“We can’t be perfect but we can try to be. As I’ve said in these memos for more than 25 years: ‘We can afford to lose money—even a lot of money. But we can’t afford to lose reputation—even a shred of reputation.’
We must continue to measure every act against not only what is legal but also what we would be happy to have written about on the front page of a national newspaper in an article written by an unfriendly but intelligent reporter.”
- Warren Buffett,
Chairman, Berkshire Hathaway, parent of Clayton Homes, 21st Mortgage and other manufactured housing and other industry brands. Quote cited by Business Insider, Reputation Defender, previously on MHProNewsand others.
The manufactured housing industry is arguably routinely risking and losing shreds of reputation.
The bookend to the Buffett quote above is the following one, that industry professionals ought to grasp.
“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” – Warren Buffett, cited by CNBC and others.
One could debate how well certain industry brands have – or have not – lived up to that high standard. But the principles stated are an apt backdrop for what follows. Why? Because some industry association leaders are de facto weighing the risk to reputation, and arguably could be opening the doors to legal concerns and future litigation in the #nettlesomethings that follow.
Risking the Industry’s Reputation and the Threat of Litigation
Last year, industry professionals experienced several weeks of largely dark mainstream news reports by reporter Tyler Jett and others in media. These involved the troubling stories of over a dozen home owners in northern Georgia who alleged that they paid or where paying for homes ‘sold’ to them ‘contract for title’ by land-lease community owner, Tom Lackey. But per those customers, no titles were ever provided. Some said they lost ‘everything.’ Spencer Roane and the Southeastern Community Owners (SECO) were in the background of that ‘education’ of Lackey, as was promoter and blogger George F. (F?) Allen.
Neither Roane nor Allen would in any way repudiate what Lackey did, per a report by on May 26, 2018 by mainstream writer Jett, linked here.
One of several stories about problems at Tom Lackey’s manufactured home community. In this report, Spencer Roane and George F. Allen both declined to criticize Lackey, and in some ways, defended him. See report at this link. http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/local/story/2018/may/26/industry-members-decline-take-sides-rossville/471775/
The manufactured housing industry in general and land-lease community owners alike – most entirely unconnected to the troubling matter – nevertheless had their reputations arguably tarnished by the string of mostly bleak media reports. As often occurs, that reputational harm occurred even though it was a tiny minorityof the industry’s professionals involved in the troubling stories of ‘lease option’ ‘sales’ gone wrong involving Lackey and his SECO ‘educators.’
Fast forward to March 2019
Tornadoes. Rent control. Fires & crimes. Zoning. There are plenty of problematic items about manufactured housing in the news already. Does the industry’s independents, associations, and other companies need more avoidable pitfalls?
But unless a course correction is made, it will be no logically be no surprise if one or more future mainstream and trade news reports will again follow in the wake of ‘lease option’ related ‘education’ and related business practices.
But this time, the potentially avoidable miscue is scheduled to occur in Tunica, MS, at the industry trade show scheduled there for later this month.
According to an industry attorney with ties to Manufactured Housing Institute (MHI) rather than the Manufactured Housing Association for Regulatory Reform (MHARR), that lawyer previously advised the Daily Business News on MHProNews that the practice described is “illegal.”
In a message to our publisher, specially commenting on practices being promoted by Roane, Lackey, and SECO, that attorney said the following.
“Tony, not sure if I’m walking into a [manufactured home industry political] land mine, but as I think you know, it’s ALWAYS been my position that lease option and rent to own are illegal if they are a “workaround” for chattel financing, which is what most such schemes are,” per that legal expert.
The Alabama Manufactured Housing Association (AMHA) acknowledged they received our query about this controversial issue, which included a mention of the legal opinion above. They have not yet said what, if anything, that they and their colleagues plan to do about it. Along with the Mississippi Manufactured Housing Association (MMHA), those states are part of the South Central Manufactured Housing Institute (SCMHI) and that nonprofit ‘owns’ the Tunica Show. Show Ways Unlimited and others in the mix have also been advised about these legal concerns too.
WARNING. Don’t scan this article, or you’ll risk missing the point.
Additionally, all were advised that the New York State Attorney General’s office last year settled dozens of claims – including several larger manufactured home community operations – all of which reportedly involved variations of lease option transactions. If larger communities couldn’t make lease option (LO) transactions work legally with officials at the state of NY, how is it that Roane and Allen believe that they can do better?
For the official statement from the NY AG’s office to MHProNews can be accessed via the linked text-image box below.
See the document as a download linked here. The question should be simple. If Spencer Roane and George Allen have prof that their system is legitimate, why don’t they simply provide that evidence? If they can prove its legal, from a state or federal government agency letter saying as much, then by all means, let their ‘education’ go forward. But if not, why should risk be created for others by problematic teaching of a practice that most say is illegal as the law currently stands?
Spencer Roane, George F. Allen Questioned – And Their Responses
As noted above, Spencer Roane and George F. Allen are no strangers to the legal and media controversies that can arise from ‘contract for title’ type sales that Roane and SECO ‘teaches.’ Neither Roane not Allen would condemn or correct on the record to the Chattanooga Times Free Press the allegations about Tom Lackey selling homes where over a dozen households lost out, because no title was purportedly delivered to his “buyers.” The story made periodic news for weeks, across several news sources. The word heard that the legal fallout from that matter is far from over. So while the headlines are missing in the mainstream, per sources, the investigations continue.
