The rent-to-own market segment of the real estate industry is not particularly regulated, nor are these transactions carefully tracked. However, a number of horror stories have made their way into the headlines. Most pertain to landlords who took advantage of low-income or unsuspecting renters by structuring the agreements to make tenants responsible for maintenance and repairs, but not disclosing to the renters that the homes were riddled with code violations.
Zillow.com allows potential tenants to search by zip code for houses. Once you've searched, you'll be able to filter the home results by type from RTO and foreclosures to auctions and broker-owned. You'll have to create an account to get seller information, but there are email forms you can fill out to contact a broker directly to ask about the property. Be warned that Zillow has a history of cross-selling user information to third party brokers rather that choosing to connect interested parties with the real property broker. The button to contact the correct broker may be grayed out and their contact information may be hidden below the fold after many screens of other information.
As of 2011, no U.S. federal consumer protection law specifically addresses rent-to-own transactions, but through litigation, efforts have been made in attempt to bring rent-to-own agreements under the definition of “credit sale” in the Truth in Lending Act. However, courts have not, as of 2011, ruled in favor of making this change at a federal level. In 2006, the United States Department of Defense labeled rent-to-own a predatory lending practice, defining it as an “unfair or abusive loan or credit sale transaction or collection practice,” along with payday loans, title loans, refund anticipation loans and other similar practices. In 2007, the United States Government Accountability Office raised concerns with the methodology and structure of this research. Later in the same year, the Department of Defense ultimately concluded that rent-to-own was not a form of credit and excluded it from its regulation on predatory lending practices.
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Example: Jane falls in love with a lovely cottage in her desired neighborhood and is eager to buy it. However, she hasn’t saved any money for a down payment and is worried that her bad credit won’t allow her to get a home loan. The owner of the cottage offers to let Jane rent to own the property. Jane agrees to pay a monthly base rental of $1,500 plus an added $500 to go towards a down payment. The rent to own contract specifies that Jane can purchase the cottage in 36 months for $90,000.
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