Licence suspended for B.C. Realtor accused of 'predatory' rent-to-own scheme
Kevin Bratch allegedly targeted homeowners on brink of foreclosure with restrictive, misleading deal
A Realtor accused of preying on struggling homeowners on the brink of foreclosure has had his licence suspended by the Real Estate Council of B.C.
Kevindeep Singh Bratch, who uses the name Kevin Bratch professionally, has been accused of misleading vulnerable mortgage holders with a rent-to-own scheme that carried steep penalties and oppressive conditions.
"Mr. Bratch [allegedly] bought their homes at an under-value, on the basis that they could continue renting their homes, and opt to rebuy their homes. But the terms were highly disadvantageous, to the point of the 'rent to buy' program being 'predatory' in nature," Robert Holmes of the council's disciplinary committee wrote in the reasons for suspension.
The council made the suspension order last month against Bratch and his firm, Bratch Realty, under "urgent circumstances" and says it will remain in place while an investigation is underway.
Reporting prompts probe
The allegations against Bratch are laid out in Holmes's reasons for the suspension order
The investigation began after local media reported on an elderly couple who said they had entered into a rent-to-own agreement with Bratch when the bank began foreclosing on their house. Bratch reportedly evicted them on Thanksgiving, saying they had breached the terms of the contract.
According to the council, part of the problem with the scheme lay in a brochure setting out the terms of the agreement.
"The language in the brochure was unclear in places, and misleading in others," Holmes wrote.
He says, the brochure told clients that they would have the option to buy back their homes within three years, but the terms of the contract actually limited them to a year or less.
The deal didn't just require the sellers to come up with the funds to re-buy their homes — they also had to adhere to the terms of a strict lease agreement. If they broke any of those terms, they would lose the option to buy back their homes.
The terms were "unconscionable," Holmes wrote.
In one case, Bratch alleges the former homeowners missed a monthly rent payment. When they tried to repurchase the home months later, Bratch refused.
Meanwhile, the monthly rents were much higher than the mortgage payments that Bratch was making. One family was paying $4,300 each month — close to $2,000 more than what Bratch was paying to the bank.
The contract also prevented the sellers from registering their options to buy with the land title office, a condition the council described as "one aimed at enforcing secrecy."
'Vain hope' for homeowners
Bratch carried out the scheme at least twice, according to the council, but the suspension order suggests there may be at least seven more instances. The homeowners did not get independent legal advice before signing on, according to the council.
"Mr. Bratch offered sellers a lifeline, bailing them out of their immediate financial predicament with foreclosure proceedings, but in return, engineering the purchase of their property … at less than market value, using the vain hope that they could regain ownership of their property at substantially-higher prices," Holmes wrote.
He said it was necessary to suspend Bratch's licence to protect the public, as the investigation into the Realtor's activities could take more than a year