Indiana Attorney General Steve Carter has issued a press release applauding the passage by the Indiana House and Senate of a measure that would make the Homeowner Protection Unit a permanent part of the Attorney General’s Office. The Homeowner Protection Unit was created as an experimental unit two years ago. It’s primary target: mortgage fraud. Homes are being appraised for thousands more than their actual worth, and the homeowner typcially doesn’t realize they owe way more than the home’s worth until they go to refinance or sell the home.
Apparently it’s not just a few bad apples in Indiana, either. In less than two years, the Unit has filed disciplinary actions against 211 real estate appraisers and 76 real estate agents. And the Unit is investigating another 750 complaints. In addition to these disciplinary actions, the Unit has also filed a civil lawsuit against a credit repair organization that “purported to provide ‘foreclosure consultant’ services.”
The Attorney General said:
“The benefit of the unit is that it allows the relationship between appraiser, real estate agent, and lender to be analyzed in a coordinated way,” Carter said. “Making this Unit permanent is an important step for Hoosiers. We’ve made good strides the last year and a half and want to keep the momentum going. By raising awareness of the Unit, we hope that more people will recognize that there is a place to turn to for help if they believe they have been the victim of, or suspect, questionable business practices by individuals or companies in these professions.”
I agree. It’s also important to note that Indiana consumers have a way to pursue compensation for unlawful business practices by licensed real estate appraisers or agents. The Indiana Deceptive Consumer Sales Act applies to sales of real estate, and likely would provide for a private cause of action for many of the acts being challenged by the Homeowner Protection Unit. Unfortunately, though, I’m afraid many consumers will be left out in the cold because, under the terms of the Act, no lawsuit may be filed more than two years after the occurrence of the deceptive act (no matter when the deception is discovered). For those consumers, there would still remain other actions, like common law fraud, but they won’t have many of the advantages of suing under the Indiana Deceptive Consumer Sales Act. One of those notable advantages is that the Act provides for the payment of the consumers’ attorney fees by the defendant.
If you believe you have been a victim of the questionable business practice of an appraiser or agent, contact the Indiana Attorney General’s Office and a reputable consumer law attorney.