When I moved into a 1920s-era fourplex in the summer of 2007, I planned on staying put for several years. I had been kicked out of my previous apartment after it was sold to condo developers, and though the new place was smaller, it had all the amenities of a happy Midtown home: a backyard, covered parking, and plenty of eclectic neighbors.
Unfortunately, my plan to stick around was thwarted when my neighbor, Michelle, called one morning in early September with bad news.
"There's some lady in our front yard from Crye-Leike Realtors. She says our apartment building has been foreclosed, and we've got 30 days to move," said Michelle, her voice quivering.
My jaw dropped. In the year I'd lived in that apartment, I'd forged a familial relationship with my three housemates. The thought of being forced away from them was worse than the idea of packing everything yet again.
We had an informal house meeting in the stairwell that night and decided the whole thing didn't seem right. We hadn't received a letter from a bank notifying us of a foreclosure, and Revid Property Management (the local company that managed the property) was as shocked at the news as we were.
Revid had been sending our rent money to the property owner in California, but he obviously hadn't used our rent to pay the mortgage.
We demanded that Crye-Leike, the realty company acting as a liaison between the bank and the tenants, supply us with something in writing. But they weren't able to produce an official notification from the bank. They wouldn't even supply us with the bank's name.
"In this situation, the bank sees you as little more than a trespasser," said a local real estate attorney we talked to. He said it's the owner's responsibility to notify tenants, but since we dealt with a property management company, the owner never had any contact with us.
According to Nolo.com, an online legal information source, renters typically lose their leases upon foreclosure, since most mortgages were recorded before tenant leases were signed. Two of the tenants in my building had signed new leases just days before the news of foreclosure.
Through negotiation with the bank, Crye-Leike offered us a "cash-for-keys" agreement, which allowed us 30 days to move out in exchange for $750 in moving expenses. If we chose not to sign the agreement, we were told we'd be evicted anyway.
The attorney said cash-for-keys agreements are purely optional for banks involved. In some cases, banks will move forward with an eviction without offering a dime to the soon-to-be-homeless tenants.
As much as it hurt to leave my home, it would have been foolish to refuse the money, so I signed the form and started packing.
Revid refunded our $300 deposits without looking at the state of our apartments. They were no longer in charge of the property, anyway. So, armed with $1,050, I began my search for a new place.
By early October, I moved into a house a few blocks away. It has even more amenities than my last apartment — a fenced yard, a huge kitchen, central heat and air, and three bedrooms. But without my former housemates, the place feels a little lonely, thanks to a lack of laws protecting tenants during foreclosure.