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Foreclosure Tale: When Renters, Despite Protections, Are Intimidated Into Leaving

| October 27, 2011

The note left for the Genis family by the buyer who, the family says, told them they had 10 days to leave. (© FlaglerLive)

Marie Genis, her husband Max and their six children moved into their Palm Coast house on Smith Trail last January  when they signed a one year lease agreement with the landlord. They have been dutifully paying the $600 rent on time every month. Yet they fear being evicted before the lease is up, even though the law should protect them from eviction for now.

As the housing crisis lingers, droves of Americans have turned to renting. But careful and reasonable renters are being affected by foreclosures almost as often as homeowners, at times being forced or intimidated into leaving in a hurry if their landlord defaults on their mortgage and loses the property—at times even if the legal steps to evict renters haven’t been fulfilled.

About two months ago, the Genis family discovered without warning that their house was being foreclosed. Last week, the family received a letter from the Flagler County clerk of court informing them that the property had been sold on Oct. 19 for $94,001. The home was bought by Real Estate Solutions Home Sellers, according to the certificate of sale. (Boyton Beach-based Premise Dessources had bought the house in 2005 for $206,900.) Real Estate Solutions is owned by Robert and Maria Helmick and based in Port Orange.

Attached to the letter to the Genis family was a business card from “Realty Rob” Helmick, with this note on back of the card: “We bought this home today and would like to know your plans. Please call me ASAP. Thanks Rob.”

Marie Genis called Helmick immediately. “He told me we have to be out of the house within 10 days or the sheriff’s department would come and throw away all of our stuff and kick us out,”  Genis said, her eyes tearing up. “I tried to explain we needed more time but he would not listen.”

“They want the renters out so they can start to remodel,” Helmick said. Asked who “they” were, he said it was confidential. “The family has been informed numerous times about the foreclosure and the court has sent out letters of eviction.”

Debra Johnson, spokesperson for the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office, said there is currently no court ordered foreclosure evictions served on this property as of October 26, 2011. “The sheriff would not send out his deputies to evict anyone without a court order,” she said.

The Genis family: Marie and husband Max, and Mark Genis, 10, Angelaine Genis, 12, Juliana Genis, 6 Gilma Isenarol, 13, Chris Tina Isenarol, 15, and Jennifer Isenarol, 17. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

In a subsequent interview, Helmick disputed telling Genis that she was being evicted. “I did not say that,” Helmick said, but he would not say what he did tell the family, or what would have led the family to begin packing up: Most of the family’s wares at the house had been boxed up earlier this week. “I have never told them or anyone else anything that is untrue.”

Strangely, Helmick said that an article about the family was an “invasion of their privacy” and that they were being “raked through the coals,” though he also told a reporter that the Genis family had “trashed the house” and that he’d talked to some of the Genis’s neighbors who told him that they were not taking care of the property.

When informed that the sheriff had no eviction order, Helmick said, repeatedly: “I think it’s important that we follow the law.”

The Genis case is not unusual. The property had been in foreclosure for some time but the landlord did not notify the tenants—a common theme of foreclosures these days. Foreclosed landlords collect rent but don’t necessarily pay the mortgage since they aren’t planning to keep the house in most cases. Meanwhile, the renter is often unaware of what’s going on. Thousands of renters across the nation have become innocent victims of the mortgage crisis in similar ways. Many tenants get scared off by eviction threats, thinking they have little choice, leaving their rental property in a rush not knowing that there are safety nets put in place that can help renters ride out a foreclosure.


Before May 2009, most renters lost their leases upon foreclosure. This problem prompted President Obama to sign the federal Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act that year. The new law requires that tenants receive a 90-day notice if they are being evicted due to foreclosure, that most existing leases for renters be honored up to the end of their term, and that month-to-month tenants would be entitled to 90 days’ notice before having to move out.

An exception was carved out for the buyer who intends to live on the property. The buyer, in these cases, may terminate a long-term lease with 90 days’ notice. Importantly, the law provides that any state legislation that is more generous to tenants will not be preempted by the federal law. These protections apply to Section 8 tenants, too.

James Wolverton, attorney at Livingston, Wolverton & Sword in Palm Coast, said that under the law, tenants with a valid lease are permitted to stay in the rental property under the federal Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act. “It’s important for renters to keep the lease agreement if a foreclosure situation comes up,” Wolverton said, but it has to be in writing. “The bigger issue of renting a property in foreclosure is that the landlord has little incentive to respond to maintenance issues and you might lose your deposit.”

Genis said that their lives have been turned upside down to this past week. “We are trying to find a place to store all our stuff because we are scared the sheriff’s department is coming to throw it all in the trash,” said the mother of six, who moved to Palm Coast about four years ago. “We don’t know where we are going yet.” That was earlier in the week. The family wasn’t looking to stay at the Smith Trail property permanently: they’re scheduled to move into a house built by Habitat for Humanity this January, and needed to stay in the rental property until the lease is up. Finding a different rental for less than three months entails numerous costs, including a deposit, that the family may not be able to afford.

