If you have gone through the foreclosure process, maybe because you have decided to leave an expensive house and debt behind, and you are still living in the house, you are probably wondering how long you can stay in the house before you have to move. The answer is…it depends. Primarily, it depends on the laws of your state. Because this blog focuses on Georgia, I will describe the process here and many states are probably similar. The one thing I can tell you is that I am pretty sure in no state can someone simply show up at your house the next day and put you, your family and all your property out on the street. There are a few factors that determine how long you can stay in the house. Generally, within a few days after the foreclosure sale you will hear from the new owner of the property, or someone acting on their behalf. The majority of foreclosure sales end up with the lender taking the property back and they often have real estate companies or foreclosure management companies handling the properties. The person will let you know when they expect you to be out of the house, or even propose a cash for keys deal. In some cases, such as when an investor purchases the property, they may offer to lease you the house for a while. On the other hand, what if the new owner wants you out as soon as possible?
In Georgia, the former owners (and family) living in a house after a foreclosure sale, without permission of the new owner, are called “tenants at sufferance.” The first step is that the new owner will give notice to the residents that they want them to move out and give possession to the new owner (a “demand for possession,” usually by certified mail). They may want it back a few days later or maybe 30 days later. Remember, the foreclosure was not a surprise as there is at least a few weeks notice that this was a possibility. If you do not move out by the deadline, the owner will file an eviction case or “dispossessory” case in the local Magistrate or State court. The complaint will be served by the local Sheriff or Marshall, or by a private process server, either by personally serving you or by tacking it on the house. You will then have seven days to file an answer, but realistically very few people in this situation have a legal defense. If an answer is filed, a hearing is normally set within a couple weeks. The Judge will hear the parties and issue a decision. This is not the time to complain about issues with your lender or even why the foreclosure was unfair. The Judge will normally just consider that there is a new owner who wants you to leave their house, and enter a “writ of possession.” This is the document that allows the Sheriff to come to your house and see that you and your property are removed from the house. Do not get to this point! Once the Writ is entered, you will not know when the Sheriff will show up. It could be as soon as the next day, or it could be a few days. However, it will happen and when the Sheriff and the new owner’s moving crew show up there is no appeal, no excuses and no delays. They will not wait on you to get a moving truck or lease a new home (though you can and should get a truck immediately to protect your property). The movers will not put your property in the back yard or other protected area – it will go by the street. It will then be up to you to move it or protect it. The deputies will remain there to make sure you do not interfere and that you are out. The locks will be changed. This is obviously not a pretty sight, and you have probably seen someone else’s property on the street at some point. Again, you have had several notices that the foreclosure and eviction are coming, so do not compound the situation by staying in the house this long.
In this post, we only address the process of eviction after a foreclosure. To stop the foreclosure, you need to see a Bankruptcy lawyer well in advance of the foreclosure date, even if you plan on moving eventually. If, after the foreclosure, the lender files a deficiency claim on the remaining debt, you may also need to see a lawyer to discuss Bankruptcy or to resolve or settle the lender’s claim.