More than 70 homeowners affected in PA, 6,000 nationwide
HARRISBURG — Attorney General Josh Shapiro today announced a lawsuit against a Texas company for deceiving Pennsylvania consumers into unfair “for sale by owner” purchases of uninhabitable family homes. This scam involved misleading property deeds and preyed upon low-income homeowners who were sold homes at vastly inflated prices that often lack basic essentials like heat or electricity.
More than 70 would-be Pennsylvania homeowners entered into unfair “for sale by owner” purchases with Harbour Portfolio Advisers, and wound up agreeing to pay Harbour more than $2,600,000 plus 9.9 percent interest in transactions between 2010 to 2016.
Here’s how the scam worked: Harbour Portfolio bought up large numbers of financially distressed homes, usually in low-income neighborhoods. They flooded the neighborhoods with “For Sale by Owner” signs that attracted potential buyers. Utilities were turned off during house tours – masking major problems in the homes. The buyers, who lacked the experience to understand the complexities of buying a home, paid large, non-refundable deposits, and signed “Agreement for Deed” papers that looked like conventional mortgages – but were not. Hidden in the paperwork were clauses allowing Harbour to demand payment of the full amount owed – plus 9.9 percent interest – if the buyer missed a single payment. Buyers lost all rights in the home if they missed a single payment.
“Harbour Portfolio Advisors victimized at least 70 Pennsylvanians who thought they were buying habitable homes for themselves and their families,” Attorney General Shapiro said. “These scammers exploited the fact that many of the buyers were low-income consumers who may not have understood the complicated process of buying a home. Instead, they got subpar homes and misleading deeds. This conduct is reprehensible and I’m suing Harbour to stop it.”
Harbour and Charles A. Vose III, the founder of the company, perpetuated the scheme by persuading Pennsylvania consumers to buy homes at prices that were often three to four times more than Harbour had paid for the homes just days or weeks before – with no renovations or improvements. The homes sold by Harbour were usually run-down, sold without disclosure of defects, and often lacking basic essentials like heat, electricity or appliances. Harbour purchased approximately 6,000 homes nationwide to use in this scheme; more than 100 of those properties are in Pennsylvania.
Harbour was also collecting interest on the home loans at almost twice the maximum rate permitted by Pennsylvania law for this type of transaction.
In addition to claims filed under Pennsylvania’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law, the Attorney General’s lawsuit bases other claims against Harbour Portfolio under the state’s Land Installment Contract law and state usury laws as well.
“If you believe you have been victimized by Harbour Portfolio or its affiliates, or any other ‘for sale by owner’ transaction, call my office today or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said. “I want to hear from you, and we’ll seek justice and restitution for you.”
The lawsuit as filed in the Allegheny County Common Pleas Court seeks injunctive relief and restitution for all Pennsylvanians who are currently or have ever been in a “for sale by owner” transaction with Harbour Portfolio or its affiliates.
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