Thursday, October 10, 2019

AG Shapiro Files Suit against Vision Property Management for ‘Rent to Own’ Scam Targeting Low-Income Pennsylvanians

Attorney General Josh Shapiro filed a lawsuit on Thursday against Vision Property Management (Vision) and its affiliates for operating a “rent to own” scheme that has affected more than 650 low-income families in counties across Pennsylvania.

The suit alleges that Vision utilizes misleading sales tactics to lure consumers into entering “rent to own” agreements on foreclosed houses that are in serious disrepair. Unbeknownst to the consumers, the agreements provide no ownership rights, consumers face immediate ejection if they fall behind on payments, and the agreements unlawfully attempt to make the consumers responsible for expensive repairs required to make the houses habitable.

“Vision Properties and its owners and affiliates take advantage of lower-income Pennsylvanians who face barriers to owning a home,” said Attorney General Josh Shapiro. “The company uses misleading sales tactics to lure consumers into ‘rent to own’ agreements through which they incur significant, unexpected costs and often never end up owning their homes. Our Bureau of Consumer Protection is filing suit today to put an end to these predatory tactics and deliver results to the hundreds of Pennsylvanians who Vision Properties harmed. Companies like Vision should have the foresight to know that the Office of Attorney General will investigate and prosecute anyone who takes advantage of Pennsylvania citizens who are working hard to try to own their homes.”

Vision Properties owns thousands of foreclosed homes nationwide, including at least 600 in Pennsylvania. The lawsuit alleges that the company advertises their homes as “rent to own” to target low-income residents who want to own their homes but cannot obtain a conventional mortgage. However, the homes are in disrepair, often with missing pipes and appliances, leaking and damaged roofs, mold, insect infestations, and malfunctioning plumbing, among other problems. Vision does not disclose any defects to consumers prior to entering the agreement.

As a result of Vision’s misleading sales tactics, consumers often do not understand that the paperwork Vision requires them to sign places all of the burdens of home ownership on them, despite the existence of a landlord who owns the property. Consumers endure great expense and inconvenience to repair the homes, but they have no ownership interests. Even if they keep up with monthly payments and repair costs, consumers in Vision “rent to own” contracts only receive an “option” to purchase the home at the end of their lease term, typically at an above-market price.

If a consumer falls behind on payments, Vision ejects the family from the home and enters into another “rent to own” agreement with another unsuspecting family, thus continuing an expensive and harmful cycle. Pennsylvania consumers typically spend less than two years in the “rent to own” Vision homes that they thought they had purchased, spending large amounts of time and money fixing up the home that they cannot recover because they have no equity rights.

“I entered into a lease with Vision Properties with the understanding that I would own my home if I kept up with payments for seven years,” said Mary Ann Webb of Aliquippa, who entered into a lease with Vision in 2014. “I intended to live in that house for the rest of my life. I spent hundreds of dollars to replace and repair plumbing, and I bought a new water meter, hot water tank, washer, and dryer. After all of this, Vision suddenly claimed I didn’t keep up with payments and evicted me from my home. This injustice has been horrible, but I will continue to fight because I can only imagine how many other people they did this to. I’m grateful that the Attorney General’s Office is stopping Vision from hurting anyone else.”

The lawsuit also alleges that Vision operated an unlawful “for sale by owner” scheme from 2010 to 2013. Vision allegedly “sold” its foreclosed homes to consumers without disclosing of any defects under “Agreements for Deed.” Interest rates in Agreements for Deed were typically 10%, which is higher than the maximum lawful rate under Pennsylvania’s Loan Interest and Protection Law. Consumers reported that they did not understand that they had no title to their Vision homes under the “Agreements for Deed,” even though they had to repair them and pay the taxes. They also reportedly did not understand that they would be ejected from their Vision homes without any of the protections of the mortgage foreclosure laws.

Attorney General Shapiro also sued Vision’s CEO and owner Alex Szkaradek, Chairman and owner Antoni Szkaradek, and dozens of affiliated companies allegedly used by the Szkaradeks to acquire foreclosed homes and enter into the deceptive “rent to own” contracts with Pennsylvania families.

The Complaint alleges violations of the Consumer Protection Law, the Pennsylvania landlord-tenant law, the Loan Interest and Protection Law, and several other statutes. Attorney General Shapiro seeks to enjoin Vision from engaging in “rent to own” or “Agreement for Deed” transactions in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and to require Vision to pay restitution, civil penalties and costs.

“When consumers face discrimination in seeking to buy a home or apply for a mortgage because of their race, ethnicity, or other factors, they are sometimes forced to seek out alternative methods such as ‘rent to own’ or ‘for sale by owner’ agreements,” said Attorney General Shapiro. “Unfortunately, many of these agreements are actually scams, like the ones organized by Vision Properties. This is yet another reason why my Office is investigating allegations of redlining in the Philadelphia region. We will continue to stand up for the civil rights of all Pennsylvanians and work to put an end to institutional racism in housing practices.”

Senior Deputy Attorney General Susan Apel filed the lawsuit in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court. Any Pennsylvania residents who believe they have been victimized by Vision Properties, or by any other “rent to own” or “for sale by owner” scammer, should file complaints at www.attorneygeneral.gov, or contact the Bureau of Consumer Protection at 800-441-2555, or scams@attorneygeneral.gov. Consumers who believe they have been victims of discriminatory housing practices should email discrimination@attorneygeneral.gov or call the office’s Civil Rights section at (717) 787-0882.

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