Friday, June 10, 2016

Central Florida Landlord Running Rent-Skimming Racket With Homes In Foreclosure Dupes Family Into Signing One-Year Lease, Leaves Them Now Facing Bank Boot

In Seminole, Florida, WFLA-TV Channel 8 reports:
  • A Pinellas County businessman is once again causing trouble with his dealings. This time, a family rented a home from him in Seminole and then found out – after paying for months – it was in foreclosure the whole time.

    Now, a bank owns the home, and the family has to get out by the end of next week.

    Jennifer Greiner, the renter, is in tears. “We have two children and now no place to go,” she said crying.

    Greiner, her boyfriend and her two children rented the home from Ronnie Pownall, owner of Freedom Cycles in Pinellas Park. They rented the home in February. Pownall had them sign a year-long lease, never mentioning the foreclosure that was nearing its final stages. Instead, he took the $1,700 they paid every month, plus their last month’s rent, and pocketed the money.

    “My son is so worried. He asked me every day if we’re going to have a house to live in and my daughter is an emotion wreck,” Greiner said.

    This isn’t the first time Pownall has made headlines with his business dealings. Earlier this month 8 On Your Side tracked him down after he failed to pay $8,000 to a customer after selling the man’s motorcycle. He ended up forking over cash – but numerous other customers called 8 On Your Side to report similar situations.

    Meanwhile, public records list more than a dozen home foreclosures in Pownall’s name.(1) Some of those houses have already been taken back by banks. Others are still in the process. Greiner wants to warn other renters.

    “I don’t want this to happen to any other family,” she said.
Source: Pinellas businessman causes trouble again by renting home in foreclosure to family.
(1) Depending on how a semi-creative (and motivated) criminal prosecutor interprets and applies state law, engaging in rent skimming (referred to in the Florida Statutes as "equity skimming") two or more times within a 3-year period might constitute a third-degree felony in Florida. See Section 697.08, Florida Statutes:
  • 697.08 Equity skimming.—

    (1) It is unlawful for any person, with intent to defraud the owner of real property, to engage in equity skimming, which is, to:
  • (a) Purchase, within a 3-year period, two or more single-family dwellings, two-family dwellings, three-family dwellings, or four-family dwellings, or a combination thereof, that are subject to a loan that is in default at the time of purchase or within 1 year after the time of purchase, which loan is secured by a mortgage or deed of trust;
  • (b) Fail to make payments under the mortgage or deed of trust as the payments become due, regardless of whether the purchaser is obligated on the loan; and
  • (c) Apply, or authorize the application of, rents from such dwellings for the person’s own use.
  • (2) A violation of subsection (1) constitutes a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.
Rent skimming/equity skimming may also be illegal in other jurisdictions. See People v. Phelps, 837 P.2d 755 (Colo. 1992), quoting with approval from United States v. Capano, 786 F.2d 122 (3d Cir.1986):
  • "Equity skimming is the practice of diverting revenues generated by mortgaged property in default to purposes other than property maintenance or mortgage payments."

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