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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

New Jersey says realty company misled consumers about homeowner program

State Issues Licensing Enforcement New Jersey Consumer Finance Predatory Lending State Attorney General State Regulators

State Issues

On June 6, the New Jersey attorney general and the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs filed an action against a realty company and its principals (collectively, “defendants”) for allegedly violating the state’s Consumer Fraud Act by making deceptive misrepresentations about its “Homeowner Benefit Program” (HBP). Concurrently, the New Jersey Real Estate Commission in the Department of Banking and Insurance filed an order to show cause alleging similar misconduct and taking action against the real estate licenses belonging to the company and certain related individuals.

According to the complaint, the defendants’ HBP was marketed to consumers as a low-risk opportunity to obtain quick, upfront cash between $300 and $5000 in exchange for giving defendants the right to act as their real estate agents if they sold their homes in the future. The HBP was not marketed as a loan and consumers were told they were not obligated to repay the defendants or to ever sell their home in the future. However, the press release alleged that the HBP functions as a high-interest mortgage loan giving the defendants the right to list the property for 40 years, and that the loan survives the homeowner’s death and levies a high early termination fee against the homeowners. The complaint further charged the defendants with failing to disclose the true nature of the HBP and failing to present the terms upfront. Moreover, in order to sell the HBP, the defendants allegedly placed unsolicited telephone calls to consumers despite not being licensed as a telemarketer in New Jersey. The complaint seeks an order requiring defendants to discharge all liens against homeowners, pay restitution and disgorgement, and pay civil penalties and attorneys’ fees and costs.

The order to show cause alleges violations of the state’s Real Estate License Act and requires defendants to show why their real estate licenses should not be suspended or revoked, as well as why fines or other sanctions, such as restitution, should not be imposed. Defendants have agreed to cease any attempt to engage New Jersey consumers in an HBP agreement pending resolution of the order to show cause.