“I got played.” A Vision Property client’s story
By Graig Graziosi
Justine Nieves was in the midst of what seemed like endless repairs on the East Side home she had bought from Vision Property Management when a letter from the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp. arrived in her mailbox.
“The letter told me I was involved in a predatory land contract,” Nieves said. “Once I researched what that entailed, my heart sank. All the work I did on the house was for nothing. I’d been played.”
Nieves – one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed Monday against Vision Property by nonprofit law firm Community Legal Aid – has been living with her husband and their five children in her Vision Property home in the Oak Street Extension neighborhood for more than four years. She estimates she has poured more than $8,000 into attempting to make the house habitable.
“When I moved in, there was no electric box, no ground wire for electricity,” she said. “It cost me more than $700 to get the electricity turned on, and I had to pay another $200 to $300 dollars to buy a new water meter before they turned the water on. The copper pipes in the house were all cut, so those needed replaced.”
Though she has stopped pouring money into home renovations after receiving the letter from YNDC in 2017 – as she now agrees that her landlords are responsible for making the structure habitable, not her – she still pays her $325 per month to stay at the property.
After everything that has happened, she still hopes to one day own the home, so she won’t dare withhold her rent to try to force her landlords’ hands, as she fears a single missed payment will earn her an eviction notice.
Nieves hopes that by participating in the lawsuit, she may get some of the money back she has already invested into the property, and that she may get to keep the house. Otherwise, her family may end up searching for a new place to live.
“I have kids, so it’s been really rough dealing with this,” Nieves said. “My kids have helped me and my husband out a lot in this situation. They’ve been understanding. But with us fixing things and spending money on repairs, its been hard because we can never take them out for anything fun. I know it’s had an effect on them.”
Nieves had never bought a house before. Without the utilities turned on, she had no idea so much work would be needed, and she alleged Vision Property rushed her into signing a contract before she could even save up the money necessary to hire someone to do a full structure inspection.
“They made it seem urgent, like if I didn’t send them money now, then I’d lose the chance [to get the house]. They’d tell me other people were interested and I had to move quick,” she said.
Nieves isn’t the only Youngstown resident named in the lawsuit; her name appears alongside those of Yolanda Bracetty, Justin Kenney, Linda Lou Fekety and Shawn Wingert, all who have had similar interactions with Vision Property.
Each of them hope that they’ll see some financial compensation – the lawsuit is asking for more than $25,000 for each of them – and that they’ll be spared from eviction in the mean time.
On Tuesday, Judge Maureen Sweeney of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court ordered a hearing for Oct. 25 to determine whether to grant a temporary restraining order and injunctive relief for the plaintiffs.
It is the first time Nieves has felt some amount of hope in her situation since she became aware of her predicament.
“I honestly felt like I was by myself. I thought there was nothing I could do, that I was going to be another case in Youngstown that just gets thrown to the gutter,” she said. “I thank God there’s still people willing to help people in our situation.”