At the request of the Federal Trade Commission, a federal court has issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting two brothers and their four California companies from using false or unsubstantiated claims in the marketing of online rental listings offered through their websites.
In its complaint, the FTC alleges that Steven and Kevin (Kaveh) Shayan have advertised on their WeTakeSection8.com website housing that purportedly accepts Section 8 vouchers for low-income families, elderly, and disabled persons. The defendants have claimed that the website has accurate, up-to-date, and available listings that are approved for Section 8 housing vouchers. The FTC alleges that these claims are false or unsubstantiated, and that most of the listed properties either are not available or do not accept Section 8 housing vouchers.
“Today’s housing market is historically tight, and affordable rentals are harder to find than ever. Section 8 voucher recipients have it even harder: they have fewer rentals from which to choose and their vouchers expire if not used within a specified period of time,” said Andrew Smith, the FTC’s Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection. “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.”
According to the FTC, the defendants violated the FTC Act by falsely claiming that consumers can access hundreds of thousands of accurate, up-to-date, and available listings on the defendants’ websites, which also include ApartmentHunterz.com and FeaturedRentals.com. They also have misrepresented that consumers will find housing quickly and that the defendants have exclusive rights to list rental properties that consumers cannot find on free websites. Consumers typically have paid $49 for two months of access to contact information for property managers of rental listings, and $14.99 for a weekly subscription.
In addition to Steven and Kevin Shayan, the FTC’s complaint names the following companies as defendants: Apartment Hunters, Inc., also doing business as WeTakeSection8.com, ApartmentHunterz.com, and FeaturedRentals.com; Real Estate Data Solutions, Inc.; Rental Home Listings Inc.; and UAB Apartment Hunters LT. The California Department of Real Estate revoked defendant Apartment Hunters, Inc.’s business license in 2015, but it has continued to operate without a license.
The Commission vote approving the complaint was 5-0. The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California issued the temporary restraining order on September 13, 2018.
NOTE: The Commission files a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. The case will be decided by the court.
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