ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A residential rooftop solar provider that operates in New Mexico and 20 other states was accused Thursday by the state attorney general of defrauding residents and jeopardizing their home ownership through deceptive sales practices.
Attorney General Hector Balderas filed a lawsuit in state district court against Vivint Solar, Inc. over claims that the company was engaging in a pattern of unfair and unconscionable business practices, fraud and racketeering.
The case centers on the company’s door-to-door sales tactics and agreements made with customers to purchase power from the solar panel systems. Similar complaints by prosecutors in other states have resulted in settlements.
Vivint said it takes the allegations seriously but believes the lawsuit lacks merit.
"Our commitment to our customers is to provide them the opportunity to adopt clean, renewable energy while always adhering to the highest ethical sales standards. We believe we have honored this commitment in New Mexico and that our practices in the state comply with applicable law," company spokeswoman Helen Langan wrote in an email.
New Mexico prosecutors say an investigation has identified hundreds of clouded titles among Vivint’s customers in the state.
According to the complaint, Vivint binds New Mexico consumers into 20-year contracts that require consumers to purchase electricity generated by the solar panels installed on their homes at rates that increase by over 72 percent during the 20 years.
Prosecutors alleged the sales model allows staff to overstate the cost savings to consumers and to tell consumers that they may save 50 percent or more on their rates compared to the Public Service Co. of New Mexico, an electric utility that serves much of the state.
"Consumer complaints highlight the cumulative impact of Vivint’s multiple false statements and unfair business practices from the initial door-to-door sales pitch through design of solar systems to the billing for their production," the complaint states.
The complaint also accuses Vivint of filing improper notices in consumer real estate records. In some cases, prosecutors say the documentation makes it difficult for consumers to sell their homes.