Rent to Own Homes: Great Deal or Example of Predatory Lending?

When you don’t have a lot of money or you can’t qualify for a mortgage, the thought of buying a home seems like a pipe dream. But for some who dream of home ownership, they’re finding an alternative with rent-to-own homes.

Vision Property Management is a real estate firm that offers rent-to-own contracts. The homes require tenants to make all the necessary repairs within a specified amount of time. The repairs can be minor inexpensive repairs to major costly repairs. Many tenants who sign these contracts have a certain number of months to correct various code violations. If they do not fix the violation within the required time, they are evicted from the property and are out any cost of repair that they spent to bring the home up to code.

How are companies like Vision Property Management buying these properties? The property management company is based in Columbia, South Carolina, and it buys homes through the secondary mortgage market from Fannie Mae. As a result, they’re able to get great deals on homes that have fallen into various states of disrepair, often paying less than $10,000 for a single-family home.

Are these homes a good option for people who want to own but can’t afford home ownership?

Habitability Concerns

One of the main problems with rent-to-own homes is that they often contain conditions that fall below what is considered habitable. Every state is different, although most states require that a landlord provide a tenant a rental unit that is fit for human habitation. In most states, this requires that the rental comply with applicable state or local housing codes, such as minimum requirements for hot water, sewage disposal, and electricity. State law generally requires the landlord make necessary repairs to bring the house up to code and into a habitable condition. House

With rent-to-own homes, there is no such habitability requirement. Tenants must instead bring the building up to code themselves, which can be prohibitively expensive for people who have little funds to begin with. Many have to live with a broken furnaces (ie. no heat) or drainage problems for a period of time until they are evicted for failing to bring the home up to code. In that regard, the landlord benefits from collecting monthly rent while the tenant maintains all the risk of making and paying for all necessary repairs.

Inspections

What’s worse is that these rent-to-own homes don’t first require a tenant inspection. When a homeowner puts in an offer to buy a home, they typically have what’s called an “inspection contingency.” The inspection contingency permits the prospective buyer to inspect the home with licensed professionals in order to determine what, if any, problems exist with the property. If there are problems unanticipated by the buyer when he or she put in the offer, the inspection contingency permits the potential buyer to re-negotiate the contract at a lower price in anticipation of making necessary repairs.

Because rent-to-own homes are not purchased outright and the potential buyer and seller have a landlord-tenant relationship initially, there’s no such inspection contingency. As a result, tenants do not know what they’re getting into when they sign the contract. They later discover the house is riddled with problems and they cannot afford the repairs.

Mortgages

Rent-to-own homes don’t start with standard mortgages. Instead, Vision Property Management acts as the lender while the tenant rents the property and brings it up to code. After seven years of renting and so long as the home is code compliant, the tenant automatically owns the home. It is up to the tenant to find appropriate financing to pay for the remainder of the home.

Since rent-to-own homes are not a typical home purchase, the landlord is not required to comply with various federal and state laws when it comes to lending money. Most notably, landlords need not comply with the Federal Truth in Lending Act (“TILA”), which requires lenders to detail how much interest they are charging and how many payments prospective buyers must make before they own the house. Tenants may not know how much they’re ultimately paying for these homes.

Are these Contracts Legal?

Although there are a lot of risks associated with rent-to-own homes from the tenant/buyer perspective, they are completely legal and could be a viable option for people who don’t have enough money for a large down payment or can’t quite quality for a mortgage, so long as you know what you’re getting into.

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