I-Team: Quiet title action, legal option that could free Ohioans from 40-year real estate contracts

DAYTON — The News Center 7 I-Team is digging deeper into a way people in the Miami Valley and all over Ohio could get free and clear of confusing and decades-long real estate contracts with MV Realty.

The I-Team has been reporting on the troubled real estate company for months. The I-Team’s lead investigative reporter, John Bedell, has what he’s learned about a possible legal option that could impact hundreds of homeowners.

As a part of the I-Team’s months-long investigation into MV Realty’s business practices, we’ve been following Debbie Chasteen’s story in Warren County. During an interview at her Carlisle home this week, she showed the I-Team all the documents from MV Realty she has held onto.

“Yes, this is everything I’ve got,” Chasteen said. A plastic bag she stores the documents in rustled as she pulled out paperwork. “I’ve even got notes from when I’ve called them.”

She still has a photocopy of the check MV Realty sent her. “$585 dollars,” Chasteen said, looking at the document. In exchange for that money, Chasteen signed a contract with MV Realty – it’s “Homeowner Benefit Agreement.”

“Yeah, and it didn’t benefit anybody but MV Realty,” Chasteen scoffed in her living room.

The length of the deal Chasteen signed in June 2022 -- after she says she got a cold call from the company -- is 40 years.

“That’s longer than my mortgage is,” Chasteen told Bedell.

Here’s the deal: if Chasteen wants to sell her house over those four decades, she has to use an MV Realty agent or pay a penalty of three percent of her home’s value.

MV seals the deal by filing a 40-year lien on the property with county recorder offices.

The Ohio Attorney General’s Office is suing MV Realty over its business practices. Dave Yost’s office secured a preliminary injunction from a Franklin County judge against the company earlier this month.

“It’s a court order that tells MV Realty to stop,” Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost told the I-Team this month. “Stop doing these open-ended agreements. Stop deceiving people. Stop practicing realty without a license. Just stop.”

And just last month, language in the state’s two-year budget Gov. DeWine signed into law will soon make new MV Realty deals illegal in Ohio. That law takes in effect in October.

But, as the I-Team has previously reported, neither that law nor the state’s lawsuit addresses existing deals that more than 700 Ohioans including Chasteen have already signed with MV Realty.

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So, Bedell has asked Yost previously: “What can people who have already signed up with (MV Realty) do here in Ohio? Is there anything you can do at the AG’s Office to make those existing contracts void and unenforceable?”

Said Yost: “Well, private contracts are a matter of private enforcement. But we’re looking at all available options. And certainly, people that are in a position where they’re being impacted directly now have the ability to file their own action to what’s called quiet title and have that removed.”

This week, the I-Team talked to Chasteen’s lawyer to gain some perspective on quiet title action.

“I haven’t done any full research on it,” attorney Andrew Zeigler said. “But if that’s coming from the attorney general, my guess it’s sort of a nudge to people saying, ‘hey, you might want to look at this.’”

Zeigler is with Riverside-based Kennel Zeigler LLC. He’s been a lawyer 17 years and deals with bankruptcy, probate, estate planning, and real estate law.

He says quiet title action typically happens when there’s a dispute over land ownership – people sue each other in court to have a judge decide who’s the rightful owner of the property.

“I think what the attorney general is saying is that people should file quiet title action against these folks saying, ‘I have a superior right to this property than your lien,’ and see what a court does with it,” Zeigler told the I-Team.

Then, Zeigler says, if homeowners are successful in any potential quiet title action, a court order can be filed in deed records. “So you just record a court order saying this particular agreement is not valid.”

MV Realty has repeatedly told the I-Team it remains confident its Homeowner Benefit Program “fully complies with the law and benefits consumers who select MV Realty as their listing agent.” A company spokesperson has also told the I-Team, “MV Realty continues to voluntarily and temporarily pause entering into any new agreements. We look forward to working with AG Yost to address concerns and continue this valuable program as an option to homeowners across the state.”

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