Action 9

Action 9 helps central Florida man get $1,700 back after paying rent deposit on risky home

SANFORD, Fla. — Duane Walker tried renting the home from a company Action 9 has warned consumers about before.  That company is called Sunbelt LLC.  The Sanford home he tried to rent was advertised at $675 a month.  The small home didn’t appear to be a bad deal to Walker who had recently lost his job.

“And it looks like okay, it’s a decent place. It again, is not the Taj Mahal, but for $675 what can you expect?,” he told Action 9.

Desperate to get into a home, he agreed to sign the lease just based on the ad and without seeing the property in person.  He paid a $1,700 deposit, a move he soon regretted.

Walker said, “When I went there, the door was hanging off. They said everything was clean around it, nothing was cleaned.”

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He showed Action 9 pictures of the conditions he took after Sunbelt told him the home had been cleaned, but said the filth and the rough conditions shown in the photos are nothing compared to the smell.

“It smelled like urine, human and animal feces. And it was just disgusting,” he said.

And he believed the home was unsafe.  According to Walker, when he refused to move in and asked for his money back, Sunbelt LLC told him-no refunds.  After all, he had signed a lease that specifically warns there are no refunds or transfers.

When the Action 9 team showed up to look at the home parts of it appeared to be crumbling and Seminole County Sheriff’s Office crime tap was still attached to the home.  They saw the grass was overgrown and debris covered the yard.

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The home is no stranger to Seminole County deputies.  They’ve been called to the home eight times over the past two years for reports of fraud, grand theft, drugs, squatters and several code enforcement checks.  The most recent code enforcement check listed the home “out of compliance” and the case is scheduled to go before the Seminole County Code Enforcement Board in February.

Duane Walker said, “Call me naive, but I’m thinking okay, if you own a business you’re going to be honorable and have some integrity.”

The home is owned by Vermont LLC. State records show that company and Sunbelt LLC are both managed by Ben Spivey.

You might remember him as Dr. Ben Spivey, a controversial Ocala dentist who Action 9 has reported on in the past.  The state health department repeatedly suspended his license for poor patient care and eventually permanently revoked his license.

Action 9 has also reported on other consumer complaints about rental home issues and leases in recent years. They are the same type of complaints Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida has received.

Last year Consumer Investigator Jeff Deal asked, “Do you feel like he’s just trying to exploit desperate people?”

Attorney Jeffrey Hussey with Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida said, “That’s what it looks like. I mean, I don’t know the man. I’ve never met the man, but on paper, that’s what it certainly looks like.”

In Walker’s case, after Action 9 reached out to Sunbelt LLC about the issue, a manager returned Walker’s $1,700 deposit.  Still, after this experience, Walker has a warning: “I just want to help people be aware of company Sunbelt LLC. You see that name? Stay away from it,” he said.

Sunbelt has not responded to Action 9 about the complaint. The team is also waiting on the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the agency in charge of landlord-tenant issues, to find out of if it has any kind of investigation into Sunbelt LLC.

Jeff Deal

Jeff Deal, WFTV.com

I joined the Eyewitness News team as a reporter in 2006.