Housing That Is Dangerous and Unfair To Consumers
Recently, the New York Times reported on an issue that is hurting residents all over the country, not only in terms of injury and harm, but also in terms of civil rights, contracts, and consumer protection. The article details the many moldy, decrepit, and unfit homes that have been and continue to be turned into “rent-to-own” properties, leading many families to be exposed to dangerous levels of lead and other human habitation issues.
It is especially frightening to note that the hazardous nature of these premises doesn’t just involve speculation from environmental and human health interests at this point, but rather, health officials and doctors, who have warned that the homes are definitively linked to increased lead poisoning in children.
Unfair, Dangerous Scams
These deals are known as installment contracts. They essentially require residents to enter into a long-term, high-interest installment contract, whereby the resident has to make a nonrefundable payment upfront, deal with any and all repairs necessary for habitation of the premises, and then make monthly payments to investors.
Sold as a way for residents to eventually own their own home, they are disproportionately pitched to poor minority communities, and turn into hazardous money pits, which residents then have no choice but to abandon, allowing the investors to start the process all over again with new residents. But how is this legal?
In fact, these installment contracts exist in what many would call a “legal gray area” that appears to circumvent consumer protection laws and regulations. Landlords, of course, have to keep properties habitable, and renters are entitled to receive their deposits back when they leave—so where does that leave the owners and investors in these circumstances? And shouldn’t these companies be required to ensure that dangerous lead conditions have been eliminated from these homes before they are placed on the market?
One such company—Vision Property Management—has already been both sued and fined for lead contamination. The company’s response has been that this is all legal because of what they included in its contracts; namely that all repairs and work that needed to be done in order to make the properties habitable had to be done by the residents themselves.
But does this clear them of any wrongdoing? What about contracts that are in violation of public policy and/or may contradict other legal requirements, such as federal rules and regulations that apply to lead-based paint?
In fact, this has become such a problem that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has sent formal requests for information from some of these companies, and is now both investigating and suing some of them for failing to provide information related to deception and predation in contracts for deed, as well as for potential abuse.
Attorneys Protecting Consumers
When it comes to complex legal issues like these, which involve a variety of violations and legal claims including personal injury, civil actions, consumer fraud, contract issues, etc., you want to ensure that, if you feel that you’ve been harmed by such a transaction, you consult an attorney who is experienced in both personal injury and commercial litigation.
At Lavalle Brown & Ronan, we practice in both of these areas, and aggressively fight for our clients’ rights. We serve clients in Boca Raton and surrounding areas of Florida—contact us today for a free consultation.