How do you know that the home you’re renting is safe from foreclosure?
It’s pretty easy and it just takes a few minutes of searching on the internet.
The first thing you’ll be looking to find out is if the property owner is behind on their taxes. To do this you go to the tax collector’s site in your county. Since we’re based here in St. Augustine, Florida, I’m going to use the St. Johns County site as an example (and I’ll include the links to Jacksonville and Duval County below).
The St. Johns tax collector site is at http://www.sjctax.us/ . On the left menu bar click on “Search Property Tax Records.” There will be a “Tax Search” menu at the bottom, click on “Physical Address.” Then put in the address and press the “go” button to search. This will bring the tax record up.
For this example I pulled the record on a property that I knew was delinquent. The image to the left is what a delinquent tax record looks like, and it’s the first sign that the property you may want to rent is heading in foreclosure.
Believe it or not there are properties heading for foreclosure where the taxes are current, so the second place you want to head is the Clerk of Courts website to see if something called a “LIS PENDENS” has been filed against the property.
A “LIS PENDENS” tells you that a lender(s) have filed the paperwork to start the foreclosure process. That doesn’t mean the property will be foreclosed on, but there’s a strong indication that the owner isn’t making the house payments. Which means you could be paying rent to a person who is taking your money and not putting it back into the home.
Now, you could just go to the Clerk of Courts site first. But in St. Johns County the Clerk’s site is very hard to navigate, so I go to the tax rolls first to get the property’s Tax Identification number and the owner’s name and address, which makes searching on the Clerk’s site much easier.
The Clerk of Courts site in St. Johns County can be found at http://www.clk.co.st-johns.fl.us/ . Click on “Recording” on the left menu bar, then “Online Records Search,” then accept the disclaimer.
On the right hand side, put the owner’s name in the “Name” box, last name first, then hit “Search” and see what comes up. If too many entries show up because its a common name, search again, but this time in the “Documents Type” box, hit the gray button to the right and scroll down looking for “(64) LIS PENDENS” to see if the property is in pre-foreclosure, and “(65) LIS PENDENS RELEASE” to see if the Lis Pendens is still in effect.
Here’s what came up on another property that I knew was in foreclosure. A Lis Pendens was filed on this particular property in October of 2009, a year previous to this writing. That means the foreclosure process has been underway for a year. If you scroll down through the records and see anything that looks like “Final Judgment,” that means the house has been ordered to auction and foreclosure is iminent.
One more thing to consider: if you are renting in a subdivision where there is a homeowner’s association (HOA), as a renter you are required by (a new Florida) law to pay the HOA dues. So if your landlord isn’t paying his taxes or mortgage, it will be on you. If the HOA dues have been in arrears for awhile, the HOA may have filed a lein on the property, which should show up on the Clerk of Courts site along with the Lis Pendens.
So if you do a search and the taxes are unpaid, and there’s a Lis Pendens (which means the mortgage isn’t being paid), you can be pretty sure that the HOA dues are delinquent, too. Just walk away from that property and never look back, if for no other reasons than the liability of the HOA dues, and again, the fact that your rent monies are not going toward the home you are living in in any way, shape or form.
Lastly, another good resource in getting this information is your friendly neighborhood Realtor. I have databases and resources that I can look into that can give me an even greater insight into the property, and faster. So if you know a good Realtor, give him or her a call with your questions.
For Jacksonville and Duval County you can find the Clerk of Courts site at http://www.duvalclerk.com/ccWebsite/ and the Duval County Tax Collector at http://taxjax.com/default.aspx . The search functions will be done differently on these sites, but remember you’re looking for “Lis Pendens” and “Final Judgment” at the Clerk’s site, and delinquent taxes on the tax site.