Kathy Austrino, a local real estate broker who was working on this particular short sale  prior to the public foreclosure, said she is disturbed that the new owner wants the tenants out in 10 days. “It’s out of the family’s control,” she said. “There needs to be better laws to protect renters and give them sufficient notice to move out. Ten days is just not enough.”

But there are protective laws, as long as renters are aware of them and aren’t taken advantage of.

“It’s a huge issue, and I have seen it over and over,” Austrino said.  “Renters haven’t been addressed because they have been focusing on homeowners.”

By today, the family had decided to move anyway: Marie Genis didn’t want to deal with the fear—or with leaving her children at home while she worked and worried about an unwanted knock at the door. She claims Helmick had knocked at the door while she was at work. “What they’re doing is not right, it’s not fair,” Genis maintains, and even though she’s moving on, she said she wanted her story told in order to inform other tenants who may be facing the same situation: they don’t have to be intimidated, she says.

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18 Responses for “Foreclosure Tale: When Renters, Despite Protections, Are Intimidated Into Leaving”

  1. The Truth says:

    I feel bad for this poor family. I hope for the best for them, and I believe the best is for them to get out of that house as quickly as possible. The realtor and the new owners seem to be heartless. To ask someone to get out in 10 days is just cruel. Good luck to this family!

  2. Out of curiosity says:

    I’ll be sure never to have dealings with Real Estate Solutions. Rob and Maria Helmick should be ashamed of themselves.

  3. Shane says:

    WoW!!! Is all I can say about Rob Helmick and Real Estate Solutions… Realtors (SOME not all) are like car salesmen. In it to make a buck and screw the consumer, in this case the people. I went through this with my family back in 2007. We were renting in a duplex when in the mail one day came an envelope from Washington Mutual. My fiance’ without even thinking opened it since she had an account with that bank not looking at who it was addressed to. It was a notice to the owner of the house being many months behind in the mortgage and if a balance wasn’t paid, foreclosure proceedings would be started. Now us and our neighbors who occupied the duplex had been paying our rent in good faith every month on time.This was in September. So we called the owner and talked to her daughter because she didn’t speak English. She was upset because we opened the letter and said we never should of because we were looking to invade her mothers privacy. As I said, my fiance held an account there and it was accidental. She didn’t care. We asked if we would be getting our deposit back which of course was first and last totaling $1,900 and she said “If she can’t pay the mortgage, what makes you think she can afford $4,000 to you and the neighbors?”. Soon after we were served papers from the FCSO about the property being foreclosed on in November. Well after talking with the neighbors, we decided not to pay her rent since she wasn’t paying the mortgage with it anyways and hadn’t been for months and we were loosing our deposits, we needed time to save money up for another deposit. We found a house in April that was for rent around the same price we were paying and decided to move out. Well about 18 months later, the foreclosure reaper found us AGAIN. This time, we decided to work on staying and made an offer on the house which led to our being able to purchase it in a short sale. The Realty office who was the property manager was great in working with us to be able to make the purchase. That’s why I said some realtors are like car salesmen, not all of them… Best of Luck to the Genis Family… Karma is a bitch.

  4. revenge of the nerds says:

    He said, she said. No proof that they were told to leave in 10 days.

  5. Common sense says:

    Revenge of the nerds. You should be ashamed. Max and Marie are both hard working people, and deserve to live the American dream like the rest of us. I am witness to the stress that was created bestowed upon them, and it was unnecessary. While all this was going in both of them still were at their future homesite to build their dream of owning a house. Twenty-two other volunteers were there to help. Maybe you shouldn’t be so judgemental.

  6. Ann DeLucia says:

    Not only is this family being treated badly overall but for Helmick to lie about this family is obscene! I have visited the Denis family and they have taken very good care of the house. To lie and say they have “trashed” the house is adding insult to injury. I wish them all the best in their new Habitat home – they have worked extremely hard to earn it!

    Ann

  7. Larry Glinzman says:

    http://www.clsmf.org/images/uploads/docs/H-17%20Foreclosure%20for%20Renters.pdf

    The Foreclosures For Renters brochure from Community Legal Services tells renters their rights and what to do in case. More information is avavailable at http://www.clsmf.org.

    • Tiffany says:

      Do you know of a way that we can file a complaint against Rob and Maria. I was one of their victims too. And funny that when you go to their website, they do not allow you to post comments.. They only put “2 testimonials” and that’s it. Of course they are good and they do not include the names of the “so called happy people”.. hmm… It’s probably cuz they are not happy at all.. Rob and Maria are terrible people and take advantage of older hispanic people like myself and I want to complain against them but do not know how

  8. Anonymous says:

    They knew long time ago they had to get out soon or later. They only find excuses.

