Governor Chafee signed the Just Cause bill, which requires banks and credit unions to allow tenants in foreclosed building to continue to pay rent and live there under the terms of the lease they had with their landlord. Further, the bill requires lenders who foreclose to maintain the building, effecting repairs and keeping the property from becoming a boarded up eyesore. This bill is good for tenants, good for communities throughout Rhode Island, and even good for the banks themselves, because maintaining the properties and the neighborhoods increases the chance that the property will retain its value and be purchased sometime.
Getting it passed was no easy task. DARE activists and other groups in the Just Cause coalition have worked for six years to get this bill to a place where the Governor could sign it. The battle is not done yet either, because after the bill is passed comes the difficulty of enforcing it: making sure the banks follow the law and bringing enough legal pressure to bear to make sure following this law becomes the standard, not the exception.
The press conference, held at DARE HQ in South Providence, was emceed by DARE activist Malcus Mills, who joyously announced, “We have finally made it with the Governor’s signature.”
Sergio Perez spoke next of the difficulties of dealing with a bank foreclosing on the house in which you are paying rent. Perez wants to stay in the house he’s living in, not pull his kids out of school, and keep getting to work on time. The Just Cause bill will allow him to do just that.
Senator Harold Metts sees the bills passage as an example of advocacy and persistence, adding, that bridges were built to create justice and meet the needs of the people.
“My landlord just up and left,” said Rawlene Burgess, “He came and got his rent and then he left us.” Burgess and her grandson were evicted, and she had trouble finding a two bedroom home in her price range. Had this law been in effect, she would have been able to pay her rent to the bank, and avoided this ridiculous and unexpected tumult in her life.
This issue is not just a problem for inner city communities. Representative Jay Edwards, who lives in Tiverton, had this happen to a family living two houses away from him. The family was thrown out of their home. As a result, Edwards became the chief advocate for this bill in the Rhode Island House. The bankers told Edwards that the Just cause law “flies in the face of six hundred years of common law.” If that’s the case, says Edwards, then “common law is wrong.”
“It shouldn’t take six years to do the right thing!” said the Reverend Don Anderson, “Every single person should have a safe, affordable place to call home.”
Steve Fischbach, the lawyer for DARE who has worked for years on this issue, was obviously very happy with the outcome. “Victory is sweet,” said Fischbach.
In a legislative season that seemed to favor the monied interests over the lives of working people, this bill stood out as one of the few positive highlights. More concentration of the lives of those who exist at the margins of society and less worry about what happens to a millionaire’s money after death would reap enormous dividends for our state, both socially and economically.
You can watch the entire Press Conference uninterrupted here: