Homeowners Lured Into Debt Trap By Dubious Claims Of Government Program

WESTMINSTER (CBSLA.com) — Sophia Tisdale will soon leave her Westminster home, but not because she wants to.

“There’s no way I can make this payment,” she told CBS2 investigative reporter David Goldstein. “I’m at the point where we’re selling it and going to move on and start life somewhere else, where it’s cheaper and I can afford.”

Tisdale says she was misled when she took out two loans for energy-efficient upgrades on the home she grew up in. One loan covered a new air conditioner. The other paid for a paint job. The loans totaled more than $50,000.

Tisdale claims the contractor who sold her on the loans led her to believe they were part of a generous government program.

“They did mention a government program and that’s when you hear ‘government’ and think it’s an awesome deal,” Tisdale said.

The deal Tisdale got was a loan from a private company, Hero Loans. Hero is an acronym for home energy renovation opportunity. The Hero website states: “By partnering with local governments, we’ve made energy and water efficiency upgrades more affordable for homeowners like you.”

Loans like the one Tisdale took out from Hero are paid back through through an assessment on property taxes. The annual percentage rate for Tisdale’s loan is more than 10 percent. Tisdale ended up owing more than $6,000 annually, which is more than she can afford.

Tisdale claims Hero representatives told her the payments would be much lower.

“They said not to worry, it was only going to be a couple of hundred dollars a month,” she said.

Tisdale also claims she was led to believe the payments would be tax-deductible.

The Hero program disputes Tisdale’s account and showed signed contracts outlining the property taxes involved. Guidelines for Hero salespeople specifically state “Don’t say Hero is a government program because it’s not.”

CBS2 hidden cameras caught contractors misleading potential customers in May. “The Hero program is a governmental program,” one said.

Another told a potential borrower, “Because of what you have going on, this government program could actually help you.”

After CBS2’s investigation, a state assembly committee held hearings on toughening laws to make sure homeowners know what they’re getting into. The proposed legislation would give homeowners the right to cancel the contract within three days with no penalty and require financial disclosure in writing. Disclosure via websites or email has become the norm in the industry.

The reforms would come too late for Sophia Tisdale.

“My whole life, my childrens’ birthdays and just everything, my childhood,” she said, wiping away tears.

Comments

One Comment

  1. Nancy Ellen Carlberg says:

    The same exact thing has happened to me, but I am trying to hold on a little longer. I was also told it would add only a couple of hundred dollars to my property tax – and It doubled it. I was not told the total amount by Powerstar the company that did my windows until Hero sent me the final bill and by then the windows were in and it was too late. I didn’t learn that they were charging me 28,000 for the windows until then, and that it would be a total bill of over 72,000 by the time it was paid off. They didn’t even tell me if I could pay if off sooner or not. And you are the first to let me know that it is not a government program! They also said there would be a senior discount and it never showed one on the bill. I do feel I was ripped off, and I no longer want anything to do with any company that even mentions the HERO program – and boy do they get an earful from me when I tell them why. Nancy Ellen Carlberg, 714-772-2849, 1782 W. Beacon Avenue, Anaheim, CA 92804

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