State regulators Wednesday ordered a home-finding service that has been the target of numerous consumer complaints to cease operating without a required state license.
In a pair of administrative orders, the state Department of Real Estate charged Global Management Inc. and four alleged operators with failing to obtain a license to run the rental listing service in the 13700 block of Ventura Boulevard.
The orders direct Greg Schwartz, Vickie Lee Cardoza, John Rojas and Kip Lee Hobby "to desist and refrain from engaging in business . . . until you are in compliance" with the licensing requirements.
None of the four could be reached for comment.
Since opening in August, Global has been the target of dozens of complaints to consumer agencies, including 30 to the Better Business Bureau of the Southland. In the complaints, angry tenants who paid $150 to obtain supposedly exclusive listings of rental units accused Global of lying about its services and refund policies.
The Times reported Nov. 17 that Global was operating without a license and that Cardoza and Schwartz--identified as officers of Global--previously were involved with similar firms that drew scores of lawsuits and scrutiny by law enforcement and regulatory agencies.
Asked at the time why Global was operating without a license, Schwartz told The Times: "We're backed by the Department of Real Estate."
Randy Brendia, regional manager for the real estate department, acknowledged Wednesday that the orders alone have little practical effect, since the agency lacks prosecutorial powers.
But Brendia said that if Global continues operating, the department can go to the district attorney or city attorney and ask that criminal charges be brought.
"If there are laws that have been broken, then we'll file those charges," said Los Angeles Deputy City Atty. Mark Lambert. The city attorney's office last month filed a criminal complaint against three officers of another rental listing service, Express Homes of Van Nuys.
Such firms lure customers with classified ads for attractive rental housing. When customers call, expecting to reach a landlord, they are told they must come in to sign up before seeing the apartment or house.
Customers then are induced to pay $150 for a list of supposedly exclusive rentals, and are promised refunds if they don't find a home through use of the list. But many customers complain that the rentals are already occupied, are in poor condition, or are not as advertised--and that they get the runaround when they request their money back.
In recent years, authorities have been deluged with complaints about many rental listing services in the Los Angeles area. Salesmen often move between the firms, and when faced with mounting complaints and investigations, some operators have closed down and reopened elsewhere under different names.
According to Brendia, the victims--"renters who are seeking affordable housing"--are those who can least afford it. "I think it's rotten what happens to them," Brendia said.
As for the operators, "It's going to take some pretty drastic action for these people to be permanently stopped from doing this lucrative and . . . sad business," Brendia said.