A Renter's Foreclosure Nightmare

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Homeowners aren't the only victims of the mortgage crisis - many upstanding renters are getting caught up in foreclosure dramas, too. But without a clear idea of renters' rights, this group is getting bullied by panicked landlords and less-than-scrupulous lenders.

One Tampa renter, wrongly evicted after his landlord's property slipped into foreclosure, fought for his rights and won his way back into his home. But with all his worldly possessions - and even his girlfriend - lost during his two months of living on the street, it was a hollow victory.

It all started when Allen Rhodes returned to his Florida apartment after a quick trip in January. He found the place he had called home for two years had been emptied out. After seeing neighbors wearing his clothes, Rhodes could only assume that his life had been set out curbside, free for the taking.

Reduced to living in his car, Rhodes consulted with an attorney who finally convinced a judge to order the property's mortgage provider, Chase Home Finance, to allow Rhodes back into his now-empty - and extensively damaged from months of vacancy - apartment.

Was Chase in the wrong to put Rhodes out on the street to begin with? Absolutely. According to CNNMoney.com, the May 2009 Protecting Tenants of Foreclosure Act states that under almost all circumstances, tenants should be eligible to stay in a foreclosed property for the duration of their lease as long as they pay their rent regularly. Even a month-to-month renter should receive 90 days notice before being asked to move.

So why are so many tenants facing eviction notices, threatening letters, and, in some cases, the same travesty that met Allen Rhodes when he unlocked his front door that awful January day? In addition to some landlords and lenders simply banking on the fact that many renters don't know their rights, much of the repossession process is sub-contracted out to law firms and real estate brokers who equate a successful eviction (legal or not) with collecting a paycheck.

The answer is simple. Tenants, know your rights and be ready to stand up for yourself if the situation arises.

Check out our checklist of steps to take if your landlord is foreclosed upon, and make yourself familiar with your local tenants rights' group (do a web search for "tenants rights" plus your city or state name).

Not all landlords are bad, and despite the sky-is-falling hype, not all properties are heading for foreclosure - but it's still best to be prepared.
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