VINDICATOR EXCLUSIVE | Cincinnati provides blueprint for addressing land contracts

By Justin Wier

jwier@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

The city of Cincinnati’s aggressive tactics in confronting two land contract companies it criticized for “predatory” practices could provide a road map as Youngstown attempts to rein in the problem.

Harbour Portfolio Advisors of Dallas, Texas, and Vision Property Management of Columbia, S.C., both settled lawsuits with Cincinnati this month that resulted in $213,679 in payments along with agreements from the companies to change the way they do business in that city.

The companies market land contracts, also known as rent-to-own or lease-to-own agreements, to prospective buyers who don’t qualify for home-mortgage loans. The contracts require the buyer to assume the responsibility for maintenance and staying in compliance with city housing codes.

The companies still hold the deeds, so if a buyer under a contract defaults on a payment, the companies keep all payments and the home.

Ian Beniston, executive director of the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp., which helped lead a trip to Columbia, S.C., recently to confront Vision about its tactics, said Cincinnati is at the forefront of addressing the issue.

“Cincinnati is aggressively going after the most notorious companies, and they’re getting results,” Beniston said.

Cincinnati’s lawsuit against Harbour, filed last year in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court, alleged that the company purchased thousands of homes from Fannie Mae after the housing crisis, failed to register or maintain its Cincinnati properties and sold or rented the properties without disclosing known defects.

It asked for payment of unpaid fees and fines and a court order that demanded Harbour comply with the city’s codes among other relief.

Harbour agreed to pay the city $125,000 and Vision agreed to pay $88,679.

Both companies agreed to bring all properties up to code and to market land contracts only on properties the city deems habitable and fit for occupancy.

Youngstown Law Director Jeff Limbian said the city would consider taking similar action.

“Absolutely that is something the city would consider,” Limbian said. “We are trying to get completely up to speed on the issue before we jump.”

When YNDC and the Alliance for Congregational Transformation Influencing Our Neighborhoods traveled to Vision’s offices in South Carolina, the company did provide YNDC with a $3,950 check to cover demolition costs on a Brownlee Woods home.

But Beniston said the company did not seem open to other demands, which included a request for Vision to stop issuing land contracts within the city.

“Their position with respect to us was that they have done nothing wrong,” he said.

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