A California federal court has ordered the operators of several online rental-listing websites to pay more than $6 million after the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) alleged that they made false and unfounded claims about their listings, according to a release.
The order also permanently bans the defendants of the deceptive rental listing websites from offering rental-listing services.
Steven and Kevin (Kaveh) Shayan made false and unfounded claims on their WeTakeSection8.com website targeting low-income, disabled, and older adults, including that the site had accurate, up-to-date listings that were approved for Section 8 housing vouchers. In reality, most of the listed properties were either unavailable or did not accept Section 8 housing vouchers. The FTC shut down the websites in 2018.
The corporate defendants in the court order were listed as, “Apartment Hunters, Inc., also d/b/a WeTakeSection8.com, ApartmentHunterz.com, and FeaturedRentals.com; Real Estate Data Solutions, Inc.; Rental Home Listings Inc.; UAB Apartment Hunters LT; and their successors and assigns.”
The Shayans also falsely claimed that consumers could access hundreds of thousands of accurate, up-to-date, and available listings on the defendants’ other subscription websites and that they had exclusive rights to list rental properties that consumers could not find on free websites, according to the release.
Operated several deceptive rental listing websites
The original complaint said the defendants operated “several prepaid rental-listing websites, including WeTakeSection8.com, ApartmentHunterz.com, and FeaturedRentals.com. The first website specifically targeted individuals seeking Section 8 housing; the other websites purported to offer general-access rental units. Defendants charged consumers a fee to access contact information for property managers of rental units listed on their websites. Defendants represented to consumers that the listings on their websites were accurate, up-to-date, and available, that consumers were likely to find suitable housing within a short time, and that consumers could not find these listings on free websites. These representations were misleading, false, or unsubstantiated.”
According to the original complaint filed in 2018, “the fee and the length of the subscription to ApartmentHunterz.com varied. Typically, consumers paid $49 for 30 days’ access to the website. Defendants have also charged consumers $14.99 for a weekly subscription. Typically, consumers also paid defendants $49 for 30 days access to FeaturedRentals.com.”
In addition to a monetary judgment, the order permanently bans the defendants from advertising, marketing, or promoting subscriptions for or access to a rental listing for an apartment, condominium, or single-family home.
The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California issued the final order on December 6, 2019 after granting the FTC’s motion for summary judgment.
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