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Facing eviction, renter overwhelmed by offers of help

  • Story Highlights
  • Lisa Brown is being evicted because landlord defaulted on mortgage
  • A CNN viewer from Texas sent Brown $400
  • Another man gave her $5,000 and set up her retirement account
  • The Children's Aid Society offered to cover Brown's moving expenses
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By Sheila Steffen
CNN
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ROOSEVELT, New York (CNN) -- Lisa Brown was caught off-guard by the offers of help that came from strangers.

Lisa Brown has to move out of her rental house because it fell into foreclosure and was sold at auction.

Lisa Brown has to move out of her rental house because it fell into foreclosure and was sold at auction.

"I'm overwhelmed," she said. "People helping people in these tough times. I never meant to solicit any help. This is incredible, really."

Brown and her three daughters can't escape eviction. The family is being kicked out of a rental house because her landlord defaulted on the mortgage and the home fell into foreclosure. The house was sold at auction, and they have to move out by May 1.

She didn't seek financial help, but it came anyway.

An executive from Texas named Kelvin who saw Brown's story on CNN.com was moved by her "unfortunate situation" and wanted to help. He sent a check for $400. A New York man named Dave offered financial help as well as aid planning for the future.

When Brown moved into the Long Island, New York, home last summer, she loved the spaciousness she never had in an apartment.

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"It was bigger than what I had lived in," she said.

Brown was also won over by the neighborhood, with its tidy homes and good schools. "I wanted to come here, and I wanted to see my kids graduate from this school district."

The bad news came just seven months after she moved in. A real estate broker came to the door and handed her an eviction notice, telling her she had to vacate. "I was hysterical. I was like, 'What do you mean?' " Video Watch Lisa Brown talk about why she has to move »

The broker explained that the landlord no longer owned the property and the lease was no longer valid.

Brown had no idea the house was in foreclosure. As a tenant, she always paid her rent on time, and she assumed the mortgage was being paid.

"I didn't see there was a problem," she said. "You know, I'm paying rent, and she's putting it toward her mortgage."

Brown was astonished to learn that her landlord, who lives upstairs, rented the house when she knew that she was losing it.

"She knew that this house was foreclosing on her. She did nothing about it," Brown said. "Nothing except take my money."

Brown had been paying $1,900 a month in rent. She had also paid $5,700 for a security deposit and broker fees to secure the house. That money, she said, is gone. "She will not give me my deposit back. Nothing."

CNN tried to reach the owner for comment about the security fee, but no one answered the door, and the phone is disconnected.

The broker who rented Brown the house and who was paid $1,900 said he didn't know that the house was in foreclosure. He also said the brokerage fee will not be returned.

Dave, who lives on Long Island and who also read Brown's story on CNN.com, was perplexed that none of the fees were being refunded. To help recoup her losses, Dave offered help and sent a check for $5,000.

Helping with Brown's immediate needs was not enough for Dave, a financial adviser who wanted to do something for her future.

"He offered me a retirement plan," Brown said. "He came to my job, gave me his business card and said, 'I want you to get into this plan; I will help you with this.' "

Dave met Brown over coffee and set her up with a retirement account, something the 42-year-old said she has never had. He will make monthly contributions of $500 for 10 consecutive months to get her started.

But Brown still has one problem: She has to move out. She has no legal right to stay. The bank that foreclosed on the house and owns it has offered her $1,000 to vacate.

Brown's problem is not unique. Nearly 20 percent of all foreclosures are on rental properties, and tenants' rights in such situations are minimal, according to the Center for Housing Policy, a nonprofit organization that researches housing issues.

In most states, when a bank forecloses on a landlord, the tenant has no guarantee of being allowed to stay in the property, and neither the bank nor the landlord has a legal obligation to tell the tenant about the foreclosure. So while the owners know what is going on, renters are usually kept in the dark.

New York state Sen. Jeff Klein is aware that renters can run into problems.

"In many instances, they're actually paying their rent on time, and the owner of the property who is in foreclosure is pocketing the money," he said.

Klein said that 50 percent of all foreclosures in New York involve rental properties, and he is working on a law to warn tenants of foreclosure proceedings ahead of time, to keep them from losing their security deposits and being evicted with nowhere to go.

Similar laws are in place in California, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Rhode Island.

"What we're facing here," Klein said, "it's sort of the new homeless population unless we do something about it."

His legislation is scheduled for a vote next week.

Responding to the outpouring of help Brown has received, Klein said, "It's great support for the Brown family, but that's why we need legislation for innocent, hardworking people like Lisa to protect them from reaching the point of desperation. People who play by the rules should not be penalized for the misdeeds and malice of others."

Brown hopes to relocate in the same area so her daughters can stay in the schools they love and be near their friends.

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A caseworker for the Children's Aid Society, which administers the New York Times Neediest Cases Fund for the victims of the subprime mortgage crisis, saw Brown's story on CNN's "American Morning." They are now in contact so the fund can help cover moving and transitional expenses.

Brown may have to adjust some of her dreams, but she is optimistic. She said the one thing she has seen through this experience is "the goodness of the human spirit is alive, and that's encouraging."

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