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Foreclosures Evict Renters, Change Neighborhoods
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According to new numbers from RealtyTrac, March foreclosure filings in Connecticut were up 30 percent over February. Still, the overall numbers for the first quarter of this year were down slightly from the end of 2008.  

You don’t have to own a home to get hit by the foreclosure crisis. Renters are getting caught in the crossfire when landlords lose their properties. That means eviction for most tenants.

Rittie Brantley is one of them. She has lived in her New Haven apartment for almost four years, and she’s made her mark. Family photos and children’s artwork cover the walls of her living room.

“It’s very homely. I like my living room. And when people come in, they enjoy looking at my grandbabies’ pictures. And I enjoy showing them off.”

Her grandkids are a big reason why she wants to stay in this apartment.

“I have a nice backyard for my grandkids to play in, and it’s an environment where I can watch my kids in the daytime so my son and daughter can work.”

But she may have to move.

“Two days before Thanksgiving, I was going Thanksgiving shopping, and a guy came up and knocked on the door. And he said he was from the bank." 

He told her the building was in foreclosure, and she had seven days to get out. It was the first she heard of any trouble.

She called Legal Aid, and her lawyers have been challenging the eviction ever since. 

In the meantime, she’s in rental limbo. She does not know who her landlord is now.

"Because I don’t have a landlord, if anything breaks down, or anything happens, we don’t have anybody to call." 

That means that when she recently had trouble with her toilet, she hired a plumber to fix it. And she doesn’t have a lot of money.

Her rent had been paid with a federal low-income housing voucher. That is, until recently, when there’s been no landlord to pay.

And if she has to leave, she is not sure where she’ll find an affordable place.

"And I refuse to move into a bad neighborhood. If it's not a nice, safe neighborhood for me and my grandkids, I'm not moving there."

But just walking down her street, it's clear this neighborhood is changing around her.

"This one was in foreclosure, and the house next door was in foreclosure."

There are also a couple more vacant, boarded up houses on her street.

We stop in front of one of them. It is a huge, three story house, with plywood covering the windows. There is a padlock on the front door. But that has not kept out vandals.

Contractor Stalin Zhingre walked me through this house as he surveyed the damage. He was putting together an estimate for a New Haven landlord who just bought the vacant house. In the basement, he pointed to empty spaces in the corner.

"So, the people stole the machines over here."

The furnace and the air conditioner are gone. So are about 80 feet of copper pipe, he estimates.

It is the same story upstairs when he opens up a cabinet under a kitchen sink.

“This is broken. They stole everything.”

Where plumping used to be is one sawed -off pipe.

The Connecticut Mortgage Bankers Association says rental buildings like this are easier to sell when they're empty, foreclosed or not. That is why they oppose a bill moving through the General Assembly that would prohibit banks from automatically evicting tenants during foreclosures. 

Rittie Brantley's lawyer, Amy Eppler-Epstein has a different take. She says letting renters stay put through the course of their lease could prevent this kind of vandalism.

“The way the law is in Connecticut, there’s very little we can do.”

She and Rittie Brantley are due back in court next week to try to stop the eviction. Eppler-Epstein has been doing a little real estate dealing herself, and may have lined up a buyer for the property, complete with a rent-paying tenant.

Not all lenders automatically evict renters during foreclosure. Fannie Mae is signing new month-to-month leases. In the second part of this series, we will look at how a lender becomes a landlord.