What are your rights if your building is in foreclosure?

With the state’s foreclosure rate remaining the worst in the nation, it’s not just homeowners facing the problem — renters are also.

As of February 2019, the state foreclosure rate is 1 in every 1,006 residents, while the national rate is 1 in every 2,471. The Jersey City foreclosure rate is 1 in every 2,922, according to RealtyTrac.

Dinah Hendon, director of the Division of Housing Preservation in Jersey City, is in charge of making sure landlords are held accountable when they don’t follow the law. Hendon says the first thing to know about foreclosure is that only a court officer with a warrant can lock you out of your home.

“A bank cannot, and sometimes they do, send notices saying you have to move out. ‘The property is in foreclosure; you have to move.’ That’s not the law, so they should be careful about that. Again, seek some legal advice. But they don’t have to move just because the property in foreclosure. And even when it comes out of foreclosure, and the property is being sold, the bank has to send a 90-day notice to get a tenant out,” said Hendon.

She says landlords must go through the proper legal channels to notify tenants when the rental property goes into foreclosure. She advises tenants to hold on to their rent until they know who to pay.

“If a tenant is living in a foreclosed property, they should be getting a notice from that bank saying that the property is now in foreclosure, and the notice will either say ‘Pay your rent to landlord or pay your rent to this rent receiver or pay your rent to us, the bank.’ But if the tenant is confused or not certain, they should hold on to their money, until they run this by an attorney, and make sure that they’re paying the right amount to the right entity,” Hendon said.

Hendon says no tenant legally can by kicked out of their home, by anyone, at any time. By law, there must be at least three months advance notice before a renter must vacate a property.

“If a tenant is there under the term of a lease, they’re protected for their entire lease term. So that 90 days might be, if the bank sends it in time, could run concurrent with their lease, but they have to give at least 90 days’ notice that the buyer wants to live in the premises or requires that the premises remain vacant,” Hendon said.

Liz Fisher is a member of the Jersey City Together Housing Team that helps to educate tenants about their rights. She says the best thing to do when a tenant finds themselves in a bad situation is to speak up.

“Yeah you know, that’s your hard earned money. You shouldn’t let a landlord pull a fast one on you. It’s hard to stand up for yourself and discover precisely what’s your rights are if you’re on your own. But it’s possible to educate yourself about what the law is and what your rights are. And I think there’s good support from the city right now, there’s good support from neighbors, from community groups like Jersey City Together. I think we are at a turning point at the moment,” Fisher said.

Last June, the city passed a new ordinance that requires mortgage companies to register foreclosed properties in a city database. But Hendon says there is no real way to catch everyone, which is why it’s important for tenants to know their rights.