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Tenant thinks condo might have a new owner — but isn't sure

Should I keep paying rent if there has been a foreclosure, and if so, whom should I pay?

November 20, 2011|By Martin Eichner

Question: I rented a condominium from the man who owned it. About six months ago, he told he was having trouble paying his mortgage even though I always paid my rent on time. Later a notice about a trustee sale was sent to my unit, but the owner told me not to worry because he was getting his mortgage modified. I continued to pay rent to him. Recently, a person I had never met knocked on my door at 10 p.m. He said he was the new owner and was there to collect rent from me. I refused to talk to him. Should I keep paying rent if there has been a foreclosure, and if so, whom should I pay?

Answer: This is a problem we are seeing all too often in today's foreclosure climate.

An owner facing foreclosure remains the tenant's landlord even if the owner is not paying the mortgage and even if a trustee sale has been scheduled. Your duty to pay rent continues as long as he is the lawful owner of the property.

However, once a trustee sale has occurred and a new deed has been recorded, the ownership changes hands and the person or entity buying the property at the sale becomes the lawful landlord. From that time onward, the new owner is entitled to receive the rent due.

Your very common complaint is that you don't know which person is the proper owner. The notice about a trustee sale is not proof that ownership has changed hands. Trustee sales are often postponed, and the lender is not required to notify you of the new sale date.

Tell the person knocking on your door that he is disturbing your quiet enjoyment and that he needs to contact you in writing or come to the property during normal business hours.

Send him a written request that he give you written proof of ownership such as a recorded deed to the property. Your written request should also tell him to provide notice of his address for paying rent and the other disclosure requirements in California Civil Code Section 1962.

In the meanwhile, you can notify the former owner that you have a concern about his status as your proper landlord and ask for written proof of current ownership. You can check ownership independently by checking with your local county recorder's office to see if a post-foreclosure deed has recently been recorded, but keep in mind there is a time lag between the trustee sale and recording of the new deed.

Any rent you pay to either person without proper proof of ownership may be money wasted. However, if either person serves a three-day notice to pay rent or quit, you will then be in a more serious quandary because failure to pay the past-due rent indicated in the notice might subject you to an unlawful detainer eviction case. One protection for you is that the person seeking to pursue that case would have to prove rightful ownership to the court, but defending an unlawful detainer action can be expensive and unpredictable, with serious consequences if you lose.

Be warned that certain buyers try to bypass tenant rights under federal and state law, as well as under some local "just cause" eviction ordinances, by evicting immediately for failure to pay rent, so be sure to pay the rent if a new owner establishes proper title. For more help, contact your local Housing and Urban Development Department-approved housing counseling agency listed at, Housing and Economic Rights Advocates at or your local legal services agency.

Eichner is director of Housing Counseling Programs for Project Sentinel, a mediation service based in Sunnyvale, Calif. To submit a question, go to

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