In our continuing coverage on Vision Property Management, 5 Investigates has found out that the Wisconsin attorney general’s office has launched an investigation of the company, and now the United States Congress is getting involved.
While the company will not take our calls, or answer our questions, they did meet with two New York Times reporters who have also been working this story.
“We didn’t get the sense that they were even that familiar with a lot of their housing stock first person,” said Matthew Goldstein, reporter at the New York Times. “We didn’t get the sense that they did a lot of on-site visits.”
Goldstein is referring to CEO Alex Szkaradek and the leadership team at Vision Property Management. Goldstein, along with fellow Times reporter Alexandra Stevenson, are the only reporters that have gotten access to Vision’s top management in South Carolina.
“When we presented to him specific problems, a few while we were there and a few after the fact, we felt that he really shut down,” said Goldstein. “Then they sort of came back with classical non-statement, statements or they’re hiring a public relations firm to answer for them.”
5 Investigates had a similar experience, only hearing from a PR firm when it came to several houses here in northeast Wisconsin.
We told you about several claims Vision made to fix problems with homes in Green Bay. Specifically, a property off Cherry Street. Last year, we told you a family of eight was living there and living with a broken water main, even after Vision’s number two manager said they’d fix it.
Since then, conditions at the homes have continued to get worse and the city was forced to condemn the Cherry Street property in December. The family had nowhere to go and continued to live in the home after it was condemned. Now, it’s set for demolition – and the city was forced to make the family leave last month.
“Unfortunate and difficult for me to do,” said Scott Nelson, Green Bay housing inspector. “I had to go back and padlock them out of the building. Then when I saw the additional sewage in the basement, I realized that it should’ve been done a long time ago. They should not have been exposed to that kind of health risk.”
Another Green Bay property managed by Vision is located on Morrow Street. It’s the same situation as the one on Cherry. A family living inside dealing with major plumbing issues, promised repairs that never happened, forcing the city to condemn it, kicked the family out, and the house will now be demolished.
“Condemning is never something I do with ease, but it has to be done,” said Nelson. “I don’t want to see people at risk to life-safety issues. So if it’s not habitable, people have to get out of the building.”
Green Bay isn’t the only place Vision is having troubles. One house in particular has attracted the attention of Congress.
“We were contacted about an issue in Baltimore involving a rent-to-own house where two children had actually gotten lead poison,” said Goldstein. “The house was condemned, but was under a ‘do not occupy’ order.”
Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings, a member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, is demanding to know “the total dollars that Vision and its subsidiaries have been paid for these homes by tenants under its rent-to-own agreements.” He wants the numbers for every state, including Wisconsin.
But the Times reporters say it doesn’t seem to be slowing Vision down.
“That’s kind of the most remarkable part is that there’s been all this attention – some acknowledgment from the regulatory side of the game – that they’re doing something wrong, but they have not acknowledged it,” said Stevenson. “They haven’t stopped any of their practices.”
One thing Vision has stopped is its communication – to the Times, the City of Green Bay, and to 5 Investigates.