D.C. sues Curbio, says it is ‘financially devastating’ for homeowners … – The Washington Post

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D.C. Attorney General Brian L. Schwalb (D) said Monday that the city has sued a home-renovation company that claims to increase home sale prices but traps District residents into financially devastating contracts.

Curbio’s, whose website says it serves more than 30 real estate markets across the country, markets itself as “the real estate agent’s solution for getting homes market-ready with staging, painting, and more — with $0 upfront cost.”

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“Preparing a listing for market is a big lift. Let us take care of it for you,” the website says. “As general home contractors who specialize in pre-sale home updates of any size, we have experience with everything from fixing critical home repairs to touching up chipped paint.”

A complaint filed Monday in D.C. Superior Court said that Curbio purports to fix run-down properties 65 percent faster than competitors but traps homeowners, including “the elderly and disadvantaged,” into unfair contracts.

Homeowners who work with Curbio must be represented by real estate agents who may receive up to 5 percent of every Curbio contract they help secure, the suit said. Some of the company’s promotional materials claim homeowners will earn more than 200 percent return on their investments in repairing their homes as they go to market, according to the lawsuit.

Once customers — many of them seniors — sign with Curbio, the company holds a lien on their property, the suit said. If renovations are delayed, not completed or completed poorly, according to the suit, Curbio can claim customers have defaulted and move their properties into foreclosure. Customers are forbidden from performing their own repairs, the suit said.

“The reality is that Curbio utilizes a collection of low-cost subcontractors to deliver an over-priced, low-quality product — after locking consumers into a one-sided contract from which there is no escape,” the lawsuit said.

In a statement, Curbio said it is “a general contractor that works with integrity.”

“We strongly disagree with these assertions and are disappointed that the D.C. attorney general’s office has decided to take this action,” the statement said. “Not only are the assertions without merit, but they also paint a false narrative of Curbio and the valuable services we provide to repair and update homes before they go on the market … and we look forward to defending our strong track record of providing quality services to our customers.”

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The suit detailed allegations that homeowners in the District who worked with Curbio were taken advantage of or misled.

In one instance, the suit said, the 99-year-old owner of a home on 55th Street in Southeast signed with the company in 2019 to perform more than $53,000 of work on her property, which had been in her family since the 1950s.

When the homeowner sought to delay work until after her 100th birthday party, she was charged a $15,000 cancellation fee, according to the suit, which Curbio only rescinded after she found an attorney.

In another case, the suit detailed the experience of 91-year-old Barbara Hair of Southwest. It said Hair signed with Curbio in 2018 to complete repairs valued at more than $57,000 in about 45 days. However, the repairs were delayed for more than five months, and Hair objected to the quality of some of the work, the suit said.

Still, the suit said, Hair had to pay.

In an interview, Hair said she’d lived in the home for decades, and Curbio’s delayed work prevented her from putting it on the market when she wanted to. She also had to fight with the company while she was hospitalized with heart failure, she said.

“I think they took advantage of me,” she said. “I don’t know if it was because I was old or Black … I just hope they can never get a license or a permit in the District to do this again to someone else.”

Khalid Naji-Allah, who was not included in the lawsuit, said he grew up near Hair and purchased her home through a D.C. assistance program after reaching her through a family connection. When he moved into what he thought was a turnkey home, he found the work Curbio completed substandard, he said, including plumbing problems, cheap baseboards and stripped handles on cabinetry.

Naji-Allah said he had to contact Curbio to remedy some deficient repairs. He was not impressed with the company.

“You rob an older lady for $57,000?” he said. “But the website is great. … If I didn’t know Curbio, I would hire them, too.”

Curbio’s statement said the company has had more than 200 customers in D.C. since 2018, and “the overwhelming majority of their projects in DC are completed, go on the market, sell, and the company is paid with no issues.”

“It appears the AG has cherry picked a handful of exceptions to the positive experience many of those customers have had, painting a false narrative, using a few isolated instances and generic market data about home sellers,” the statement said.

The suit sought to declare Curbio’s contracts unenforceable and collect damages for affected homeowners, among other relief.

In a statement, Schwalb said “every aspect of Curbio’s business model is designed to line its pockets by taking advantage of District homeowners,” some of whom are longtime D.C. residents whose homes are their primary financial asset and source of financial stability.

The suit is the latest from Schwalb’s office related to housing in the District.

Earlier this month, Schwalb announced the city sued software company RealPage and 14 of the District’s “largest landlords,” alleging they colluded to illegally raise rents for tens of thousands of D.C. residents with a price-setting algorithm. He has also sued at least two landlords in the District, saying they discriminate against people with housing vouchers.

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