Wednesday, January 18, 2017

New York Times On "Housing That Ruins Your Finances and Your Health"

From an op-ed column in The New York York Times:
  • Of the nearly one million foreclosed houses sold by Fannie Mae, the government-run mortgage giant, since the housing bust, tens of thousands were decrepit, moldy and unfit for human habitation.

    Investor groups rounded them up anyway and turned them into cash cows by using “rent-to-own” leases or “contracts for deed.” These arrangements, which are basically long-term, high-interest installment contracts, require a resident to make an upfront, nonrefundable payment upon moving in and then make monthly payments to the investors. The resident is also responsible for all repairs.

    The deals are pitched as a way for the resident to eventually own a home, but most occupants, who are typically poor people of color, are forced to walk away with nothing as the costs become unmanageable. When that happens, the investors, who generally paid less than $10,000 for each house, enter into new deals with new occupants.

    It gets worse. The Times’s Alexandra Stevenson and Matthew Goldstein reported recently that doctors and health officials in many states are now warning that the dilapidated homes are connected to an increase in lead poisoning in children. Yet even as the warnings have become more urgent, the owners of the properties seem to care more about their profits than about children’s health.

    One such owner noted in the article is Vision Property Management, based in Columbia, S.C., which has more than 6,000 homes across the nation. In Maryland, where the company has been fined and sued for lead contamination, it has argued that its contracts held the occupants wholly responsible for repairs. In Minnesota, where it was sued for a lead paint problem, it has argued that the occupants should have seen a posted warning sign.

    Another big player, Harbour Portfolio Advisors of Dallas, recently refused to comply with a formal request for information from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which is investigating potential abuse, deception and predation in contracts for deed. The agency has sued the company in federal court in Michigan to obtain the information.

    Rent-to-own and similar housing schemes exist in a legal gray area in which owners can maneuver to avoid consumer-protection laws, norms and regulations that apply to landlords and mortgage lenders. Landlords are generally responsible for keeping rental homes in good repair, including lead abatement, while renters are usually entitled to get their deposits back when they move. No such safeguards exist in the murky world of installment contracts.
For more, see Housing That Ruins Your Finances and Your Health. land contract for deed