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Attorney General warns renters to know their rights

By Roy Cooper
N.C. Attorney General
In today’s shaky economy, some renters are dealing with a problem they never thought they’d face: foreclosure.
You can pay your rent on time and live up to your end of the lease, but the place where you live could still end up in foreclosure.
Recently, my office was able to help dozens of residents at an apartment complex in Winston-Salem when the owners ran into financial problems. Residents first noticed that landscaping work was neglected and trash wasn’t being picked up in common areas. Many residents also complained that their water had been shut off and they had a hard time getting any answers from property managers. My office was able to work with the utility companies to restore service while the owners located buyers to take over the property.
If you rent a home or apartment, learn the warning signs and how you can protect yourself from foreclosure:
– Pay close attention to notices posted on apartment bulletin boards and watch for signs that the property owner may be having problems keeping up with regular maintenance and repairs.
– Some local newspapers print lists of bankruptcies. Be sure to check them out if you suspect your landlord is in trouble.
– Record your lease at the local Register of Deeds office. This will give you certain rights under state law. Keep copies of your lease and other important paperwork in a safe, easy to find place.
– If you do get notice that the property is in foreclosure, don’t stop paying rent or following other rules outlined in your lease. Just because your landlord goes into foreclosure doesn’t mean you’re off the hook for paying rent.
Both state and federal law offer some protections for renters from foreclosure, so make sure you know your rights.
Your rights under federal law
– The foreclosure buyer is required to honor any lease that you entered into before the foreclosure. The buyer must let you keep living at the residence for the rest of your lease under the same terms, as long as you keep paying rent and meet the other requirements of the lease. The only exceptions are if you (the tenant) are the former mortgage holder, their child, spouse or parent, or if the foreclosure buyer sells the property to someone who plans to move in and use it as his or her primary residence.
– The foreclosure buyer must give you 90 days notice to move out, even if you don’t have a lease or if your lease has less than 90 days left on it. However, this does not mean that you get 90 days in addition to all the time left on the lease. For example, if you have 60 days left on your lease then you will get 30 more days for a total of 90 days.
Your rights under North Carolina law
– If your lease is entered into and recorded at the county Register of Deeds prior to the mortgage, then the mortgage holder and foreclosure buyer are required to honor your lease.
– If your lease is recorded at the county Register of Deeds, you’re entitled to receive notice of a foreclosure hearing.- If you rent a house or an apartment in a complex that has fewer than 15 units, you’re entitled to 20 days advance notice of a foreclosure sale, by first class mail. This notice should also state that if you entered into or renewed your lease on or after Oct. 1, 2007, you have the right to end your lease by giving your landlord 10 days written notice.
My Consumer Protection Division is here to help. If you have questions about your rights as a renter you can contact us toll free at 1-877-5-NOSCAM or online at www.ncdoj.gov.
Attorney General Roy Cooper and his staff work to help North Carolina consumers make smart choices and avoid scams. We are here to be of service when you need us, but through education efforts like these columns we hope to help consumers avoid problems from the start.

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