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Stemming the Spiral of Foreclosures


As the mortgage crisis deepens, legal assistance attorneys and Law School clinics fight to change big bank policy and Connecticut law

In a brick building on New Haven’s State Street, a small group of lawyers with a continually shrinking budget and staff have been working overtime, going head-to-head with banking giants in an attempt to keep New Haven county residents in homes that have been foreclosed on. It reads like a modern day David vs. Goliath story. An underfunded but feisty group of attorneys, students, and tenants have taken on some of the biggest names in banking. And they’re beginning to win.

The story began when the staff at New Haven Legal Assistance Association (NHLA A)—among them staff attorneys Amy Marx ’00 and Amy Eppler-Epstein ’86—started seeing an increased number of renters facing eviction from foreclosed properties. In Connecticut, more than 2,000 families were evicted from foreclosed properties in the last two years. Hundreds of those houses were in New Haven, and many of the foreclosures have resulted in the eviction of tenants. Marx and Eppler-Epstein started meeting family after family faced with eviction: A single mother who just wanted to keep her kids in the same school for a few more months; an elderly couple who had lived in the same apartment for thirty years, treating it as their own home; a man with muscular dystrophy whose family had spent thousands of dollars retrofitting his apartment with ramps and handles and special devices that allow him to live independently.

“These people had paid their rent on time, they were good tenants, and now they were getting eviction notices—many without ever having known that the property had been foreclosed upon,” Eppler-Epstein explains. Many times the tenants were told they needed to move out of their apartments within fifteen days. Sometimes they were offered small sums—$500 or $1,000—in cash-for-keys offers they were told would expire within twenty-four hours.

In her office, Eppler-Epstein points to a poster showing “before” and “after” photos of a four-family New Haven home foreclosed on in August 2007. Prior to foreclosure, the property was appraised at $160,000 for a 90–120 day sale. Within days of the property being foreclosed and the tenants evicted, it was vandalized and everything of value — from the copper piping to the aluminum siding — was stripped. The house eventually sold, seventeen months later, for $16,000.

With eviction come vacant properties, Eppler-Epstein explains, which often results in vandalism, which leads to plummeting property values in surrounding neighborhoods, which leads to more foreclosure — a spiraling effect of neighborhood depreciation and home foreclosures.

Read this story in its entirety at ylr.law.yale.edu or www.law.yale.edu/ylr.