Previously published in the Free Press with minor unapproved edits. Original below:
It started with a Facebook post “77-year old women needs help immediately!” The woman was a renter of a tax foreclosed home, and a stream of well-meaning friends offered their advice about what she should do. There was fear that she would face eviction, rumors about who owned it, and a lot of other well-intentioned misinformation. I was sad that, even after a decade where one in four properties in Detroit have gone through tax foreclosure, there is still a serious lack of information about what to do when your landlord doesn’t pay the taxes and the government becomes the owner of your home.
If you happen to live in any of the 15,000 occupied homes across Detroit that face tax foreclosure by the Wayne County Treasurer this year, you might have some questions about where your property stands and what to do next. I finally joined the conversation to try to clarify some of the confusion, and I will try to do so here in my capacity as a housing counselor.
So, if you’re a renter in a home that was foreclosed by the Wayne County Treasurer, here are your stop-drop-and-roll techniques for what to do when the government becomes the owner of your home: CHECK, SAVE, & BUY.
1. CHECK. Don’t move immediately because you fear eviction and don’t automatically stop paying rent: find out for sure if the home that you live in was foreclosed! Most houses that face tax foreclosure do not actually end up being foreclosed, and renters can get into difficult situations when they stop paying rent or move out in a rush. On the other hand, if the property is foreclosed, renters should not continue to pay rent to someone who is no longer the owner. Find out if the home was foreclosed by asking the Wayne County Treasurer, visiting United Community Housing Coalition, or texting “Detroit” to “63735”. Note: even if the home is in foreclosure now, it’s possible that the owner will “reinstate” the property later, but in the meantime, renters need to know where they stand based on the best information available today.
2. SAVE. If, in fact, your house was foreclosed, you should withhold your rent! Withholding rent means two things: 1) paying all money owed in rent to an escrow account, and 2) giving written notice to the [former] landlord as to why you are doing this. This is especially important because a former landlord may try to bring an eviction case once they stop receiving rent. If the property is reinstated, the court may order you to pay the money in back rent. On the other hand, if the house stays in foreclosure, that money is yours.
3. BUY -If your house is foreclosed as of the end of June, you may be in a very wonderful opportunity to purchase your home. United Community Housing Coalition has helped 3,000 residents buy the homes they already live in through the tax foreclosure process. This year, UCHC is working with the City of Detroit and foundations to find ways to continue that work. Even if you don’t want to own the home you live in, withholding rent may allow you to save up for whatever is next. If you do buy, you can help reverse the current trend of a loss of homeowners.
Some things to note:
1) If you ever get eviction papers, take that seriously. Some people disregard eviction notices after the foreclosure, but you could lose on a default judgment even if the “landlord” no longer owns the property.
2) Try to keep your utilities on. Once water is shut off in a foreclosed home, it can be extremely difficult to get it back on because there will be no active lease or deed to the property.
3) Seek local resources for assistance. See Lakeshore Legal Aid can for legal counsel (888-783-8190). Visit United Community Housing Coalition for assistance, advocacy, and a chance to purchase your home. 2727 2nd Ave. Suite 313 every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning 9am-noon.
One article can never explain all of the information that you truly need if you are living in a tax foreclosed home, so seek advice directly from local resources and legal experts. Since you can’t see the future, you won’t know with certainty if the home will stay in foreclosure or not, but you can arm yourself with information and understand your options to be ready for what happens. With information and strong support, the story of the 77-year old woman may end not with an eviction notice, but with a deed made out to Detroit’s newest homeowner.