It appears that there is no end to how far the 1% will go to screw over everyone else in order to enrich themselves more, and more, and more. The same banks and investment companies that caused and profited from the sub-prime mortgage crisis several years ago are still profiting – and low-income families with young children are paying the price.
The problem is lead poisoning. Thousands, even hundreds of thousands of rundown, substandard housing units have been bought up by these financial institutions after having been foreclosed upon, and are being offered to low-income families through “rent to own” deals. It sounds good, particularly when a family wanting to own their own home cannot qualify for a mortgage.
Unfortunately, these companies invariably sell these houses “as is.” Any repairs or renovation must be paid for by the buyer (or renter, as the case may be).
Among the more common problems with these “fixer-uppers” is the existence of lead-based paint. Lead poisoning affects more than a half million children in the U.S. every year. Lead is known to cause brain damage, leading to severe & permanent cognitive disability.
Even though the use of lead-based paint was banned in 1978 and the EPA has disclosure rules for sellers and landlords, enforcement is not uniform across the country. There is no way of knowing how many of these “seller-financed” contracts exist, and some states do not even require that such contracts be recorded. Nonetheless, people in the medical profession are seeing a direct connection between the increase of lead poisoning and these types of predatory contracts.
Unfortunately, the game is rigged. Dr. Jennifer Lowery, a toxicologist at Kansas City’s Children’s Mercy Hospital, told the New York Times that buyers wind up with a contract “which removes the actual owner of the home from the liabilities of fixing the home and requires these people who have no money to fix their own home.”
At the same time, these sellers have total disregard for registration requirements and building codes. As is the case with everything else they can get their hands on, it’s all about making a quick buck – internalizing the profits and laying the costs on the buyers, who can ill afford it.
Furthermore, the buyer in a “rent to own” contract has little in the way of legal protection. Because it is technically a rental situation, the seller-landlord can usually evict the buyer at any time for any reason, since the buyer-tenant does not receive the deed to the property until final payment has been made. Plus, since they are legally rental properties, these families do not qualify for any sort of financial assistance in order to have lead paint or asbestos professionally removed.
It is the worst of both worlds for the resident – while the seller-landlord skates along, raking in the bucks without incurring any risk. can you say, “Socialism for the rich, capitalism for everyone else”?
Elizabeth Warren’s federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, along with regulators in several states, are looking into these predatory practices, warning consumers, and attempting to hold these sellers accountable. But in the great tradition of Corporate America, these companies have teams of lawyers whose job it is to cover the company’s rear end – and when they do wind up paying penalties, it doesn’t amount to much more than a slap on the wrist.
In addition, even when a buyer successfully sues a seller in such situations, they are required to sign a non-disclosure act before receiving any settlement, meaning that most of us never hear about it.
Government housing agencies could do more to prevent toxic homes from being put on the market for big investment firms to collect and resell at huge mark-ups – but with arch-capitalist Trump in the White House, don’t expect such proposals to go very far.