By Stephanie Mendevil
On May 27, 2020, the Department of Business Oversight (now Department of Financial Protection and Innovation) issued a Desist and Refrain Order to ban Eco Technology, Inc. from serving as a solicitor in California’s Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program.
PACE is a financing product where homeowners finance clean energy projects to their property such as solar panels, water heaters, and windows. Homeowners enter into assessment contracts with public agencies for voluntary contractual assessments imposed on the real property. The Department licenses and regulates PACE program administrators in California. “Program administrators” are those persons administering a PACE program on behalf of, and with the written consent of a public agency. A PACE solicitor is a person authorized by a program administrator to solicit a property owner to enter into an assessment contract.
According to the Desist and Refrain Order, Eco Technology, Inc., while serving as a solicitor for a PACE program administrator, and the contractor that performed the work on behalf of the administrator, allegedly engaged in a pattern of fraud that included wrongfully promoting PACE as a “free government program,” forging signatures on contracts, and impersonating homeowners on contract confirmation calls. The Department previously issued a demand to Eco Technology, Inc. on May 15, 2020, to discontinue its illegal practices and stop soliciting PACE contracts.
A Department investigation of thirty complaints filed in 2018 and 2019 against Eco Technology, Inc. found that the homeowners alleged they had been urged to sign up quickly for a “free government program.” The complaints also demonstrated that an Eco Technology, Inc. solicitor would ask homeowners for personal financial information such as tax statements and paycheck stubs to determine if they qualified for the “free government program.” Contracts were then later submitted to PACE program administrators with forged electronic signatures. A number of the complaints also indicated that Eco Technology, Inc. created email addresses and phone numbers in order to have the financing documents routed to them rather than the homeowners. Additionally, several homeowners said the voice on a recorded contract “completion call” required under state law was not their voice but that of an impersonator.
The Department found that Eco Technology, Inc. sold its products at inflated prices, three to five times the usual industry rate. Eco Technology, Inc. also used high-pressure tactics on mostly elderly homeowners and those who did not speak English as a primary language.
The order for Eco Technology, Inc. to desist and refrain from engaging in the business of a PACE Solicitor became effective immediately on May 27, 2020.