It is a county-approved program that is supposed to help you pay for energy efficient home improvements, but some homeowners blame the program for big tax increases they cannot pay. At least three homeowners who received financing through the PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) program say they were misled.
The PACE program allows you to pay for home improvements, like solar panels, through your property taxes.
Maria Silva said her Del Cerro home is her life.
“It’s very important… it’s my home for 28 years,” Silva said.
It is a home she is in danger of losing. Silva said it started with a man coming to her doorstep about two years ago. Silva said he offered a deal on home improvement projects like double pane windows.
At first, she said no. However, she said the salesman was persistent. For Silva, it was more than a money problem.
She is legally blind. She wanted to wait for her son.
“He told me well, this promotion ends,” Silva said of the salesman.
She said she told the man she was visually impaired, but he told her not to worry and he “was going to read everything for [her].”
She did not want to miss out on what she thought was a good deal. At the time, Silva said she was told she would be paying no more than $6,000 a year. Silva said she understood the payment would be going on her property tax, but when she got the bill, it showed an increase of more than $11,000 this year.
“It seems very predatory,” said her son, Allan Silva.
On top of that, Allan Silva says the company who upgraded their air conditioning unit never removed the old one like promised.
“It kind of seems like some shady things happened to my mom,” Allan Silva said.
Carolyn Reilly with Elder Law and Advocacy has heard of deception with this program.
“They're telling them it's a free product, it's a free government program,” Reilly said.
Reilly said loans are approved for seniors on fixed incomes who cannot afford them and she’s handling many cases from the elderly who say financing was not explained.
“They're desperate because at some point, it's going to lead to foreclosure for them,” Reilly said.
One Poway woman, who did not want to use her name, said she wound up with a $40,000 bill added to her taxes. She said A1 Solar sold she and her husband on solar panels, but she had no idea a lien would be placed on her home in addition to increased taxes. She also alleges that her husband was not the one who signed the documents.
“I was not happy with the salesman coming in and going to the computer and signing Jim's name to the documents. I don't think Jim fully understood what was happening,” she said.
Her husband, Jim, is dealing with numerous medical issues.
Michele Glen is their caretaker and also signed on with A1 Solar.
Team 10 examined the contracts, which say the amount would be added to the homeowner’s property tax. However, Glen said the salesman “rushed [them] through it.”
“He says, everything is fine,” Glen said.
Team 10 called the salesman they say went to their home. He said he had nothing to do with A1 Solar and hung up before Team 10 could ask any more questions.
According to the Contractors State License Board, A1 Solar’s license was suspended for multiple complaints, including misrepresentation to obtain a contract. A lawyer who worked for the company says A1 Solar is now out of business.
San Diego County Supervisor Dianne Jacob said the PACE program has generated about $400 million in projects and has created thousands of jobs. She has received a few complaints, but believes overall, the program is working.
“Frankly, if there are bad apples in the barrel, you need to get them out of the barrels,” Jacob said.
She told Team 10 the county will continue with the PACE program because overall it has “been very helpful to a lot of people.”
Experts at the Approved Home Pros, a contractor’s association, say the PACE program can be a good fit for some homeowners, but it is important to be educated before committing to it.
Recently, Governor Brown signed legislation that aims to provide more oversight and strengthen consumer protections with the PACE program.