Sitting on a kitchen chair in the middle of the driveway leading up to her two-story dream home, Sherry Stanley knows it might only be a matter of time before she and her five kids are homeless.
This 42-year-old mother was forced into foreclosure a few years ago after a bitter divorce. She tried to get a modification on her mortgage, but she was denied because of a title issue. Stanley’s foreclosure case is still being litigated in court, but a few weeks ago, it was sold out from underneath her.
Like so many other Americans, Stanley thought she was protected by her state’s moratorium on evictions and foreclosure. But as she and others have been learning, those protections are being loosely enforced.
“It’s scary. I’m a single mom, and the kids look up to me to protect them, so I feel nervous constantly,” she said.
Massachusetts, where Sherry lives, has placed a hold on most foreclosures and evictions due to the COVID-19 outbreak. But here and across the country, housing courts have been shut down. Housing advocates say as a result, many banks and landlords are circumventing judges and intimidating homeowners and tenants directly without court orders. Many homeowners and renters are being told they have to leave, even with the moratoriums in place.
In Stanley’s case, a realtor listed her home for a sale a few weeks ago. She only found out her home had been listed when a realtor showed up to host an open house without Stanley’s knowledge. Her yard is now littered with signs that say “No Trespassing” and “This house is not for sale! It is illegally listed. Foreclosure is illegal.”
“They’re saying there’s supposed to be protection, but where is it?” she asked. “At first, I felt safe and secure, but in the meanwhile, I’ve been harassed this whole time. People are taking advantage of the system.”
And her case does not seem to be an isolated incident.
Grace Ross who runs the Worcester Anti-Foreclosure Team in Worcester, Massachusetts, says she has been inundated with calls from renters who are reporting being intimidated by landlords to leave because of back-rent payments.
“I think people are really scared. People don’t know how to make ends meet,” Ross said. “The people that want to get someone out or put a lien on your home, they’re just going around the courts completely.”
While the CARES Act help to put a stop on some foreclosures and evictions, it only applies to loans backed by the federal government.
As renters and homeowners begin to receive notices of back payment due, Ross worries about a possible flood of foreclosures and evictions on the horizon.
“I really think the only answer is a structural change,” she said.
See what protections your state has in place here.