By Mike Fasano, Pasco County Tax Collector
How many times have you been presented with “Terms and Conditions” after you subscribe to something online, and then found yourself hitting “Accept” 10 seconds later?
If you are familiar with the product and the brand, you probably trust that the agreement is covering basic legalities, rather than pulling the rug out from under you. It is not a recommended course of action to gloss over those terms, but sometimes it’s difficult for us to keep up with the legal jargon and uncommon verbiage included in them. Unfortunately, some P.A.C.E. providers have figured out how to use that to their advantage at your expense.
The P.A.C.E. program, which stands for Property Assessed Clean Energy, provides an alternative for those seeking a loan for upgrades to their house, including renewable energy systems and hurricane protections. While a standard bank loan would be paid back through conventional payments, a P.A.C.E. loan is paid back through assessments added to the borrower’s property tax bill.
The program can be beneficial when its business is conducted in an honest manner. However, protections need to be put in place to ensure that future customers of the program don’t have to hold their breath while they search for an honest provider. That is where state House Bill 225 and state Senate Bill 824 answer the call.
The bills were introduced by Rep. Ardian Zika, R-Land O’ Lakes, and Sen. Ed Hooper, R-Palm Harbor, to help prevent predatory practices that thrive on misinformation and lack of disclosure. The bill would require P.A.C.E. providers to abide by stringent customer protections that include providing definitions within the contract, plus a financing estimate and disclosure form.
The bills also require providers to assess whether borrowers will be able to afford an increase in their annual property taxes. And providers would have to allow customers to cancel a P.A.C.E. loan contract, and provide a disclosure statement that says so.
With these protections in place, individuals who want to upgrade their homes with solar panels, hurricane-proof windows or something of the like, and opt for a P.A.C.E. loan, can feel safe in doing so.
They will understand what they are agreeing to and won’t be blindsided by sudden increases in their property tax bills.
Tax collectors do not benefit from the P.A.C.E. program or either of the bills. It is simply about doing what is right and protecting those who trust their elected officials to keep them safe from becoming a victim of malicious business practices.
P.A.C.E. is a program that can be beneficial to the public. The goal of House Bill 225 and Senate Bill 824 is to ensure it remains that way.