Renters lost thousands on homes they never moved into after finding rats, leaks & code violations

Renters desperate to find an affordable home claim a property management company hit them with thousands in hidden fees, and they felt trapped in homes that were not safe to live in.

An Action 9 investigation uncovered dozens of complaints, and consumer investigator Todd Ulrich found that the man behind these risky rental deals has been in trouble with the state before.

>>> STREAM CHANNEL 9 EYEWITNESS NEWS LIVE <<<

Nina Rivera and her family say they’ve found paradise at a modest rental home in Altamonte Springs.

They just escaped what Rivera calls a house of horrors with rats, roof leaks and mold. The home failed city building-code inspections.

“Do you think it was safe?” Ulrich asked.

“Not at all. The experience was just stressful, hurtful. I was concerned for my children every minute,” Rivera replied.

Photo: Residents claim they were hit with thousands of fees, homes not safe to live in

She claims Florida Beach Coast, a property management company, advertised a fixed-up home in Titusville.

“The photos showed a home that was in relatively good condition. It was not anything like what we arrived to,” Rivera said.

Rivera said Florida Beach Coast required $6,000 in upfront charges before the family could move in. “Fees that I’ve never even heard of such as: a maintenance fee, leasing fees, a deposit to hold the home.”

READ: ‘I cried day and night’: Home builder complaints continue

According to Rivera, after the family moved in, Florida Beach Coast ignored requests to make repairs, even after she contacted the code enforcement department in Titusville. That agency discovered several violations, including windows nailed shut and active roof leaks.

The Riveras were evicted because they withheld rent until safety repairs were made.

“Is it a slap in the face?” Ulrich asked.

“It’s essentially very insulting,” Rivera replied.

READ: ’I was very shocked’: Woman claims bank account hacked and drained

Rivera sent a complaint to Florida’s attorney general. Action 9 reviewed state records and found that 11 other renters had contacted investigators. A Groveland woman wrote, “I was scammed … left without money and a house.” A renter in Eustis told the state, “We feel financially violated.”

“Horrible condition. There’s no way you could rent something like that to somebody.” William Simmons said he refused to move into a home rented by Florida Beach Coast after the company had already charged him $2,400 upfront for a 3-month lease.

READ: ‘It’s been Hell and back’: A couple’s ongoing struggle with their car warranty

“Dead rats, roaches, the ceiling was leaking and about to fall in,” Simmons said.

Simmons said Florida Beach Coast kept all his money when he refused to move in.

He discovered that reaching the company in person for a refund was a dead end. The company’s address is a post office box in Gotha.

READ: Woman claims she was charged for equipment put in someone else’s car

“That was horrible because now that leaves me and my kids on the street,” Simmons said.

Many renters didn’t know that their landlord, Ben Spivey, owns and operates Florida Beach Coast, and his rental properties are a world away from where he lives.

Spivey lives in a lakefront home in Windermere. It’s located in one of the wealthiest ZIP codes in central Florida, and real estate records show it may be worth at least $4.5 million. The home has 9,000 square feet under air and is located on the Butler Chain of Lakes.

READ: Jury Duty scams making their way around Florida, here’s what to watch for

Ulrich went to Spivey’s Windermere address and tried asking him some questions. Spivey did not respond to Ulrich that day and has not since.

This is not the first time consumers have felt burned by Spivey.

For many years, he was known as Dr. Ben Spivey, a controversial dentist in Ocala. His license was suspended repeatedly and he was heavily fined by Florida’s Department of Health for poor patient care. But it took the state board eight more years before it permanently revoked his license.

READ: Homeowners frustrated with contractor who took large deposits for jobs not started

Now some consumers claim Florida is again failing to protect them from his predatory high-risk rentals.

“He needs to be caught, and something needs to be done about this,” Simmons said.

READ: ‘It’s just unlivable’: Family claims rental home riddled with code violations

Since Action 9′s investigation began, Spivey has closed Florida Beach Coast and opened Sunbelt LLC. Investigators at the Florida attorney general’s office said complaints against both companies are under active review.

Click here to download the free WFTV news and weather apps, click here to download the WFTV Now app for your smart TV and click here to stream Channel 9 Eyewitness News live.

Todd Ulrich

Todd Ulrich, WFTV.com

I am WFTV's Action 9 Reporter.