Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Land Sharks in Florida

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Land Sharks in Florida

Article excerpt

Consumer awareness and anti-fraud regulation vital

Because land scams are such a pronounced part of Florida's history, the state really should be better at preventing them by now. Yet here we are again, with overpriced land and hapless buyers back in the headlines.

It's an outrage -- one that Florida shouldn't tolerate.

As the Herald-Tribune's Josh Salman reported this week, two men linked to the notorious General Development Corp. land-sale case are again selling overhyped, undeveloped lots to eager buyers -- buyers who don't realize that they are likely paying far, far too much for the properties.

Salman reported that hundreds of undeveloped lots are being sold in Citrus County, Charlotte County and the city of North Port at inflated prices. One former employee charged that the company, New Vista Properties, deliberately targeted minorities and new immigrants unfamiliar with the area.

Salman described tactics that smack of the 1960s-era GDC case, in which out-of-town buyers -- wooed by brochures depicting tropical paradise -- bought thousands of lots, only to find that many lacked utilities. GDC went bankrupt in 1990; its successor, Atlantic Gulf Communities, was ordered to pay $169 million in restitution.

For local governments, GDC left a legacy of expensive road repairs and inadequate drainage systems.

Government has a role

To be sure, consumers form the first line of defense against exploitive land-sale practices. People need to take better care of their own money, wising up to come-ons that overpromise and underdeliver.

But government has a role to play, too. It has an obligation to post regulatory lifeguards where land sharks are known to bite -- a description that definitely fits Florida.

Various regulations are supposed to protect buyers from real- estate deception and abuses. But as Salman reported, loopholes exist, and state lawmakers further weakened some of the regulations regarding undeveloped lots in 2008 -- a step that eliminated one bureaucracy from the process. …

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