The city of Chicago is suing a property management company it claims is responsible for “deceptive and unfair practices” over what it calls exploitative “rent-to-own” agreements with low-income residents.
City officials announced the lawsuit had been filed Thursday against Vision Property Management, LLC, its successor FTE Networks, Inc., and other affiliates in Cook County Circuit Court.
In its complaint, the city alleged Vision Properties lured vulnerable consumers to sign “rent-to-own” agreements for dilapidated properties. Those agreements allow renters to buy the property they’re living in after a few years of renting.
The management company then allegedly “trapped buyers” in illegal contracts, which the city claimed hid the true cost of buying and repairing the property and made homeownership “almost impossible.”
Some renters also lost their homes after Vision Properties allegedly charged them for the property taxes on their homes, but then failed to turn over those payments to the county.
“Chicagoans trying desperately to achieve the American dream of homeownership should never, ever be subject to predatory behavior from unscrupulous firms like these,” Mayor Brandon Johnson said in a statement. “Under my administration, we will not tolerate our Black and Brown communities to be further exploited. Those who try to take advantage of our city’s workers and working families will be held to account.”
The city claimed the rent-to-buy contracts failed to disclose the true condition of the properties and shifted repair and maintenance responsibilities to the buyers.
According to the complaint, Vision Properties violated Chicago’s consumer protection laws, and the city will seek restitution for injured residents, additional fines and an order that would keep the company from selling or leasing residential property in Chicago.
“Defendants’ actions misled consumers by burdening them with all the responsibilities of homeownership and none of the benefits, while also denying them the legal protections to which residential tenants are entitled,” Corporation Counsel Mary Richardson-Lowry said in a statement. “Defendants can’t have it both ways. This lawsuit demonstrates the City’s commitment to seeking justice for communities that have been harmed.”
The complaint says the property company “targeted Black communities on the South Side of Chicago” that have historically been underserved and in need of revitalization due to issues of inequitable investment and segregation, as reported on by WTTW News.
"This is yet another case that FTE Networks and its subsidiary, US Home Rentals, has inherited as the result of the actions employed by its predecessor, Vision Property Management,” a spokesperson for FTE Networks said in a statement Thursday. “The alleged practices referenced in this complaint notably occurred prior to FTE's acquisition of Vision's portfolio, and are inconsistent with FTE’s deep commitment to operating a home rental business that is trusted to provide safe and affordable housing nationwide.”