Diana Thompson’s eyes filled with tears as she described how she came to spend Christmas at a shelter this year. She had been the only tenant in a building fallen into complete disrepair. The building was foreclosed, and then condemned, and Thompson was ordered to leave on December 1. The mother of a two children, one of whom is disabled, she gathered all the belongings she could carry and stayed in a motel for 12 days, and then moved into a shelter. Her landlord never returned her phone calls, and she has lost most of her possessions, including toys for her children, furniture, and clothes, due to the rushed move. “I hope something is done in the future,” Thompson said, “because I don’t want to ever do this again.”
Thompson spoke at a listening session sponsored by Foreclosure Information for Tenants (FIT), a campaign organized by the Public Policy Project (PPP), an organization that empowers citizens to affect public policy. The meeting took place at Habitat for Humanity in Minneapolis, and focused on renters’ rights in the foreclosure crisis. About thirty people attended the meeting, including Senator Linda Higgins, members of the Community Stabilization Project (CSP), a nonprofit organization that advocates for housing and tenants’ rights, and three speakers who had lost their homes due to their landlords getting foreclosed upon.
Another young woman could not finish her story. Anonsa began: “Me and my family…” and then ran out of the room, unable to go on. A statement by Anonsa was later read, which told about her family moving to the Twin Cities from Red Wing. Their landlord informed them that he would not make any of the repairs needed in the building because he was being foreclosed upon. Like Diana Thompson, Anonsa and her family had to spend this Christmas at a shelter.
Crystal Scott told her story of foreclosure and eviction. When she signed a year lease, her landlord didn’t inform her the building was being foreclosed. She got an eviction notice from her landlord at the beginning of December that said she had until December 29 to move out. But on December 19, she got a call from her neighbor that a moving company was evicting her that day. Wells Fargo, the bank foreclosing on her landlord, had ordered her belongings be put into storage, and sent her the bill for $2,200.
New Minnesota legislation protecting the rights of renters became law in August. The law requires that renters must get a copy of the notice that the landlord’s mortgage is being foreclosed. After a building is announced foreclosed, the owner has a six-month redemption period in which to refinance the building. The foreclosing bank or person canceling the contract for deed must give renters a 60-day written eviction notice. Renters may continue paying rent to either their landlord, or to the bank after the redemption period is over.
The new legislation also stipulates that if the utilities are under the landlord’s name, he must continue to pay them. If the landlord fails to pay utilities, renters can put them in their name and deduct the cost from their rent.
While the new legislation gives new protections for renters, enforcing those protections is another matter.
“If you can’t enforce the law, it’s worthless,” said Anita Jackson, a community member at the meeting. “I’m looking for legislators to look for ways to have a moratorium on foreclosures until something is done.”
Senator Higgins said that Minnesota legislators did pass a bill that put a moratorium on foreclosures, but it was vetoed by Governor Pawlenty.
FIT is seeking an amendment to the renters’ rights bill that would increase the enforcement, accountability, and consequences for landlords who violate the new laws. The St. Paul City Council passed a renter notification ordinance on December 23.
Sheila Regan is a theater artist based in Minneapolis. When not performing or writing, she serves as educational coordinator for Teatro del Pueblo.