Her rent for October was a little bit late, but it was paid, so Sonji Edwards was shocked to find out Oct. 9 that her home was in a foreclosed property and she could face eviction.
She learned this from a flier left hanging in her triplex. It asked her to call within 48 hours about a "cash for keys" opportunity. Without giving a specific deadline, the flier told her she would be evicted by law enforcement if she didn't leave.
"It was like I was shot with a double-barreled shotgun," said Edwards, 44, who lives with her 10-year-old grandson in north Stockton.
The law gives tenants in foreclosed rental properties 60 days before they have to leave, but that's not apparent in the flier, nor others like it delivered to tenants offered other cash-for-keys plans, said Peggy Wagner of San Joaquin Fair Housing.
"I see it too much," she said. "I think it's very misleading. ... (It's a) scare tactic to get the people to get up and get out."
The flier read by Edwards and her neighbors concluded with: "If you are not interested in this 'move out' opportunity and you do not vacate the property, you will be evicted and removed by the sheriff."
The flier is not meant to intimidate, said Ken Dick, sales manager at the Roseville Keller Williams Realty, whose agents placed the flier. Its intent is to make an offer of cash to tenants willing to move out early. In the future, fliers will include the phrase "within the time provided by law," he said.
Banks hire the agency to manage foreclosed properties, and language in the incentive offers come from banks' legal departments, he said.
It's not the fault of the tenants that their landlord did not make mortgage payments, said Bill Roehrenbeck, president of Arkansas-based Central Mortgage Co., which owns the triplex.
"I want to make sure we always take care of these people," he said. Offering cash for keys is a way of doing things in the spirit of cooperation, he said.
Cash-for-keys incentives are nothing new, but they have become more common because of the high numbers of foreclosures happening in Stockton and elsewhere, said John Knight, professor of finance and real estate at University of the Pacific.
Banks want properties to be empty so it they can be refurbished and resold, he said. "Banks are not in the business of being landlords. ... That's not the way they earn a living," he said.
And recently passed legislation has strengthened the protection for tenants, said Lt. Mike Padilla of the San Joaquin County Sheriff's Office.
Under the new law, those tenants have 60 days to vacate a property after receiving official notice, he said. And hanging a flier saying a property has become foreclosed does not constitute notice, he said.
Sheriff's Office deputies don't enforce eviction until it is ordered by the court, and it's rare for the tenants to still be at the foreclosed property by the time the deputies arrive, he said.
Sonji Edwards and her neighbors don't know what they are going to do next. Like Edwards, Jasmine Haynes, 23, and Christina Savala, 26, receive public assistance and are raising young children.
They started gathering boxes and filling them as soon as they got the notice, but they don't know where they will go, or even if the $500 offer for their keys is still available.
The neighbors are close, and the children play with one another, said Haynes, who moved into the triplex a year ago after her apartment was destroyed by fire.
Leaving will be hard, she said.
"We're going to keep in contact," she said. "But it's not going to be easy."
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