ORLANDO,Fla. - Homeowners claim they lost thousands of dollars after a hiring a company to rent their properties in The Villages.
They sent complaints to state regulators claiming there were missing rent payments and surprise fees.
Action 9's Todd Ulrich tracked down the company owner for answers.
Vacation properties are advertised by a company promising honesty and integrity. But many property owners who hired VIR Group to rent out their homes said company owner Alistair Barrett-Powell didn't treat them that way.
“I'm just very upset. It's just evil what is happening,” said Ed Zawzatski.
He claims he was never paid $2,000 in rent owed to him by
VIR and said he was hit by surprise fees.
“He's fabricated a lot of stuff,” said Zawzatski. He's one of nine homeowners who sent complaints to state regulators against Barrett-Powell's real estate licenses. Many claim VIR collected rent they never got.
“Did the company take advantage of you?” asked Ulrich.
“Absolutely,” replied Linda Carol. She said
VIR owes her $8,000 in rent. When she canceled her contract, Carol claims VIR threatened to sue.
“They have made my life miserable. They made my life so stressful,” said Carol.
Todd Ulrich went to VIR's office in Fruitland Park.
“Can you account for all of their rent money?” asked Ulrich.
“Absolutely. They actually owe us money,” replied Barrett-Powell.
“How would that be?” asked Ulrich.
“Because they owe us money,” Barrett-Powell reiterated.
Barrett-Powell said the owners disputed repair fees that were fully disclosed. He blamed complaints on a former partner who VIR sued for breaching a business contract. VIR also sued at least two clients.
“They say they've been legally threatened just by raising consumer questions?” asked Ulrich.
“Unfortunately, Todd, that's completely false,” replied Barrett-Powell.
Action 9 found Barrett-Powell has surrendered his real estate licenses pending a state investigation. In the settlement, he did not admit guilt.
It's considered disciplinary action and he cannot reapply for a license.
“It's just wrong,” said Zawzatski.
VIR said many customer complaints were resolved. The company has since obtained a hotel license to provide short-term rentals.
Its attorney said there's no basis for the state's action.
VIR prides itself on the fact that it follows to the letter the contents of its contracts and contractual obligations. Emotions and sensationalism are not a part, and will never be a part of our business relationships.
If any of the landlords Mr. Ulrich has featured can provide evidence that, under our contract, VIR owes them money, we will meet them at the news station and write them a check on camera, as our reputation is worth more than a disputed charge. At the same time, when VIR provides, on air, the evidence that these same landlords owe VIR money, we expect them (the landlords) to bring their check book and be televised writing VIR a check and honoring their contractual obligations. In addition, upon receipt of the funds owed to VIR, we will immediately accept the payment as full and final settlement of their lawsuits which are currently outstanding.
These landlords thought the grass was greener on the other side, breached their management agreement with VIR and placed their properties with a third party, with whom VIR also has ongoing serious litigation for theft, embezzlement and use of client funds to purchase luxury items and fund an extravagant lifestyle.
Rather than notifying VIR of their decision, the landlords featured in the Channel 9 interview had the third party gain access to their property and change the locks. The only people affected by this disreputable act were the arriving guests – disrupting their vacations and causing unnecessary emotional distress.
At VIR, we welcome and encourage competition – healthy competition. Disputes, and the opportunity to resolve them, are a normal part of doing business. Having said that, competition must adhere to the same standards of best business practice to ensure desirable outcomes for the reason we exist – the client.
It is especially sad when competing businesses enlist their clients to engage in smear tactics against VIR when the legal process is the only fair way to resolve disputes. The legal system, like VIR, is compliant only within the four corners of the contract.
We are fortunate in this country to have a fair and balanced legal system. While the wheels of justice may turn slowly, they do turn and will expose the guilt of those who wish VIR, and our loyal landlords and guest base, harm.
It is very sad that frightened men and their companies take such desperate actions.
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