R.I. Foreclosure Eviction Violates Tenants' Rights

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When is a foreclosure eviction not an eviction? Easy answer: When the person you're trying to evict doesn't live there. Angela Martinez of Providence, R.I., was helping her 20-year-old autistic son get ready to leave the home one April morning when there was a knock at the door. Movers barged in with packing boxes and began tossing her possessions into cardboard containers.

Although a constable held an eviction notice in his hand with the right to move out the owner, Martinez is not the owner; neither is her 21-year-old daughter, Stephanie Rodriguez, who lives there with her newborn daughter, Audrey; the baby's father; and her 16-year-old son, Franklin. The Martinez family rents the place for $900 per month from an absentee landlord who lives in New York. That landlord, Pedro Pena, was the one named on the eviction notice.

"It was illegal and they had no standing to do it," the family's lawyer, George Babcock, told AOL Real Estate about the eviction attempt. "It was immoral."

When there's an eviction, each person, or at least each adult, has to be named on the notice. The law in Rhode Island is that occupants must be given at least 10 days notice through a lawsuit, not fewer than 10 minutes on your doorstep.

"When they were knocking I was with Audrey's dad," Stephanie Martinez said during a phone interview. "He was feeding the baby, and I was trying to get some sleep. My mom ran into the room to come get me." When the groggy new mom learned what was going on she immediately called her attorney.

"They [the people for the bank] went out and tried to exterminate this family. That's what I call it," says Babcock, whose moniker for his office is "a Christian law firm" practicing what he calls "foreclosure stoppage."

He adds, "In a case like this, occupants have to receive at least 10 days' notice at the very least; and even after
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that 10 days, if they don't leave, they have to have a lawsuit filed against them and they have 20 days to respond. I can turn 30 days in to 60 days and 90 days. This is what I do for a living."

So that fateful morning after he received Stephanie's call, Babcock phoned the mayor's office, who put him in touch with police Capt. David Lapatin, who also has a law degree.

Lapatin, arrived at 31 Lenox Ave. and told the police officers overseeing the eviction, and the moving crew, who looked as if they really didn't want to be there, to stop what they were doing, reported the Providence Journal.

"You see someone with an autistic child, the daughter with a little baby, you do whatever you can do to help them," Lapatin told the paper. With Babcock's colleague, attorney Corey Allard now at their doorstep too, the family, was then given 60-days notice; an eviction in this case is inevitable.

The Martinez family has been renting the first-floor of the three-story multifamily home for six years. Tenants in the top two floors have already moved out. The bank paid them to leave, says Stephanie. She doesn't know how much they were paid, but she says the bank never offered her own family cash for keys. Perhaps because the landlord is a relative. Instead, she says a woman named Melissa would constantly call their home and ask, "When are you leaving? Have you found a place to go to yet?"

The last time Stephanie says she received a call from the woman was about three weeks before the attempted eviction. "I told her I didn't want to talk to her about it. 'I am not going to answer you. You can call the lawyer.' The lady got pissed off and hung up." The next contact she had was with the movers at the door.

"My mom has so many things that the movers said it was going to be a two-day job. The first thing they packed was the living room, all the frames, china, silverware. They got to pack 11 boxes before they were stopped."

Those boxes still sit in the Martinezes' living room while they make frantic calls in search of a new place to live. "We are looking for a family house or a duplex. We need at least three bedrooms, but would prefer four bedrooms in either Cranston or North Providence."

The family first learned the house was in foreclosure several months ago when a real estate agent for the bank knocked at their door. The 48-year-old mother of three had no idea.

Babcock has been representing the owner of the home because it is not clear who owns the mortgage, but in the end, a Superior court justice dismissed Pena's appeal.

"Anyone in this situation, it's like the Wild West," says Babcock. "Everyone should familiarize themselves with tenant law in their state if there is a possibility their landlord can be foreclosed on. I've probably had 500 emails from people across the country. I steer them to the bar association in their state."

Allard, who describes the scene at the Martinez home that day as "very tense," suggests:

1) Do not ignore certified mail or court documents from debt collectors, law offices, or constables.

2) Do not trust the representations of debt collectors, mortgage companies, or their agents. Often times, these persons or entities act inside the gray areas of the law in order to achieve their self-interest.

3) The earlier you seek legal guidance, the better the resolution to your issue.

For Stephanie, who hopes to return to school this year and work toward a degree in social work, says the ordeal has been "just too much chaos and I hope it doesn't happen to anyone else."

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Sheree R. Curry
, who has owned three homes, but has never been a landlord, is a three-time award-winning journalist who has covered real estate for six years. During her 20-year career, her articles have appeared regularly in the
Wall Street Journal, TV Week, and Fortune. She's been writing for AOL Real Estate since 2009 from a Minneapolis-area rental. She seeks a book publisher -- or at least a lender who'll give a reasonable mortgage rate to a self-employed mom.
For more on mortgages and related topics see these AOL Real Estateguides:
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