Cindy Wojdyla Cain
June 29, 2008

JOLIET — Last fall, Khara Uczen’s life was turned upside down in an instant.

"The doorbell rang," Uczen recalled. "I went to the door. It was a beautiful day. There was a man standing there."

He said he was looking for the owner of the home Uczen and her husband, Bill, rent in the Lakewood on Caton subdivision. When Uczen told the man that the owner was not available, he told her something shocking: The home was in foreclosure.

Although they were up to date on their rent payments, the Uczens and their four young children will ultimately be evicted from the home and have to find a new place to live.

With foreclosures around the country at peak levels, the Uczens are part of growing group of tenants being displaced from their rental units. According to a recent study by the Woodstock Institute in Chicago (localhost/wsi), 35 percent of all foreclosures in Chicago involve multiunit buildings. Nationwide, 20 percent of all foreclosures in 2007 were for small multiunit buildings, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association.

This trend is impacting the availability of affordable rental units, said Tom Feltner, policy and communications director for the institute. Homeowners displaced by foreclosure are competing with displaced tenants for the same dwellings, he said.

"It’s really putting a lot more pressure on the rental market with a decline in the number of units," he said. "We’re going to see a lot more demand for existing affordable units. We definitely need some sort of strategy to preserve affordable units for the long term."

Panic time

When Uczen learned of her landlord’s foreclosure, "I panicked right away," she said. Uczen loves the three-bedroom, two-story home her family has lived in since August. She doesn’t want to leave. Her oldest son attends a school in the area and he has friends on the block, she said.

But it’s more than just an attachment to the home that would make moving difficult. Uczen said she doesn’t have money for a security deposit and first month’s rent for a new rental. What little money the couple had saved is going to pay a lawyer who is representing them in the foreclosure case.

Finding someone who will rent to a family of six with four kids under the age of 7 will be tough, she said.

"I don’t know what we’re going to do," she said. "We live paycheck to paycheck like everybody else. And neither one of us has family who can help us out."

Research before renting

Wade Arends, the Uczens lawyer, said the couple wasn’t named in the original foreclosure filing, so he’s working to get the final foreclosure judgment thrown out. If he’s successful, he believes the couple could have six or so more months in the house. If not, the home will go to a sheriff’s sale Aug. 29.

Eventually, however, the couple will have to leave, said Arends, whose firm, Arends and Callahan, has offices in Peotone, Park Forest a
nd Chicago.

"Foreclosure sweeps out everybody’s interests," he said of the impact on renters.

Arends said there are things potential renters can do to protect themselves in a foreclosure situation (see sidebar). It pays to research a home before renting, he said.

"Over the last several years, I’ve seen scam artists who come and buy five houses with other people’s credit," he said. "And then they rent them out to people and don’t make mortgage payments."

Most people don’t have any idea what they should do if they’re facing eviction because of a foreclosure, he added.

"They end up getting the short end of the stick every time," he said.

But the legal system will not take pity on them, he added.

"Failure to know the law is no excuse," he said. "When you’re a renter your supposed to know what you’re getting. The law holds you to the standard you should know what you’re doing, but they don’t."

Left on their own

There are organizations trying to help tenants caught in the foreclosure epidemic, said Bob Palmer, policy director for Housing Action Illinois in Chicago. The General Assembly, for instance, recently passed a law (Senate Bill 2721) that would allow renters to stay in a dwelling unit for 120 days after a foreclosure action is complete. The bill was sent to the governor Friday.

But more needs to be done to help renters who are facing eviction, Palmer added. So far, most state and federal programs and money are going to property owners who are facing foreclosure, he explained. Not much attention has been paid to displaced renters.

Cloudy future

Shortly after the process server showed up in September, Uczen got in touch with her landlord, who had relocated to Michigan. The landlord said she was involved in a bitter divorce, her dad was in the hospital and she didn’t care about the house in Joliet anymore. The landlord hung up on Uczen and she hasn’t been able to reach her since.

"She’s MIA now," Uczen said. "Nobody can find her. … It just infuriates me that she can get away with it and disappear and not be found."

The couple was planning to rent to own the house beginning Aug. 1. Now that dream is down the drain. There are several liens on the house and a second mortgage, Uczen said she learned. "I don’t want to get stuck with any of that."

Even though she’s suddenly in a precarious spot and she worries about what the future will bring, Uczen is trying to remain hopeful.

"I’m a good person," she said. "I’m hoping my karma is going to help us find a place."

*These clippings are provided for "fair use" not-for-profit,
educational purposes (and other related purposes). If you wish to use
this copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond "fair
use," you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Please
contact Woodstock Institute for more information.