NEWARK — Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin and Department of Banking and Insurance Commissioner Marlene Caride today announced action being taken against MV Realty together with their principals Amanda J. Zachman f/k/a Amanda J. Zuckerman, David Manchester, David Reiner, and Antony Mitchell a/k/a Tony Mitchell (collectively with MV Realty, “Defendants”). The Office of the Attorney General and the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs have filed a complaint alleging MV Realty deceived customers and made misrepresentations regarding its “Homeowner Benefit Program” (“HBP”). More than 1,250 New Jersey homeowners have fallen victim to the company’s alleged scheme. The Department of Banking and Insurance has filed an order to show cause with the New Jersey Real Estate Commission alleging similar misconduct and taking action against the real estate licenses of the company and certain related individuals.
According to the complaint, filed in the Superior Court Chancery Division in Essex County, MV Realty and its principals marketed the HBP to consumers as a low-risk opportunity to obtain quick cash, between $300 and $5,000 in payment upfront, in exchange for the consumers giving MV Realty the right to serve as their real estate agents if they decide to sell their homes in the future. Defendants represented that their product was not a loan and told homeowners they had “no obligation” to repay MV Realty or to ever sell their home in the future. However, the HBP operates as a high-interest mortgage loan that gives MV Realty the right to list a property for 40 years, survives the homeowner’s death, and levies an exorbitant early termination fee against homeowners.
“This company misled consumers about the true nature of its product. MV Realty sold its product as free money when it was really a loan secured by what is often consumers’ most valuable asset, their home,” said Attorney General Platkin. “Deceiving and profiting from homeowners by making false promises is abusive and will not be tolerated.”
The complaint alleges that MV Realty, which is not registered as a telemarketer in New Jersey, sells the HBP by making unsolicited telephone calls to homeowners that are facing financial pressures and in need of additional cash.
“Far too often businesses target consumers who are facing financial instability or struggling to make ends meet,” said Cari Fais, Acting Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. “We are taking action to protect New Jersey homeowners from falling victim to scams and being locked into unfair and abusive contracts.”
MV Realty does not disclose the true nature of the deal or its predatory terms upfront. Among other things, it does not disclose that there will be a lien placed against the home, that there is a 40-year contract term, that the agreement is binding on the consumer’s heirs, or that the consumer will pay a severe early termination fee if the consumer lists the property for sale with another real estate agent, if the home is foreclosed upon, title is transferred to a family member, heirs try to sell the home, or if the consumer wishes to cancel the deal.
The complaint alleges that MV Realty’s practices are in violation of the Consumer Fraud Act, the regulations governing general advertising, and the telemarketing do not call regulations.
Through the complaint, the State is seeking for MV Realty to discharge all liens against homeowners and pay them restitution, repay unlawfully acquired profits, and pay civil penalties and attorneys’ fees and costs. The State is also seeking to permanently enjoin the Defendants from operating in the State of New Jersey.
The Department of Banking and Insurance has issued an Order to Show Cause to MV Realty and individuals involved in the company for alleged violations of the Real Estate License Act. The department found that this company engaged in deceptive, misleading, predatory, and dishonest business practices, as well as unlicensed activity. The department’s action requires respondents to show cause why their real estate licenses should not be suspended or revoked and/or why fines or other sanctions, including restitution, should not be imposed.
MV Realty has agreed to cease any effort to engage New Jersey consumers in a Homeowner Benefit Agreement pending the resolution of the Order to Show Cause proceeding. The department has issued a Consent Order solidifying this agreement, which was signed by a representative of the company and its principals.
“This company uses deceptive practices to take advantage of homeowners by misleading them into agreements with the promise of free money and then profits by collecting fees from consumers who accidentally or unknowingly breach the agreement terms,” said New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance Commissioner Marlene Caride. “The Department is taking action to hold the company accountable for its egregious tactics.”
The Division of Consumer Affairs is represented by Deputy Attorneys General Renee Cadmus and Bryan Sanchez of the Consumer Fraud Prosecution Section in the Division of Law’s Affirmative Civil Enforcement Practice Group, under the supervision of Assistant Section Chief Jesse J. Sierant, Assistant Section Chief Chanel Van Dyke, Assistant Attorney General Jennifer S. Schiefelbein, and Deputy Director Jason W. Rockwell. Investigators Renee Salikram and Walter Kaminski of the Office of Consumer Protection within the Division of Consumer Affairs conducted the investigation. The Department of Banking and Insurance is represented by Deputy Attorney General Chandra Arkema of the Banking and Insurance Section, under the supervision of Assistant Section Chief Nicholas Kant and Assistant Attorney General Raymond R. Chance, III.