Monday, April 7, 2008
Help Me Howard: Landlord in foreclosure
If you live in South Florida, you might want to listen up. An incredible number of landlords are going into foreclosure, not paying their mortgages while still collecting rent from their tenants, and guess who the banks are going to evict? It's happening to one woman who turned to Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser
WSVN -- Patrick Fraser: "You like cats?"
Marianne Wehen: "I like black cats."
When superstitious people see a black cat they turn and run. Obviously, Marianne is not superstitious.
I just really wanted a black cat, I really did. I don't know why. I had a white cat when I grew up. I guess it's time for a change."
Marianne has common sense, so, when she got a letter in the mail the other day, she knew something was up.
Marianne Wehen: "From some lawyers that wanted to help because they had found out exactly that the place was listed on the foreclosure, which I knew nothing about."
In September, Marianne had rented this condo in Plantation.
Marianne Wehen: "Compared to a lot of other places I have seen, this actually looked really nice and attractive."
But while Marianne has been paying her rent on time, according to these Broward County documents, the landlord has not been paying his mortgage, which he failed to mention to Marianne.
Patrick Fraser: "Has he told you anything?"
Marianne Wehen: "Nothing, I have not heard from him."
Marianne realizes if her landlord doesn't catch up on his mortgage, eventually the bank is going to evict somebody from the condo. That somebody is Marianne.
Marianne Wehen: "I just need to know. I don't want to risk coming home, and my stuff is on the street or a lock on the door or whatever."
Leaving Marianne in a bad spot and with a lot of questions. Does she break her lease and leave before getting evicted, or does she honor the agreement and keep paying rent to a landlord who apparently isn't paying his mortgage?
Marianne Wehen: "It's just a tricky situation, and I need to find the best way out."
Find the best way out of this mess before she gets tossed out.
Marianne Wehen: "I doubt there is enough time to live out the whole lease."
But can you break a lease if foreclosure is on the way, and, if you do, do you lose your shot at getting your deposit back? More questions than a cat has lives.
Marianne Wehen: "It just has to be done the right way, whatever is legally correct."
Legally correct, cue the lawyer Howard.
Howard Finkelstein: "It is stunning and sad the number of renters that this is happening to. It clearly is a breach of contract by the landlord because he has put the property at risk. Marianne could legally break the lease and move out, but odds are she won't get her deposit back. The best thing to do is withhold the rent, send the landlord a seven-day letter demanding he fix the problem. If he doesn't pay the mortgages, she won't lose her deposit because she is withholding the rent."
Marianne did not pay the April rent, instead she kept the money and sent the landlord the seven-day letter. The landlord could take her to court, but, Howard says, he probably won't because she could counter sue him for damages for letting the property go into foreclosure. However, Howard says, if your landlord is going into foreclosure, it doesn't mean you can live there rent free until you're evicted.
Howard Finkelstein: "Legally, there is no such thing as a free lunch, or, in this case, a free rent. But, practically speaking, if the landlord owes you money, living there until that money runs out is the only way you can get even. Also, it gives you time to find a new place and save the money for a new deposit."
With this month's rent in her pocket, Marianne is looking for a new place. She won't lose any money but hates it that she has to leave.
Marianne Wehen: "It's a shame, it's just a shame, because it's gorgeous out here."
I did talk to the landlord. He said the foreclosure proceedings were all news to him, that he hasn't been served with any papers. I started to ask him if he has been paying his mortgage, but, at that moment, his cellphone must have dropped out. And, by the way, if you are renting a condo or house from someone, put a line in the lease that says, if there is a foreclosure lawsuit, the tenant, you, have a right to withhold the rent until the lawsuit is settled.
Facing foreclosure instead of closure on your concerns? Don't mortgage your future, contact us. We're not the landlords of the law, but we will try to give you a new lease on life.
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