Rosemarie Benter, 81, has called her Victorian condo in San Francisco’s Upper Haight district home since 1991. However, when she took out a loan to help pay her property taxes in 2021, she had no idea what would come next: a surprise foreclosure and subsequent eviction notice from a new buyer.
Now, the long-time resident is suing mortgage advisor Laura Biche and real estate broker Michael Bruno for allegedly conspiring in a “deceptive, fraudulent and predatory scheme” that led to her being evicted from her San Francisco apartment, the San Francisco Chronicle first reported.
Benter’s attorney, Darren Orr of nonprofit Legal Assistance to the Elderly, told Entrepreneur that the problems started in 2007 when Benter took out a reverse mortgage — a loan that allows homeowners to borrow money based on built up equity in the home and typically bypass monthly mortgage payments, under the condition that they remain on the premises and pay property taxes.
However, when Benter was faced with health issues in 2020, the bills racked up, and she fell behind on property taxes, so she reached out to Biche — a certified mortgage advisor and self-proclaimed reverse mortgage specialist — for help.
Benter says she was then pressured into signing a loan with Bruno — whom Biche referred to as a “friend” — to pay her property taxes.
“It was basically a bait-and-switch setup,” Orr told Entrepreneur.
Benter says she was not informed that her home was listed as collateral under the terms of the loan, and so when she fell behind on property taxes, and received a knock on her door in February that someone was there to repossess her home, it was a shock — to say the least.
“I said, ‘What do you mean?'” Benter told NBC Bay Area, “He said, ‘Unless you have thirteen thousand dollars to pay off this debt you had, it’s going to be sold in 29 minutes.'”
Meanwhile, the homepage of Biche’s website reads: “Let’s dispel some reverse mortgage myths.” The first “myth” on the list? That the bank can take your home.
“But that’s not a myth, that’s a fact,” Orr said. “Biche knew this, and [Benter] told her why she wanted the money — property taxes — and Biche convinced her to take out about twice the amount that she actually needed.”
Both Biche and Bruno declined to comment to Entrepreneur.
An 81 year-old woman is suing to keep her $1.4 million condominium in San Francisco’s Upper Haight district, saying she fell victim to a “deceptive, fraudulent and predatory scheme” that caused her to lose her home.
Read more: https://t.co/Bgun1OrGUE pic.twitter.com/gYdqFLZbGg
— San Francisco Chronicle (@sfchronicle) April 24, 2023
Benter’s home was sold in a foreclosure sale to Eugene Gardner for $138,000, who then posted an eviction notice on Benter’s door on April 21, informing her she had three days to move out.
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Now, Benter is fighting to stay in her long-time residence with help from Orr, who is working to undue the foreclosure on the premise that it was a “scheme” intended to trick Benter into signing a document in which terms were misrepresented to her. Elderly homeowners who are “house rich, but cash poor” are especially targeted for this kind of scheme, Orr added.
“Financial elder abuse is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, crime of this century,” he says. “And a lot of it just goes unnoticed.”
According to the FBI’s annual report on elder fraud, financial abuse cases are rising — there was an 84% increase of reported losses in 2022 compared to 2021. When breaking down reported cases by state, California takes the lead — by a longshot. In 2022, there were 11,517 elder fraud victims over the age of 60 in California — that’s three thousand more than its successor, Florida (8,500 victims), and more than double the third and fourth states with the highest rates: Texas (5,674) and New York (4,239).
For now, Benter is still in her home, and not going down without a good fight. “I’m a tough bird,” she told NBC Bay Area.
Entrepreneur has reached out to Gardner’s lawyer for comment.