Florida law firm accused of targeting Hispanic families in predatory mortgage modification scheme
WASHINGTON – The radio and television commercials seemed too good to be true; promising Hispanic homeowners to cut their mortgage payments in half, even offering $500 gift cards to entice them to sign up for loan modification assistance. But it was too good to be true, and today the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is charging a Florida company and its owners with housing discrimination for intentionally targeting Hispanic homeowners in a predatory mortgage modification scheme that increased, rather than decreased, their risk of foreclosure. Read HUD’s charge.
The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination because of national origin in housing and housing related services, including home mortgage and loan modification services. This includes targeting persons because of their national origin for fraudulent modification services.
HUD claims that Advocate Law Groups of Florida, P.A., Jon B. Lindeman, Jr., and Ephigenia K. Lindeman violated the Fair Housing Act by intentionally targeting Hispanic families through a deceptive advertising campaign that aired on Spanish-language radio and television stations throughout Florida.
“As we peeled back the facts of this case, we were stunned by a business model built to target Hispanic homeowners,” said Anna María Farías, HUD’s Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “HUD will use the full weight of the law to protect families from those who would prey upon them because of where they come from or what language they speak.”
HUD’s charge, filed on behalf of three Orlando-area Hispanic families, alleges that at initial client meetings, Spanish-speaking ALG employees made false promises to entice families into paying significant upfront fees and to sign contracts that were predominantly, if not entirely, written in English. After being retained, ALG knowingly placed their clients’ homes at imminent risk of foreclosure by instructing homeowners to stop making mortgage payments and to cease communicating with their mortgage lenders or servicers.
In addition, HUD’s charge alleges that ALG neglected their clients’ cases and ignored bank requests for information. When homeowners complained about their mistreatment, ALG threatened them with increased mortgage payments, fines, or foreclosure if they sought to terminate their relationship. ALG ultimately failed to obtain favorable mortgage modifications for their clients, while charging them thousands of dollars in up-front and recurring monthly fees.
“Intentionally targeting families with predatory mortgage services because of their national origin is a clear violation of the Fair Housing Act,” said Paul Compton, HUD’s General Counsel. “This charge sends a clear message that HUD will protect the housing rights of all persons to the fullest extent of the law.”
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Fair Housing Act, and the 30th anniversary of amendments to the Act prohibiting discrimination against persons with disabilities and families with children. This year, HUD, local communities, housing advocates, and fair housing organizations across the country are conducting a variety of activities to enhance awareness of fair housing rights, highlight HUD's fair housing enforcement efforts, and end housing discrimination in the nation. Read more.
The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing because of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and familial status. People who believe they have experienced discrimination may file a complaint by contacting HUD's Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at (800) 669-9777 (voice) or (800) 927-9275 (TTY). Housing discrimination complaints may also be filed by going to www.hud.gov/fairhousing.
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