Last week, Kern County District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer announced that her office and six other prosecutors’ offices across California obtained a $4 million settlement with Renovate America, Inc., also known as the HERO Program, which provides Property Assessed Clean Energy financing. The settlement will assist in resolving claims that the company violated state consumer protection laws. PACE programs are a way in which municipalities can opt in to provide financing for energy-efficient home improvements. Unlike other available energy improvement programs or loans, PACE financing attaches to the property in the form of a tax lien in super priority of the mortgage.

The Bakersfield Association of Realtors led an aggressive and lengthy campaign within Kern County and the city of Bakersfield to educate the public of the dangers of PACE financing and to ultimately prevent the policy from further damaging homeowners in our community with the help of the Kern County Board of Supervisors, Bakersfield City Council and other community partners. Our local elected officials, including Zimmer, listened to the testimonies of Realtors and the homeowners who were being preyed upon, as well as those who faced losing their homes.

Our community was the first in the state of California to end a program that had developed a rapid trend of becoming increasingly harmful to many of our most vulnerable citizens. This decision got the attention of many, eventually resulting in legislative action and expanded consumer protection laws at both the state and national levels. Many local municipalities soon followed suit and ended the program as well.

Nearly two years after Bakersfield and Kern County voted to end the PACE program, its long-term impacts linger on. Each day, our Realtor members work diligently to help their clients dealing with the traps of PACE financing to help them find ways to save, sell or refinance their homes because of the misrepresentations and inadequate disclosures made.

Many homeowners only learn about the full PACE lien obligations when attempting to refinance or sell. In some cases, there are simply no options available and people are forced to walk away from their homes. In those cases, there has been nowhere else for the consumers to turn for additional help. Until now.

The Bakersfield Association of Realtors applauds Zimmer and prosecuting Deputy District Attorney Jeff Noe for giving consumers a voice, justice and a place to seek legal recourse.

According to the Kern County Office of the District Attorney, “Renovate America will pay $2.79 million to provide funding for legal assistance for consumers with PACE-related legal and financing issues. Renovate America must also pay a total of $1.21 million in civil penalties and investigative costs. Consumers seeking legal advice regarding their rights and potential remedies are encouraged to contact the Kern County Office of the District Attorney to request to participate in the legal assistance program provided by the terms of the judgment.”

We are proud to be part of a community that values homeownership and that protects its citizens.

The Bakersfield Association of Realtors is a nonprofit organization that serves more than 2,000 Realtors and industry partners. It serves as the local voice of real estate and advocates for policies that promote homeownership and protect private property rights.

Athena Collup is the president of the Bakersfield Association of Realtors.