Real Estate in Brief: FTC website crack-down, HUD hiring for loyalty, and Zillow’s lawsuit

by Morgan Mereday

According to Housing Wire, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) cracked down on a string of real estate websites allegedly targeting Section 8 renters, charging a weekly subscription fee for false rental listings. The FTC alleges that brothers and company owners Steven and Kevin (Kaveh) Shayan operated a set of companies and real estate websites, promoting access to “hundreds of thousands of accurate, up-to-date, and available listings” to potential renters with the payment of a subscription fee. Instead, the FTC said that the brother’s websites, WeTakeSection8.com, ApartmentHunterz.com, and FeaturedRentals.com and their companies, UAB Apartment Hunters, Apartment Hunters, Rental Home Listings, and Real Estate Data Solutions provided the subscription fee payers out-of-date listings, many of which that did not admit Section 8 vouchers.  

Section 8 vouchers provide affordable housing to low-income families, elderly, and disabled persons. Andrew Smith, the FTC’s director of the bureau of consumer protection said, “In this case, we allege that defendants misled consumers—including Section 8 voucher recipients—into purchasing subscriptions to worthless lists of stale apartment listings, and the consumers then wasted their valuable time shopping for rentals that were not in fact available.” 

In other real estate news:  

  • According to The Washington Post, The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has promoted and awarded raises to five out of an estimated 24 newly appointed political operatives. All awarded employees have previously aided in Donald Trump’s or Ben Carson’s presidential campaigns and are without evident housing policy experience, some even without listed bachelor’s degrees. “This administration is different, because the people coming in really don’t know housing at all,” said Ron Ashford, retired director who served the HUD’s public-housing supportive-service programs for 22 years. “As a result, they’re pursuing initiatives that aren’t grounded in reality.”
  • A California photographer filed a lawsuit against Zillow for $81 million for alleged copyright violations in the use of his real estate photographs, according to The American Genius. The trial is calling attention to real estate photography copyrights, as homeowners, real estate photographers, the listing agent, the broker, MLSs, and real estate listing websites have previously claimed ownership of rights to images of their properties. Mathew Higbee of Higbee and Associates, who represents the plaintiff, said, “Zillow’s unlawful copying comes at the expense of creators and rights holders such as Mr. Gutenberg who depend on payment of reasonable licensing fees by those who exploit their works.”  
  • Housing Wire reported that Fannie Mae is expanding its board of directors with the addition of former chairman and CEO of BBVA Compass, Manuel “Manolo” Sánchez Rodríguez. Previously, Sánchez served as president and CEO of BBVA Compass as well as a member and country manager for U.S. operation of Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria’s worldwide executive committee. “We are extremely pleased to welcome Manolo to the Fannie Mae Board of Directors,” said Egbert L.J. Perry, Fannie Mae’s chairman of the board. “We will benefit greatly from his vast banking and financial services experience, technology innovation track record, and deep business strategy expertise.” 
  • The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) reported that while women make up 47 percent of the working population, only 9 percent of the construction industry population are female employees. The NAHB’s Professional Women in Building council plan hopes to recruit more women into the construction labor force. Chair of the NAHB PWB Council Judy Dinelle said, “Right now more than ever is the time for our industry to not only increase our recruitment efforts, but to also change the way we talk about careers in home building to show women this industry has so much to offer them.” 
  • Mortgage Professional America announced In-House Realty’s re-branding as Rocket Homes. The Detroit based company attempts to compete with Zillow with efforts including a new website launch. “Rebranding to Rocket Homes highlights our growth and evolution, as we are continuing to invest in a fintech-driven future,” said Doug Seabolt, CEO of Rocket Homes. “Not only is Rocket Homes infusing technology into the homebuying and selling process, we are also partnering with Rocket Mortgage to create a more seamless, streamlined experience for our clients.”