The pressure being applied to a South Carolina real estate company to stop what’s been called “predatory and corrupt” practices seems to be working.
Officials say Vision Property Management has stopped buying property and is selling what it has instead of using lease-to-own contracts.
Still, more pressure was applied on Monday in the form of a lawsuit filed by Community Legal Aid, who is representing five Youngstown clients.
The lawsuit claims that Vision Property Managment used predatory and corrupt contracts to lure people into buying uninhabitable houses. There are 18 total counts against Vision Management.
“They went after people knowing that they could never fulfill the terms of these contracts — low-income people who were already living in dilapidated neighborhoods and sold them the dream of home ownership but with contracts that would really result in a nightmare for them,” said Steve McGarrity, of Community Legal Aid.
The Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation (YNDC) has also complained about the company in the past.
“I think it’s criminal and it’s great to see this type of lawsuit being filed here in Youngstown,” said Ian Beniston, who runs YNDC.
Beniston has pictures showing how Vision Management marketed its properties by using painted signs to make them look like they were being sold by owners.
“They particularly prey on low-income people, people of color,” Beniston said.
One house was on Lemoyne Avenue, on Youngstown’s south side. It was bought on a lease-to-own contract with Vision. It had no electricity or plumbing and the owner was expected to bring it up to code, only to later find out the city would demolish it.
“So our clients were really defrauded into making all sorts of repairs on these properties really with the intention by Vision that in the end, our clients wouldn’t benefit at all because they would end up getting evicted and all those improvements would benefit Vision,” McGarrity said.
According to the lawsuit, Vision bought homes in the area for between $550 and $5,200 after they were foreclosed and often sat vacant for a while.
It claims Vision sold the “uninhabitable” homes to people for much more than they were worth — sometimes 35 times more.
Those people claim Vision pressured them to buy the homes through rent-to-own contracts and paying down payments, then forced them to pay taxes, insurance and unpaid utility bills — something Legal Aid said landlords are required to pay.
“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,” McGarrity said. “No one from Vision disclosed to him anywhere throughout the process that it was on the list to be demolished.”
“And then they take their money and they kick them out and do it again to someone else. So I have no sympathy for them,” Beniston said.
The lawsuit is asking for a monetary award in excess of $25,000 per person. It was filed in Mahoning County and assigned to Judge Maureen Sweeney.
We left a message with Vision Management but have not heard back.