  9. Dug d. says:

    Rob and maria are just ANOTHER REAL ESTATE COMPANY TRYING TO KEEP “there own” family”s head above water!!!! If you DONT PAY YOUR MORTGAGE, u dont keep your house, given that they were RENTERS, then the should be upset with the PREVIOUS owner for no letting there familly know about the forclosure Ahead of time!!! But no matter what ,Thats is the law, no matter the case, no matter how many KIDS, no matter if your black or white! Its not real estate solutions fault

  10. Happy in the F section says:

    I am so sorry to see what tihs family is going thru. A word for the Genis family, Kathy Austrino is a GREAT person to have on your side. She will work day and night to help you! I know this for a fact!

  11. Out of curiosity says:

    Dug D – I suggest you read the link that was posted in the article. While the previous owners behaved badly, the current owners are not in compliance with the law in giving ten days notice.

  12. PalmCoaster says:

    Paying only $600 a month for a house large enough for a family of 8 should have been their first clue. Any home that large would rent for $900 under normal circumstances. Landlords that are in trouble with their finances and are losing their homes, throw renters in them at discount prices just to collect the profit, it’s happening all over Palm Coast. There are many cases that the Property management are aware of it and there are many cases that the landlords are not telling the property management company’s. THE RENTING PUBLIC HAS TO DO THEIR HOMEWORK. Everyone has access to a computer and public records at the library. Before you rent a home, do a search to see if that owner has that property or any other properties in foreclosure, it’s safe to assume that if they are losing other properties and their credit will already be destroyed then they will have no problem walking away from the house you are renting. Also, check Flagler County Clerk Of Courts website, search the owners last name, look for the Deed information. Does it look like they financed the property or did they pay cash? There will be lender information noted if they financed. If they financed, did they buy it during the Real Estate Bubble? If they did, then they are upside down in the property (the value has dropped to less then what they owe). That’s a good indication they might walk away from the property if the rents are not covering the mortgage payment. How long has the landlord owned the property? The longer the better. Check Realtor.com, Zillow.com, Trulia.com, is the property listed or has it been listed in the recent past? If so, then the landlord is not looking to hold on to the property, they want to unload it, DON’T RENT IT. If it’s been in short sale for months and they are looking for a renter, DON’T RENT IT because it’s on it’s way to foreclosure if the lender doesn’t work with them on the short sale. If you rent through a Property Management Company, insist that the deposit be held in escrow with the Property Management Company. If the money is forwarded to the landlord and the house goes in to foreclosure, theres a very good chance you will never see that money. At least with a Property Management Company they are licensed Realtors and can be held to some kind of accountability. Last and certainly not least. Be very suspicious of LOW RENTS. Look around, figure out what the average rents are for 3 bedroom and 4 bedroom houses. In this area 3 bedrooms generally go for around $800.00 and 4 bedrooms are around $900.00. If you are quoted less then that, DO YOUR HOMEWORK. Bottom line, there are no guarantees that any of this information will keep you from being foreclosed on or eventually evicted, you are AT RISK if you are renting in the Palm Coast area because of the high volume of investors and owners that bought during the Real Estate bubble and after it, and are now losing the homes or walking away from them. But these measures will certainly help renters weed out the the bad rentals and the bad landlords and try to avoid bad situations. DO YOUR HOMEWORK, we do not live in a world of trust anymore and the information is public.

  13. palmcoaster says:

    The above PalmCoaster a different one than the usual Palmcoaster…I don’t disagree with his advise anyway.

  14. luckylady says:

    Well said Palm Coaster. Yes, I feel for this family but someone else owns the house and it is theirs now to do what they please. Everyone blames the landlord because they have more money than most tenants and can afford the taxes. I have spoken with several landlords in the area that are tired of how tenants abuse their property and skip town without paying rent. Many in this area have to be evicted. Landlords should not have to deal with the abuse by tenants as long as the property is kept up. And if a landlord can prove the tenant has abused their property, eviction should be easier.

  15. some guy says:

    I thought the first post made too much sense for him/her now with the second i know why ;)

  16. Renters should be informed by the property owner well in advance of a foreclosure, but it isn’t required legally and most property owners don’t do it – they keep the renter in the dark. I started a service, CheckYourLandlord (dot) com that will help a renter investigate a property and the owner, and also provide monthly updates on the property to let the renter know if there are any notices of default filed against the property, so that they have plenty of warning and time to work through the situation. Renters do have rights under the Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act, unfortunately most tenants don’t know about it and are unable to enforce their rights.

  17. Verbally harassed by Rob Helmick says:

    I can totally agree with the renters from this story. The same thing happened to me. Except that lowlife excuse for a human being actually knocked on my door and told me I had to be out as of9:00 am. I told him that I wasn’t aware if that abs he said he would go to the sheriff and get an order of eviction and I’d have to be out in 24 hours. I have 2 small kids and it was impossible. As I tried to explain, he told me that he didn’t care, it’s not his problem and called me a deadbeat. He verbally attacked me and left. I of course did all I could and got all my things out. Well I contacted an attorney and they said that “Rob” had no right to do that. The only ones that can evict you is the sheriff with a written court order. Either way I got everything out. Now, the attorney had put in an extension for me to move my things. So even though the house is empty, that low life piece of crap still can’t go on the house for 30 days. I’m also looking into filing a suit for harassment.

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