You do have at least one significant right as a tenant, and it seems to be pretty much universal in the United States: Landlords cannot turn off your utilities in an effort to force you to leave the property -- or to retaliate for a perceived offense.
During our foreclosure nightmare, my wife, Carol, and I had experience with this kind of behavior. It's called "constructive eviction," and our research indicates it is illegal in all 50 states. You would think an attorney -- such as my brother, David Shuler, of Springfield, Missouri -- would know that, especially when you consider that he also is a landlord.
But as Carol and I were fighting desperately in May 2014 to save our home of 25 years -- just after I had been released from being unlawfully incarcerated for five months in Shelby County, Alabama --my brother apparently tried to convince me that it was perfectly fine for a landlord to turn off utilities.
That raises these questions: Was my brother trying to help us save our house, or was he trying to help get us out of it as soon as possible -- to the benefit of politically connected individuals in Alabama? Is there an Alabama-Missouri connection to the abuse we've suffered -- which includes an unlawful eviction here in Missouri, resulting in a Greene County deputy breaking Carol's arm -- and is my brother in the midst of it, helping the other side?
In seeking to answer that question, let's go back to fall 2013. After being cheated out of our jobs (me at UAB in 2008; Carol at Infinity Insurance in 2009), we started to fall behind on our mortgage --which, until early 2013 or so, had been timely paid for 23 years in a row. Chase Mortgage granted us a forbearance, of undetermined length, and we set out on trying to get our mortgage situation straightened out.
That effort ran into a major roadblock on October 23, 2013, when I was arrested because of a defamation lawsuit that Republican operative Rob Riley and lobbyist Liberty Duke had filed. They sought a preliminary injunction, which has been prohibited in defamation cases by more than 200 years of First Amendment law. I was arrested for alleged civil contempt regarding an injunction that was unconstitutional to begin with -- and evidence later showed that we had not been lawfully summoned to court anyway. I became the only U.S. journalist to be incarcerated in 2013 and apparently the only one in our nation's history to be arrested because of an unlawful preliminary injunction in a defamation case.
With me in jail and Carol under constant threat of being arrested (Riley and Duke sued her too, suggesting extremely dark motivations were in play), we obviously could do nothing about our mortgage problems. While I was in jail, Carol received notice from Chase Mortgage that our forbearance period was over, and our home was being placed into the foreclosure process. We received no explanation as to the timing, and were granted no consideration of my unlawful incarceration.
When I was released on March 26, 2014, we had less than the 30 days allowed by state law to save our house. We were not able to stop the freight train bearing down on our home and all its occupants -- and possessions -- so our house (according to public documents; we weren't there) was auctioned on the courthouse steps in Shelby County. The mortgage holder typically buys foreclosed properties, but that did not happen in our case. In fact, there apparently was a bidding war for our home -- at 5204 Logan Drive in Birmingham, AL -- because (we learned much later) the house sold for almost $9,000 more than the amount we owed on it.
That amount represented what little was left of our equity, and based on my research, the foreclosing law firm should have sent those funds to us. Did that happen? No, it did not -- and we have written several recent posts about that.
An outfit called Spartan Value Investors (owned by a youthful and creepy little capitalist named Clayton Mobley) apparently bought our home at foreclosure and started placing notices on our door that we were to be out by such and such a date. In essence, we had entered into a temporary landlord-tenant relationship with Spartan. We had gone from homeowners to "tenants at sufferance," and believe me, that is an unpleasant situation to be in. Based on our experience, the tenant is, indeed, suffering.
Substantial evidence now suggests that we were the victims of a wrongful foreclosure, one carried out not to collect a debt but for an ulterior purpose. That is prohibited under Alabama law, and if proven, would mean our house essentially was stolen right out from under us.
At the time, however, I could not think much about such matters. Staring homelessness in the face, I contacted my family in Missouri and let them know what was happening. (Not sure I would do that, if I had it to do over again.)
That's when my lawyer brother entered the picture, and not long after that and after we had moved to Missouri, I started to wonder if our so-called family and friends in the Midwest were trying to help us or trying to help the forces who seemed bent on destroying us.
(To be continued)