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Dear Real Estate Adviser,
I’m disabled and have been living in my parents’ home for 18 years. I signed a rent-to-own agreement a few years ago, not long before their deaths, which were only a short time apart. Now I’ve been given an ejection order and 30 days to vacate.

I suffer from congestive heart failure, diabetes and crippling arthritis, and my wife and I are on Supplemental Security Income.

The bank wants to auction the home. Can I qualify for any type of disability homebuying program to retain it? We are desperate.
— E. Wegley

Dear E.,
Youch! I’m so sorry to hear of your recent losses and impending ejection (eviction). First, in a rent-option situation, you should know that a contract doesn’t die with the homeowner, unless that is specifically stated in the contract. So you have that working for you.

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But it’s imperative to locate a copy of any formal or informal agreement that substantiates your lease-to-own claim, then get legal aid immediately. You or your attorney will need to send a copy of that agreement to the bank’s legal department — and posthaste — to help make your claim as a lease-to-own tenant.

Look for subsidized legal help

In case you were wondering, there is no law against a lease-option agreement with family members and (or) heirs.

Since you’re financially strapped, you can try these options for federally subsidized legal aid: Legal Services Corp. has a list of the legal-aid organizations it sponsors state by state. The National Mortgage Assistance Center and support services funded through The Older Americans Act offer some legal aid.

But you’ll need to move swiftly with a legal response to the bank to postpone the eviction date and possibly establish a payment plan to retire any arrearage.

As you likely know, a decree (or warrant) of ejection is a court order ending a person’s legal right to continue living on a property, and I’d hate to see this happen to you and your wife.

Was ownership covered in parents’ will?

I’m a little surprised that the succession of homeownership wasn’t covered in your parents’ will, assuming there was one. It sounds like you could have a financial mess on your hands, particularly if your folks died intestate, and you’re in the middle of the probate court process without immediate access to their funds.

Whatever arrangement — or lack of one — was made, you still will probably have to make the house payment in the interim, even if the bank accepts your contract.

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You don’t say how much equity your parents had in the home, or whether they had a reverse mortgage on it or if the estate is in probate. All these could have a bearing on whether it’s even practical for you to buy the home under the previously agreed terms.

If your lease-option period (usually three years on up) is expired, this would put you on even shakier legal footing.

Seek disability assistance

You may indeed qualify for a disability-assistance mortgage program. Fannie Mae’s Community HomeChoice program offers disabled borrowers subsidized low down-payment programs. There are also HUD-backed housing programs that assist disabled homebuyers; if you have what’s called a “dire need situation,” your claim may be expedited. You can try to get this in motion, but you will first have to resolve your claim on the home with the bank.

If nothing else, you’re probably due back any monthly premiums you paid above standard rent to go toward a down payment (as per the agreement), but the bank may not see it that way. All the more reason to not tarry getting legal aid.

Good luck!

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