Legal Aid Files Lawsuit Against Vision Property
The lawsuit, filed Monday in Mahoning County Court of Common Pleas, represents five clients who have entered into what Legal Aid describes as “predatory rent-to-own contracts” with the South Carolina real estate company.
The complaint alleges 18 counts of illegal activity against Vision and its various shell companies, including fraud and what the nonprofit calls a “pattern of corrupt activity.”
“They repeatedly targeted people who wouldn’t qualify for a traditional home loan,” said Steven McGarrity, Legal Aid executive director. “They knew our clients couldn’t afford all the financial obligations in their contracts.”
Legal Aid is a nonprofit law firm serving low-income individuals and families in central northeast Ohio.
According to the complaint, Vision purchased the properties, in foreclosure, in question for between $550 and $5,200. Often they sat vacant for a period of time, then were sold them to Legal Aid’s clients for much more than they were worth.
“In some cases, they resold the properties for 35 times more than they were worth,” McGarrity explained. “This was the heart of their business model — to make quick money while making our community poorer.”
The lawsuit claims that Vision pressured Legal Aid’s clients into signing rent-to-own contracts and paying down-payments to purchase properties quickly, sometimes without even getting to see them first. They were required to make monthly payments on the properties, and pay for taxes, insurance, and unpaid utility bills, which Legal Aid points out are requirements by law for landlords to pay.
In addition, all of the properties in the suit were deemed uninhabitable – meaning they had significant damage that needed repaired before considered safe for habitation. Missing or damaged utility lines and infrastructure, unsafe foundations, sewage back-ups, and collapsed ceilings are among some of the damages listed in the complaint.
“They knew our clients couldn’t afford to cover the costs of these repairs,” McGarrity said. “In one of our client’s cases, the property was so badly neglected, the city of Youngstown tore it down only a week after he took possession. And no one from Vision disclosed to him anywhere throughout the process that it was on the list to be demolished.”
While the nonprofit hopes the lawsuit will hold Vision and its subsidiaries financially responsible for their actions, it goes deeper for McGarrity.
“Our clients deserve their day in court,” he said. “They [Vision] caused real hurt to real people in real neighborhoods. They should pay for that.”
McGarrity hopes the lawsuit sends a message to any other company thinking about similar tactics.
“We won’t stand for it,” he said.
Copyright 2019 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
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