Protecting Florida’s Elderly and Vulnerable Against Real Estate Poachers

Protecting Florida’s Elderly and Vulnerable Against Real Estate Poachers

Have you ever noticed those signs on the side of the road that offer to buy your home quickly for cash? Most of us think of hiring a real estate agent before we sell our homes, and so those kinds of signs don’t do much to grab our attention. However, you may not be the intended target of those advertisements. In most cases, these signs are designed to target a specific segment of the population: the elderly and the vulnerable.

While some individuals or entities looking to buy your home for cash are hard-working individuals capable of remodeling a fixer-upper to resell for a profit, others are poaching for individuals who don’t have a grasp on the true market value of their property. There are individuals and companies, operating in our area, purposefully and strategically targeting the elderly and vulnerable with an intent to aggressively convince these homeowners to sell their family homes for amounts well below market value.

While these real estate hunters generate leads from those signs on the side of the road, they also scour the Internet and the local clerk of court files, on a daily basis, to identify elderly individuals who owned their homes outright and have recently lost their spouse. These individuals actually scan the local obituaries for leads. In a typical scenario, the poachers will approach a widow, usually by knocking on the door, and offer what appears to be a lot of cash for property that has likely been in the family’s possession for decades. Remember, for someone in their 80’s or 90’s who may not be as sharp as they once were, $175,000.00 in cash sounds like an incredible amount of money. In reality, however, the subject property has a fair market value of $400,000.00.

Working in favor of the poachers is the fact that a review of the property tax valuation on such a home may reflect less than half the true market value of the property. Also, likely without a mortgage, the elderly or vulnerable homeowner has very little idea as to the true value of their property. The poachers will present some information printed off the Internet, or may even direct the target to the internet itself, all in an overwhelming effort to convince the homeowner to sell quickly. Almost always, these individuals use an aggressive sales pitch that preaches a sense of urgency, because the quicker they can get the target to sign a contract, the less time there is for the target to consult with family members or with real estate professionals.

Sadly, these real estate poachers oftentimes get away with purchasing properties from elderly or vulnerable homeowners and flipping them, usually within a week, to reap profits of tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands of dollars on a single deal.

Fortunately, Florida has enacted legislation designed to discourage and punish this type of predatory behavior. Specifically, there are two statutes that work in tandem to allow an exploited elderly individual or vulnerable adult to pursue both criminal charges and civil penalties against these individuals and companies who are taking advantage of our mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers.

The Adult Protective Services Act was enacted in 2010, and “recognizes that there are many persons in this state who, because of age or disability, are in need of protective services. Such services should allow said individual the same rights as other citizens and, at the same time, protect the individual from abuse, neglect, and exploitation. It is the intent of the Legislature to provide for the detection and correction of abuse, neglect, and exploitation through social services and criminal investigations and to establish a program of protective services for all vulnerable adults in need of them.” Fla. Stat. §415.101(2).

Working in conjunction with the Adult Protective Services Act is Fla. Stat. §825.103 which was designed to protect elderly or vulnerable adults from exploitation. The statute defines exploitation in many ways, including “[k]nowingly obtaining or using, or endeavoring to obtain or use, an elderly person’s or disabled adult’s funds, assets, or property with the intent to temporarily or permanently deprive the elderly person or disabled adult of the use, benefit, or possession of the funds, assets, or property, or to benefit someone other than the elderly person or disabled adult, by a person who… [h]as a business relationship with the elderly person or disabled adult.” Fla. Stat. §825.103 (1)(a)(2).

Those companies and individuals engaging in the above-described predatory real estate schemes are violating Florida law when they knowingly exploit the elderly and vulnerable by depriving them of the fair market value of their property. According to Fla. Stat. §415.102(28), a “’[v]ulnerable adult’ means a person 18 years of age or older whose ability to perform the normal activities of daily living or to provide for his or her own care or protection is impaired due to a mental, emotional, sensory, long-term physical, or developmental disability or dysfunction, or brain damage, or the infirmities of aging.”

Florida Statutes §415.111 provides for criminal prosecution, and §415.1111 arms us, as lawyers, with the ability to file a civil action on behalf of the exploited individual against the real estate poachers, even after a contract has been signed and/or property conveyed. Specifically, §415.1111 explicitly provides that “[a] vulnerable adult who has been abused, neglected, or exploited as specified in this chapter has a cause of action against any perpetrator and may recover actual and punitive damages for such abuse, neglect, or exploitation.”

Admittedly, it can appear intimidating to protect your loved ones from these real estate predators; however, aggressive and sophisticated attorneys have what they need to successfully stop and hold accountable those who violate Florida law. If you become aware of behavior similar to what has been described in this article, contact law enforcement, the Department of Elder Affairs, and a lawyer as soon as possible.

This article is for general information only and is not intended as and does not constitute legal advice or solicitation of a prospective client. It should not be relied on for legal advice in any particular factual circumstance.