So Lackey, Roane, Allen, and SECO could find themselves once more in the news over that industry black eye, which the majority of manufactured home professionals had nothing to do with.
Undeterred by the past pain, they press on.
MHProNews asked Roane and Allen (GFA) to show proof to the Tunica Show management and this media outlet that their education is legitimate and legal.
Allen, writing to Tunica Show officials, Spencer Roane, Ken Corbin, and MHProNews – among others – said this via email.
“In my opinion, there is nothing to be gained by responding to this request. All anyone, interested in this timely subject, has to do, is attend a presentation describing lease-option in detail. This is not a rent to own type housing finance program. Period.
George Allen, photo credit, MHProNews.com.
Note that at no time did Allen offer proof or any evidence beyond his word and Roane’s that this was a legally compliant program, one vetted by any attorney, much less authorized or vetted by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), or any state authority. Yet that’s what Roane and Allen were asked to provide.
Furthermore, here’s what the Tunica Show website said on 3.9.2019.
Further into Roane’s promo on the Tunica site, Roane claims: “Why the contract “passes muster” in some states…” – the italics has been added for emphasis. That phrase itself suggests that it doesn’t pass muster in other states.
Which ought to beg the question – why should the prospective attendees to an official trade association sanctioned event be made to hunt for proof of the legality of a practice that has been deemed non-compliant in NY, or elsewhere? Why did MHVillage – who handles this website – not question the matter? Is it because they are chummy with Allen and company?
That said, here’s what Roane replied to the same circle of show-related officials, with the “Amen” by Roane presumably being a response to George F. (F?) Allen’s comment.
Anyone truly interested in “the facts” might be well advised to do the following:
- read the SAFE Act of 2008 & the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010
- read each state’s modification of its mortgage law to comply with Federal law
- read NY AG court case
- attend MLO and MB/ML licensing course
- pay for the special membership to IAMHA to obtain a copy of their attorneys’ L-O opinion & docs
- pay $500+/hr. for consultation w/ attorney specializing in finance law
- ignore sensation-driven, poorly researched, disreputable MH publications with poorly written articles based solely on unidentified “sources” and “no comment”.
- attend my presentation at the Tunica Show (if allowed)
Artful dodge, razzle dazzle, or other trickster ways of emotionally or otherwise manipulating or moving the focus away from the actual issue.
Breaking Roane’s Response Down
Roane himself ducked the question with a blizzard of verbiage. This is known as a red herring or a dodge. Roane failed to at any time provide or offer proof of what he wants to teach that he claims is legally permissible. If its legal, why no proof? Shouldn’t the Tunica Show, the associations, and sponsors care? On the flip side of Roane and Allen’s claims are one of several thousands of search results about this very legal concern, which often references the CFPB calling the practice illicit.
So where the record stands is this. Thousands on-line have commented on this issue, and the commentary largely runs contrary to what Roane and Allen have said. Even this year, the NY AG’s office recently filed yet another case on this specific issue, see the linked text-image box below.
Once again, here is the official release by the NY State AG last year, involving dozens of communities. Also recapping, that MHI connected attorney said the matter is NOT legal.
“Tony, not sure if I’m walking into a [manufactured home industry political] land mine, but as I think you know, it’s ALWAYS been my position that lease option and rent to own are illegal if they are a “workaround” for chattel financing, which is what most such schemes are.”
The Law Professors website notes that “the CFPB has taken an interest in these types of predatory transactions as well. … This looks more like just a loan disguised as a lease…”
Given all the evidence to the contrary, why should Roane and Allen be believed?
Roane himself seemed uncertain that he would be allowed to proceed.
It is not yet clear if the SCMHI and related Tunica show leaders and sponsors will allow him to do so.
MHI Asked to Weigh in on Legal Questions, Concerns
The sponsor of the Tunica Show website is shown as MHVillage. They are a Manufactured Housing Institute (MHI) member, and the state associations involved are MHI affiliates. Those firms in New York that the state attorney general forced into settlements included MHI member firms. If MHI cares about industry image, following the Buffett mantra above, why not weigh in on this, and head off possible problems?
MHI attorney Rick Robinson was among those contacted by MHProNews to see if he will defend Roane and Allen’s controversial stance, or not. Clayton Homes attorney Tom Hodges is a MHI Executive Committee board member. Hodges and MHI Chairman Joe Stegmayer likewise been asked to defend, clarify, or alert others about the legal worries involved.
The National Association of Manufactured Housing Community Owners (NAMHCO) have also been contacted. Will the new NAMHCO trade group weigh-in on an issue that the New York Attorney General’s office and others believe is no longer legal?
MHProNews will monitor the matter and follow up as it may be necessary to alert possible victims (err, attendees) of Roane’s ‘seminar education’ that he claims is legitimate, but for which he will offer no proof from the CFPB, state officials, or other authoritative sources that will certify its legality.
As a final note to event sponsors, there is a question of downstream liability connected with a legally disputed issue like this too. Should this Roane-SECO lease option ‘training’ not be addressed in advance of the event, and if the ‘seminar’ goes on without published proof of the legality of the disputed concept, attorneys have advised MHProNews on similar issues that this could lead to secondary liability, later legal woes.
Seminar and SECO attendees of “LO” ‘education,’ beware. Free education of a legally challenged concept could prove costly.
Stay tuned for more, as needed and deemed warranted. That’s manufactured housing “Industry News, Tips, and Views Pros Can Use,” © where “We Provide, You Decide.” © ## (News, analysis, commentary.)