Landlord defaults force out renters

In the midst of Leila Bell's second battle with lung cancer, she learned she faces eviction from her home -- through no fault of her own.

She and her Fleming Avenue duplex neighbor say they have consistently paid their rent, but their landlord defaulted on his mortgage loan. The bank, HSBC Bank USA, foreclosed and now seeks dispossession of Mrs. Bell and her neighbor.

As the housing crisis deepens, theirs is a story heard often -- renters forced out when banks foreclose on the owner's property.

Mrs. Bell, 57, is so depressed about the situation that it is leaving her exhausted, said granddaughter Chameka Bell. She moved in with her grandmother two years ago to help her.

A week ago, Ms. Bell sat in Richmond County Magistrate Court with her grandmother and their 67-year-old neighbor, who is also in poor health.

The foreclosure was completed in January. The Wednesday morning hearing concerned the bank's request to evict the women.

A visibly frustrated Presiding Judge H. Scott Allen struggled with the idea that an order from him would put Mrs. Bell with her oxygen tank -- along with her ailing neighbor -- in the street.

Their former landlord, Timothy J. Wilson through Sand Hills Urban Development Inc., said he got caught in the housing crisis. He got grants to fix several properties in the Sand Hills neighborhood and thought he would be able to make the mortgage payments through the rent collections.

But when the adjustable-rate mortgage payments skyrocketed after two years and the property taxes rose, he couldn't keep up financially, Mr. Wilson told the judge.

Mrs. Bell's daughter Toyia Folsom said the family knew nothing of the financial troubles until a county marshal showed up two weeks ago with an eviction notice.

"She loves this apartment; she is in love with this apartment," Ms. Folsom said. Her mother knows all the neighbors who help keep a watch on her, Ms. Folsom said.

Ms. Bell said she can see the adverse effects on her grandmother. Moving would be devastating, she said.

Finding the time would be hard on Ms. Bell, who in addition to helping her grandmother is finishing her degree at Paine College and working at a restaurant.

Mrs. Bell, who is on a fixed income after working 27 years as a nursing assistant, was also admitted to the hospital this week. Ms. Bell said her grandmother is in intensive care.

She and her neighbor wish they could talk the bank or the new owners into letting them stay on and pay rent. At Judge Allen's suggestion to show good faith, they have made their rent payments into the court registry, where the money will be held.

Judge Allen said he would take the matter under advisement but cautioned the women that he will have to rule eventually. As long as the foreclosure was proper, he has no choice but to sign the order. Once the eviction order is signed, a marshal will serve it, giving a resident 24 hours to vacate.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or sandy.hodson@augustachronicle.com.

FUTURE HELP

A bill pending in the Georgia General Assembly would give a tenant 60 days to remain in a rental property after a foreclosure if he holds a valid lease and continues to pay rent to a court registry. Senate Bill 140 is sponsored by Bill Hamrick, R-Carrollton.