From the Lee County Sheriff's Office Economic Crimes Unit:
Question: What is the law as far as home owners renting their homes while the home is in foreclosure? How does this change if the home owner is working with the bank to save their home?
Answer: This is a problem area and there are no easy answers. In Lee County, the Foreclosure Dockets are enormous translating to a significant Case Load for the Circuit Judges hearing these cases. Local Judges are tasked with Hearing Eviction cases. Basically, until the Order Granting Foreclosure is issued, the home owner can rent their home. In certain cases, that Order is issued while there are tenants in place. While real efforts are made to insure that Tenants are aware of the pending Foreclosure to allow their involvement, occasionally they are unaware and/or do not become involved. When this occurs, it is sometimes necessary for the new owner “the bank” to then pursue the Eviction Process which is pursued through a County Court Judge. Of interest here is an Order signed by President Obama during May, 2009 entitled “Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act” which basically allows persons to complete their Lease. Important here is that the Tenant has been making their scheduled payments.
Question: How often do you get complaints where renters say they've paid rent months in advance (not knowing the home they're renting is in foreclosure) and then have gotten evicted from the home?
Answer: I am aware of very few cases of this sort being filed with us. As cited above though, a very real effort is made to insure “renters” are made aware of impending Foreclosure proceedings.
Question: At what point does a case such as this become criminal rather than civil?
Answer: This one is problematic in that we would need to be able to establish that rent monies were solicited and accepted after the “owner” knew they were no longer the owner. If that did occur, potentially theft charges might be pursued with the unknowing tenant as victim and the no longer owner as suspect. I would envision this as occurring more with short term rentals as opposed to longer term leases.
Question: What can renters do if they find themselves in this situation?
Answer: If Renters become aware that the residence they are currently living in is going through Foreclosure, they need to insure they keep themselves involved and aware. They also need to insure they do not become delinquent in their lease payments. Should there be problems, they should be aware of the Presidential Order cited above. Additionally, they can seek assistance through Florida Rural Legal Services and they have the availability of Civil Recourse.
Question: How can renters protect themselves when looking for a home to rent?
Answer: They should certainly ask the person they are dealing with if there is the possibility of foreclosure. They should insist on a Lease. They can consider working through a Realtor and they should certainly check the County Clerk’s Civil Files for any pending action or past cases involving the person who may become their landlord.