New state and federal laws passed last year are supposed to protect renters in foreclosed properties from getting tossed out with little or no notice.
But the state attorney general and legal aid lawyers said Monday there is strong evidence that those laws are being violated - and hundreds, perhaps thousands, of tenants have been pressured to leave sooner than legally required.
Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said he has sent warnings to 30 law firms, real estate agencies, banks and loan servicers - urging them to follow the law or face further legal action.
"They have a moral obligation, but more important a legal duty under a 2009 federal statute that they are frequently and freely violating," Blumenthal said at a news conference. "Foreclosure is no excuse for these illegal evictions."
The federal law gives tenants 90 days to move out of a foreclosed property or until the end of their lease, whichever is later. The tenants must be current on their rent.
A state law, also passed last year, gives those doing the foreclosing the option of offering $2,000 or double the security deposit to the tenant to move out sooner, the so-called "cash for keys" program.
Hartford drew national attention in 2008 when a city woman who rented an apartment fought a foreclosure eviction by Fannie Mae, based on provisions in the financial services bailout legislation that protected renters.
More broad legislation was later enacted by state and federal lawmakers.
Among the 30 companies receiving "cease-and-desist" letters from Blumenthal include Hartford law firm Hunt, Leibert; banking giant HSBC; and Waterbury-based Realty Network.
Hunt, Leibert and Realty Network did not return calls. HSBC declined to comment.
While legal aid lawyers said they have seen some improvement since the new laws were passed, complaints keep coming into their offices from tenants.
"Each week, we see tenants coming to us that are being mistreated by the banks, Realtors and law firms," said Amy Eppler-Epstein, a lawyer for New Haven Legal Aid. "They are still receiving scary notices that they still have to move out immediately."
Julia Colon of Hartford knows that feeling.
In October, she received a notice that she had 72 hours to leave her apartment. She didn't even know the three-family house where she was living on Park Terrace was in foreclosure.
"It's intimidating and unfair and you don't know what is going on," Colon said. "And you just get the letter that you have three days to get out of your home. . . . You just feel lost at that moment."
Colon, the mother of a 15-year-old who lost her job last year as a maintenance worker, eventually got help from legal aid that bought her more time, and she received a $2,000 "cash for keys" offer that helped her move to a new apartment in the city.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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