The Tangled Web of Foreclosure

By Jennifer Felten

Case of the Month:  Joshua and Christina Epps, Plaintiffs and Respondents v. Bruce Lindsey, Defendant and Appellant

What’s in a word?  For Bruce Lindsey, he hoped it was the house he was living in.  Unfortunately, it didn’t work out the way he wanted.  It all started when Lindsey’s at the time girlfriend, Linda Barbee, purchased the house.  After, according to Lindsey, a tumultuous relationship, Barbee quit claimed her interest to Lindsey after the house was in foreclosure and Barbee moved out.  However, he claims she used her “leverage” to “extort” money from Lindsey in the form of a ten-year lease to the property for $2,300 a month.

Bank of America purchased the property during an April 2015 foreclosure sale.  Joshua Epps’ parents then purchased the property, on behalf of Joshua and Christina Epps, via an online auction in August 2015.  The Epps did not have enough liquidity to purchase the property online themselves.  One month later, Joshua Epp’s parents transferred the property to the younger Epps.

Code of Civil Procedure section 1161b, subdivision (b)(1), provides that “tenants or subtenants holding possession of a rental housing unit under a fixed-term residential lease entered into before transfer of title at the foreclosure sale shall have the right to possession until the end of the lease term, and all rights and obligations under the lease shall survive foreclosure, except that the tenancy may be terminated upon 90 days’ written notice to quit” if, as relevant here, “[t]he purchaser or successor in interest will occupy the housing unit as a primary residence.”  The Epps had no obligation to honor the lease if they provided a 90 day notice to quit and if they were “the purchaser or successor in interest” who intended to “occupy the housing unit as a primary residence”.  Both of those items were not contested.  The Epps did serve the 90 days written notice to quit.  The Epps were very clear that they intended to occupy the housing unit as a primary residence.

Lindsey appealed the trial court’s decision that favored the Epps.  His claim was the wording of the Code of Civil Procedure section 1161b.  Lindsey claimed that the trial court got it wrong because Bank of America was the successor in interest.  Further, since the Epps’ parents purchased the foreclosure property, the Epps were even further removed from being the successor in interest and that his 10-year lease was applicable.

The appellate court remarked that a thorough analysis of the wording of section 1161b allowed them to determine that the “successor in interest” is not qualified by terms like “immediate,” “ultimate,” or “eventual”.  Instead, section 1161b uses the word “the” before “purchaser or successor”.  The word “the” is used as a “function word” to indicate “that a following noun or noun equivalent is definite or has been previously specified by context or by circumstance” or the word indicates “that a following noun or noun equivalent is a unique or particular member of its class.” (Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed. 2003)).  In fact, section 1161c does use the word “immediate”.  Although Lindsey attempted to stay in the house for the full 10 years based on a “technicality” of the wording of section 1161b, the appellate court agreed with the trial court and ruled in favor of the Epps.


Jennifer Felten

Jennifer Felten, Esq., Relaw Ms. Felten specializes in representing both individuals and legal entities, providing representation and guidance on a variety of real estate related matters.  Relaw APC 699 Hampshire Road, Suite 105 Westlake Village, CA  91361 US Phone: (805) 265-1031 or email her at: jennifer@relawapc.com

For inquiries or questions about having Ms. Felten speak to your organization please email info@relawapc.com.


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