One home, Two families, and a Company in the Middle

February 9, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
Several Valley families say a foreclosure business left them out of their homes and out thousands of dollars.For 10 years, 1162 Filbert Avenue in Clovis belonged to Robert and Christella Sanchez. Bertha Aguilar says it was supposed to be her dream home too. Aguilar: "We really thought it was going to be our home, it was really a nice house. Big."

Instead, in June 2009 the bank took it over and both families blame Carl Renowitzky and his Hayward company CAA International also doing business as United Investments.

In May 2008 the Sanchezes, facing foreclosure, say they contacted United Investments which promised to "short sale" the home for them if they signed over the deed to their home and moved out. So they did.

Then in December 2008 the Aguilars moved in as renters. They say United Investments advertised the home as a "rent to own" opportunity, a way to get into the housing market for cheap. The Aguilars say the company told them to ignore the foreclosure notices that kept appearing at the house. Aguilar: "We had never bought a home before, so we're working with them thinking they're a legitimate company. Trusting them and this happens." The foreclosure process, which the bank had started six months before the Aguilars ever moved in, was finalized and they were evicted: "They never applied any of our payments to the mortgage. Nothing was applied. I paid a deposit, all together I paid them like $5600."

Action News has learned the same thing happened at a home in Sanger, another one in Visalia, another home in Modesto, and several others in the Bay Area.

Arnel Reyes says in September 2008 he signed over his deed and paid $500 of a $2,000 fee to United Investments to try to save his Bay Point home from foreclosure and to protect his credit. Reyes: "They said if they couldn't save it, they would foreclose under their name, not our name. Basically I spent $500 for nothing so it came around, it still foreclosed under my name, my wife's name, and we still got hit with 7 years, 10 years of bad credit at this point."

We contacted the Fresno County District Attorney's financial crimes division. Real estate fraud attorney Sydney Ricks questions whether the company ever actually owned the homes if it never took over the loans, just the deeds: "They're trying to legitimize the rental to say look, we actually own the house so we can rent it out. However if the house is in foreclosure or being foreclosed on, the grant deed is really useless."

We tried contacting Carl Renowitzky, the owner of CAA International, doing business as United Investments. The company's business license with the city of Hayward expired in December of 2007. And in 1999 the California Department of Real Estate ordered Renowitzky to desist and refrain from the real estate business for operating without a license. The sign on United Investments' office in Hayward now reads "Property Group."

A man named James Bennett returned our call, saying United Investments is no longer doing business and the owner, Carl Renowitzky no longer works there, but he did offer an explanation to former clients. He insisted United Investments did own the homes and the grant deeds gave the company the legal right to act as a landlord. He said the renters who wanted to "own" just didn't end up qualifying as buyers.

He went on to say the company wasn't trying to take advantage of any homeowners... That clients signed affidavits clearly stating that their loans were not being assumed and that foreclosure was still a possibility.

But housing rights attorney Maeve Elise Brown took a look at the contract and found problems: "A homeowner might believe that he or she is avoiding damage to their credit, is coming away with a guaranteed short sale of the property."

As both the owners of the homes and the people who rented them found out... nothing was guaranteed.

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5 Tips to Avoid Being Scammed

    1. Don't pay up-front fees. Foreclosure consultants are prohibited by law from collecting money before services are performed.

    2. Don't ignore letters from your lender or loan servicer. Responding to those letters is your best bet for saving your house.

    3. Don't transfer title or sell your house to a "foreclosure rescuer." Beware! This is a scam to convince homeowners they can stay in the home as renters and buy their home back later. It might also be part of a fraudulent bankruptcy filing. Either way, a scammer can then evict the victim and take the home.

    4. Don't pay your mortgage payments to anyone other than your lender or loan servicer. Mortgage consultants often keep the money for themselves.

    5. Never sign any documents without reading them first. Many homeowners think that they are signing documents for a loan modification or for a new loan to pay off the mortgage they are behind on. Later, they discover that they actually transferred ownership of their home to someone who is now trying to evict them.

    Are you a victim of real estate fraud? To file a complaint with the California Attorney General's Office: http://ag.ca.gov/loanmod


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