The New York Times staffers Alexandra Stevenson and Matthew Goldstein investigated the practice of rent-to-own housing agreements, which have become popular in markets across the country. It turns out the practice seems to reside in a gray area of the law.

The agreements blur the lines between what it means to be a renter and a homeowner. Companies that buy the homes do not offer regular leases or mortgages — they offer rent-to-own contracts on homes that require tenants to make all repairs, no matter how big or small.

The Times’ reporters looked into Vision Property Management, which is a major player in the rent-to-buy market. Their reporting showed that these deals “are risky, lack consumer protections, and may not be enforceable in some states.”

Most tenants walk away with nothing, having sunk money for rent and repairs into homes they had once hoped to own. Others faced surprise evictions, having signed a contract that did not disclose what repairs were needed, yet set a deadline for making sure the home was up to local housing code. As different tenants move in and out of the same property over the course of years, many homes fall further into disrepair.

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