The Florida attorney general’s office is suing a Delray Beach-based real estate brokerage for allegedly using deceptive business practices to prey on vulnerable homeowners. The lawsuit filed Tuesday in Hillsborough County Circuit Court claims that the company, MV Realty, uses a “complex and deceptive scheme” to swindle consumers out of their home equity.
In September, the Tampa Bay Times reported on MV Realty’s “Homeowner Benefit Program.”
Homeowners who sign up can receive upfront cash payments between $300 and $5,000 if they agree to give the brokerage exclusive rights to list their homes. Many homeowners do not realize that the contract lasts 40 years and allows MV Realty to place a lien on their home.
If the agreement is broken, MV Realty can try to enforce the lien and collect 3% of the home’s value. The liens can also make it difficult for homeowners to refinance or access their home equity.
The Attorney General’s lawsuit states that the liens are illegal under Florida law. It also said that the company used unfair advertising and marketing practices including making misleading claims on its website and calling consumers on the do not call list.
“For many Floridians, their home is their most important asset and the cornerstone of their financial stability,” state Attorney General Ashley Moody said in a statement. “For a company to prey on unsuspecting homeowners in a way that locks them into a 40-year obligation designed to siphon away equity from the property is disgraceful.”
Diana London, a spokesperson for MV Realty, said the company’s attorney is reviewing the complaint.
“MV Realty has always been committed to transparency in all of our business transactions, and we are confident that any inquiry will confirm that our team has operated in full compliance with the law,” she said in a statement.
The attorney general is asking the judge to prohibit MV Realty from enforcing any of its current Homeowner Benefit contracts and prevent the company from engaging in deceptive business practices going forward. It also requests that MV Realty be ordered to return the money it wrongfully took from homeowners and pay civil penalties.
Matthew Weidner is a St. Petersburg attorney representing a client who’s being sued by MV Realty. He said the judge’s ruling could have sweeping implications for thousands of homeowners across the country who are currently locked into contracts with MV Realty.
“It is encouraging that the attorney general is stepping up and fighting for consumers on something that really feels wrong,” he said.