters too

Foreclosure sign

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KAI RYSSDAL: A slowing economy doesn't mean bad times for everyone. Business is booming at the foreclosure research firm RealtyTrac. The company announced yesterday, foreclosures are up 57 percent over the same time a year ago, and that one in every five involved are people whose name wasn't even on the deed. They just had the bum luck of renting from an owner who was in trouble with the bank.

From WBUR in Boston, Monica Brady-Myerov reports.


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

COURT CLERK: All rise.

Three judges devote an entire day to sorting out landlord-tenant problems. Here people usually tell stories about rats, broken heaters and unpaid rent -- but recently they've been telling a different kind of story.

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

That's Charlene Givens. She rents an apartment in a house that used to belong to her mom, but her mom got sick last year and missed her monthly mortgage payments. Now the bank owns the property, and it's told Charlene she has just two months to move out. She's in court pleading for more time. Outside, Givens' sister, Abigail Bursett, says Charlene is an innocent victim.

ABIGAIL BURSETT: They have 35 years of stuff there that can't be just packed up and out in two months. That's unacceptable. Just have a heart, you know. Just think about it that way. I know it's a big bank. You know, they've made their money off of that house a long time ago.

The foreclosure rate in Massachusetts jumped 150 percent last year, according to the Warren Group. The real estate data company does not keep track of how many renters have been affected by foreclosure, but a little more than 2,000 multi-family homes were taken by the bank in 2007. Judge Jeffrey Winik sees the results in his courtroom. He's one of the Boston housing court judges who's seen an almost 10 percent increase in the number of renter evictions because of foreclosure.

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

Winik says he's sympathetic to both renters and banks.

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

The residents may get help from Congress. One bill would force banks to assume a lease for up to six months and give tenants 90 days notice before foreclosure. Ken Vining is a real estate attorney. He says these changes are a step toward protecting tenants, but the bottom line is banks don't want to be landlords.

KEN VINING: Banks don't want to manage a property. They foreclose and then they sell it. The risk they're exposed to, they take over this property, if there's heating issues, if there's, you know, housing code violations, that can be big money and legal fees.

Because banks aren't in the business of property management, thousands of renters across the country could be evicted. One is Inell Mendes, who rents a brand new apartment in Boston. She recently got a nasty shock, a flyer in her hallway warning that eviction was coming.

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

At 64 years old, Mendes says she's frustrated to be 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 got to pay for somebody else to move you someplace else, and that's a lot.

Mendes is a religious woman who says she's putting her trust in God, but she's also looking for a new place to live.

In Boston, I'm Monica Brady-Myerov for Marketplace.

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