ANDERSON — An Anderson man who said he was being unlawfully evicted in spite of a COVID-related moratorium in effect through Saturday won a small reprieve in court Monday.
Madison County Circuit Court 5 Judge Scott Norrick told Gerald Williams he has until Aug. 2 to present documents to prove his claim that the action by Landis Properties LLC should not be on a small claims docket because he did not enter into a lease but a rent-to-buy contract. Those typically appear on civil dockets because the value of real property and potential damages exceed what is available in small claims court.
“This feels like a small victory,” Williams said, for his family and him. “We still got the fight going. It’s not over with yet. If we can get it out of this court and into another court, we still have a chance of winning. I still got a fight ahead of me.”
Christopher Gilley, attorney for Landis Properties, did not return calls for comment.
Since September, property owners have not been allowed to evict tenants for nonpayment of rent under a moratorium issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention because of the pandemic. Property owners, however, are allowed to evict tenants for others reasons, such as illegal activity, property damage or other violations of their lease.
Though not all homebuyers are shielded from foreclosures, those with loans through the federal Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac programs also are shielded from foreclosures.
Williams said he entered into an agreement with Landis Properties in November 2019 to purchase a four-bedroom, two bathroom home at 1726 Drexel Drive. He said Landis Properties, which helps buyers with problematic credit histories buy homes, agreed to purchase the home for $80,000 and would charge him $84,000 to purchase it from Landis.
The Herald Bulletin was not allowed into the courtroom during Monday’s proceedings because of COVID restrictions, but Williams said Gilley told the court that Landis Properties actually never set a purchase price for the home, so it was never really a rent-to-buy contract.
“The judge said with this whole homeownership agreement, it shifted the weight of proof on (Landis Properties),” he said.
A series of personal setbacks — including employment changes because of the pandemic, long-term illness with COVID-19 and other health-related issues — resulted in a reduction in income to about one-third of his previous earnings. That led to an inability to pay the monthly rent of $833 and escrow toward purchase of $217.
“If COVID wouldn’t have happened, I would have paid $16,000 or $17,000,” he said.
Williams said he has been told he qualifies for federal rental assistance through the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority. He said he also has tried to use stimulus money to pay what he owes, but Landis Properties officials have rejected the offer.
“I can’t understand why they won’t accept the rental assistance funds,” he said.
Perhaps, Williams said, Landis Properties hopes to regain possession of the home because it likely could be sold for twice what he contracted to pay for it in the current real estate market.
Under the contract with Landis Properties, Williams said, he was required to convert from rent-to-buy to a mortgage within 20 months, which would be right about now. He had planned to go through a Westside credit union to keep the money flowing through the community, but because of COVID, he is back where he started and has to repair his credit.
“Trying to survive through COVID, I have overextended my credit,” he said. “I really wasn’t that far away. I could have gotten a mortgage.”
Williams said even with homebuyers, mortgage companies are allowing the principal and interest owed through the pandemic to be added at the end of the loan, and he’s not sure why that is not happening in his case.
“It’s not fair that they get to be the big giants and step on the little people,” he said. “We’ve lost jobs, lost families and gotten sick because of the pandemic. We’ve been stepped on enough with COVID.”