New Atlanta City Council legislation could combat “equity theft”
By Sean Keenan
A new Atlanta City Council proposal aims to stop predatory investors from swindling longtime Atlantans out of their homes.
In September, WABE and APM Reports published an investigative series of stories that spotlighted the mounting threat of “equity theft,” the practice of manipulating homeowners into selling their property for less than it’s worth.
Now, Councilman Matt Westmoreland and eight co-sponsors want to put laws on the books “to protect Atlanta’s legacy residents and prohibit the predatory tactics used to harass homeowners,” according to a draft of the legislation obtained by SaportaReport.
With Atlanta’s real estate market booming, equity theft has become especially prevalent in predominantly Black communities that have been historically starved of investment.
In places like Pittsburgh, Venetian Hills, Grove Park and Sylvan Hills, “more than one in four homes sold by someone living in them sold for a price that was less than half the estimated fair market value,” the legislation says, meaning Atlantans who have been living in these communities — possibly for decades — are missing out on the potential earnings of selling the properties through more legitimate channels.
Under the would-be laws, equity theft — also called “driving for dollars” or “dialing for dollars” because predatory investors roam neighborhoods scouting or bombard homeowners with calls about how to make a quick buck — would be classified in a new section of the city code categorized as “commercial harassment.”
Investors would be barred from engaging in “predatory tactics,” which would be constituted by “repeated and unsolicited attempts, within an 180-day period, to contact a person or entity, including via personal visits, or written material or similar means under circumstances where the person or entity has affirmatively requested the defendant or the defendant’s agent to refrain from such activity.”
Violators of the potential law, Westmoreland told SaportaReport, would be punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or six months of jail time.
The legislative move is a part of a broader effort at City Hall to ensure Atlantans — especially in underserved communities — are afforded the tools they need to build wealth.
As councilmembers work to launch a $100 million affordable housing bond program, for instance, proponents of the initiative have lobbied for “wealth-building tools,” such as funding for down payment assistance and single-family development.
Combined, these efforts could install important safeguards against what’s now rampant gentrification and displacement.
(Header image, via Kelly Jordan: Atlanta City Hall)