Property Manager Under Investigation

Article Courtesy of The Ledger

By Mike Grogan

Published September 11, 2006


DAVENPORT -- A local property management company that has specialized in handling vacation homes owned by out-ofstate and overseas investors has closed and is being investigated by local and state authorities for the way it has done business.

Yvonnes Property Management Inc. on Waverley Barn Road shut its offices Aug. 24, and in so doing abandoned 225 vacation homeowners, said Peter Stanhope, president of the Florida Brits Club, an association of people in England who own homes in the Sunshine State.

Stanhope claimed the management company had been operating for years and charging homeowners a membership fee of $5,000, as well as management fees and charges, without living up their guarantees of rental incomes of up to $40,000 per year.

The company is owned by Yvonne and Walter Bernstein, who cleaned out their offices Aug. 31.

"Yvonnes is no more, we're out of business," is all Yvonne Bernstein would say when asked about Stanhope's accusations.

"No comment," Walter Bernstein said. "We're not talking about any of that."

A spokesman for the Polk County Sheriff's Office confirmed that detectives are investigating the management company, but would give no details.

And Terry Bergum of the State Attorney's Office in Bartow said the county Tax Collector's Office and the Lakeland office of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement are jointly looking into the company's business practices.

Bergum added that several agencies are involved because the case involves homes in several Florida counties.

An investigator for the Tax Collector's Office confirmed that Yvonnes had a tax account with the county, but would not comment on any possible investigations.

Many of the investment homeowners who signed contracts with Yvonnes are British residents and have had a difficult time dealing with the company from long distance.

One of those who is unhappy is John Lutton of London. In an e-mail to The Reporter, Lutton said: "I was hoodwinked by their two-year rental guarantee, not aware of some small print in the contract, which could be interpreted as meaning they didn't need to pay out on the guarantee 'til the end of the two-year period, though it did say quite clearly that I was guaranteed $25,000 per year rental income."

Lutton went on to explain that since he signed the contract in November 2005, he has received no rental proceeds from the company even though he has asked repeatedly for $3,500 in rental incomes that is in the account he has with Yvonnes.

And, he complained, "They also ruined my lawn through neglect and caused me an exorbitant water bill through not controlling my irrigation properly," he said. "Total cost of this was $3,000."

Part of the up-front money, he said, was supposed to be for maintaining the property.

Lutton estimated he is out $12,500 as well as the $50,000 he was promised in rental income during the length of the two-year contract.

Michael Eckersley, owner of Sunsplash Vacation Homes, a management company on Ronald Reagan Parkway that handles vacation rental properties for many British owners, said Yvonnes has been operating in a questionable manner for years.

"In Polk County there are 7,808 homes that need 177 property management companies," he said. "You're bound to get a bad apple in there somewhere."

Eckersley said the whole idea of homeowners having to pay $5,000 up front to guarantee rentals in advance is a questionable practice.

"I don't even have a contract with my people," he said. "If they don't like what I'm doing, they can get rid of me."

David Hayes is the president of Hayes Vacation Homes, a property management company in Kissimmee.

"It is not unique," he said of the kind of operation Yvonnes is accused of running. "It is not the first time it has happened."

Eckersley and Hayes -- and many others in the business -belong to the Property Management Association, a trade organization that tries to regulate the industry through a set of rules and ethics.

"People need to do their homework," Hayes said. "They need to know who they're doing business with."