Last week, the California Court of Appeal reversed a trial court’s earlier decision and instead ruled in favor of Rosario Nativi, and her son Jose Roberto Perez Nativi, two tenants who were evicted when their landlord was foreclosed on. The mother and son had been renting the garage of a house for several years in Sunnyvale, and then in 2009, the property was foreclosed. The Nativis did not realize their landlord had stopped paying the mortgage, and had continued dutifully paying their rent.
After the foreclosure, Deutsche Bank became the owner of the property, and hired American Home Mortgage Servicing, Inc to service the property. American Home Servicing, Inc, then hired XL Advisors Inc. dba Advisors Real Estate Group (Advisors), to prepare the property for sale and remove the tenants.
Despite the fact that the Nativis had a lease, representatives of Advisors Real Estate Group removed all of their belongings and put them outside where they were ruined. Advisors Real Estate Group also called the police when the Nativis tried to regain access to the garage they had been renting. The tenants sued, and a trial court ruled in favor of Deutsche Bank. However, the California Court of Appeal reversed that decision on January 23, 2014.
Madeline Howard, who helped initiate the case while at Bay Area Legal Aid and is currently a staff attorney with Western Center on Law & Poverty, explained the significance in a press release: “Because of this decision, tenants like the Nativis, who were locked out of their apartment and left homeless, have recourse in state court.”
The story of a bank becoming the owner of a home after a foreclosure trustee sale is common in California. Unfortunately, so is the experience of these two tenants who had continued paying their rent and should not have been evicted. After a trustee sale, some real estate agents will try and get the current tenants out of the property as quickly as possible, offering cash for keys, making illegal threats, or even calling the police. Tenants may or may not know their rights, and the real estate agents may take advantage of this and try and force them out quickly.
Kent Qian, from the National Housing Law Project, explained the decision is an important victory for tenants under the Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act (PTFA), for three reasons:
1) The court ruled that bona fide leases “survive” foreclosure under the PTFA;
2) Tenants in illegally converted garage units are protected under the PTFA; and
3) State law claims can be brought to enforce the PTFA.
As the WCLP press release explains, “the federal Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act requires post-foreclosure owners, including big banks, to step into the shoes of the former landlord when they acquire a rental property.”
To read more about the case, visit:
Western Center on Law and Poverty Press Release: “Court of Appeal Rules that Big Banks Step into Shoes of Foreclosed Landlords When Trying to Evict Tenants”
Law 360 “Calif. Leases Survive Foreclosures, Appeals Court Says”
To read the decision, visit this link: Court Opinion.
If you are a tenant who is losing your housing because your landlord is being foreclosed on, you may want to visit the Tenants Together Action Guide for California Tenants in Foreclosure Situations or call their Tenant Rights Hotline.
The Western Center on Law and Poverty, Bay Area Legal Aid, Alborg, Martin & Buddle LLP, and Jenner and Block represented the Nativis.
An amicus curiae brief, drafted by the National Housing Law Project and AARP Foundation Litigation, was filed on behalf of the National Housing Law Project, National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, the AARP Foundation Litigation, the National Fair Housing Alliance, and the California Reinvestment Coalition in support of the Nativis.