JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A new potential victim has come forward in the I-TEAM's investigation into home hijacking. A Nassau County mother fears she and her family will soon be homeless, so the Florida Attorney General's Office is now looking into her case as well.
Last month, the I-TEAM contacted Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi's staff after James McCollum, a disabled combat veteran in Duval County, was served with papers saying he, his wife and children were being kicked out of their rental home -- a home they didn't know was actually in foreclosure.
The I-TEAM discovered the company taking their monthly rent payments and keeping that money for profit is Tampa-based HOA Problem Solutions, and it has at least 25 properties in Duval, Clay, Nassau and St. Johns counties.
Here's how it appears to work and what Bondi's office is investigating:
- HOA Problem Solutions acquires a quit-claim deed title to a home from an underwater owner. According to its own promotional flyer obtained by the I-TEAM, it offers the underwater homeowner cash for it.
- The company says it will pay off those delinquent homeowners' association fees, but the I-TEAM has learned that may not actually happen.
- The owner vacates the home -- believing they are in the clear -- and HOA Problem Solutions puts a tenant in.
- The tenant has a lease with a separate rental company that the I-TEAM has found has ties to HOA Problem Solutions.
- In the meantime, the mortgage is not being paid to the bank.
- Once the bank puts the home into foreclosure, the tenant could be forced to leave.
- The rental companies with ties to HOA Problem Solutions keep the monthly rent money collected, instead of paying the mortgage.
Lisa Smith-Morley is a tenant in one of those properties in Nassau County. She learned after she saw McCollum's story -- which aired Aug. 22 -- that the home she rents is also in foreclosure. She contacted the I-TEAM because she said she feels helpless.
"My daughter is blind and my son has Asperger's," she told the I-TEAM.
Since the home she lives in with her children is in foreclosure, the bank could force her out at any time, just like the McCollum family.
Morley showed the I-TEAM her lease, which is $1,900 a month and current through next year. It's through the rental company Value Vesting. Following the I-TEAM's original story, Morley went online and found Value Vesting is owned by the same men that operate HOA Problem Solutions -- Jimmy and Michael Chancey.
"I was pretty floored," said Morley.
The I-TEAM discovered the bank account Morley wires her $1,900 monthly rent payment to is in the name of a third company -- RHMG -- also owned by the Chanceys.
As the I-TEAM reported last month, RHMG is the same rental company the McCollums were paying rent to.
Morley said that she thinks her rent money should go to the bank that is foreclosing on the property.
Morley took the I-TEAM's advice and called the Florida Attorney General's Office immediately. Two days after making that call, she received an envelope and a formal letter from the office.
"It's addressed to me regarding HOA Problem Solutions," Morley said.
Morley said she got the sense from the prompt response that the AG's office is taking the claims very seriously.
"But because it's an ongoing investigation, he was very tight lipped," she said.
For now, Morley is already packing and storing items in her dining room, just so she's ready for the unknown. She is trying to find extra money just in case she has to put down a deposit on a new place, because she has no idea when the foreclosure will become official and the bank will force them out.
Meanwhile, she's still having to pay that $1,900 monthly rent payment that's going right to the Chanceys' company.
"They're the ones that have to live with themselves and in the end, Karma can be a real butt burner, and they'll get theirs eventually. No one gets away with this," Morley told the I-TEAM.
Morley was able to track that the home's original owner was a man, who is serving time in the Nassau County Jail. Property records the I-TEAM obtained appear to show the owner's wife quit deeded the home over to HOA Problem Solutions -- the same method used by HOA Problem Solutions to acquire the house the McCollums rent.
The I-TEAM has spoken with the Chanceys, who say they run a rental property business and deny any wrongdoing. They said they understood the law to allow tenants to stay in the home past a foreclosure for the length of the lease, but Bondi's office disagreed.
The Attorney General's Office told the I-TEAM that it was unaware of the real estate scheme in Northeast Florida until we reported it. Now, the Morley family and the McCollum family are a part of their ongoing investigation into HOA Problem Solutions and the companies owned by the Chanceys.
An anonymous good Samaritan -- who is also a military veteran -- has come forward and is helping the McCollum family with expenses to find and move into a new home.
If you are living or have lived in a home that you feel is connected to HOA Problem Solutions, RHMG, Value Vesting or any other company associated with the Chanceys, the Florida Attorney General's Office would like to hear from you. You can contact them at 1-866-9NO-SCAM or online at MyFloridaLegal.com.