The Federal Trade Commission took action this week to protect the interest of more than 60,000 persons who were sold worthless Florida homesites more than five years ago.
The commission has proposed to modify a 974 order that had required GAC Crop. -- once the largest land sales and development company in the nation -- to improve the uninhabitable land it had sold in a development on the southern gulf coast of the state called Golden Gate Estates.
The 1974 order had required the company to make more than $17 million in various forms of restitution to consumers who purchased land that flooded periodically. The order specified that GAC would be responsible to provide electricity, telephone service, central water and sewer systems, roads and drainage canals in all parts of Golden Gate Estates.
But, the FTC said this week, because GAC is in poor financial condition -- it is presently being reorganized under federal bankruptcy laws -- the 1974 order would require "economic burdens and liabilities... not possible for the reorganized company."
Further, the FTC noted, some areas of the Golden Gate Estates development are periodically flooded, and experts have told the commission that the southern part of the land in question cannot be drained without causing "substantial environmental damage."
The FTC staff, in recommending the changes, said that if the original order were enforced, GAC would most likely be forced to liquidate its assets rather than continue efforts to reorganize. If that happened, the staff pointed out, landowners in Golden Gate Estates could be lift "with little or no restutution."
Under the proposed modified order, some land purchasers would be given financial compensation or homesites elsewhere in exchange for their Golden Gate Estates property.
In addition, under the terms of the modified order, a $10 million fund to be used in improving now uninhabitable lots in the northern part of the estates would be established.
The order would also permit owners of land in two other GAC developments, Remuda Ranch Grants and River Ranch acres -- also subject to flooding -- to exchange their lots for lots in other GAC subdivisions.
Further, GAC would be given more time to fultill its contracts with landowners in areas where development will be completed.
Parts of the 1974 order will remain in effect under this week's proposal, including a provision prohibiting GAC from engaging in deceptive practices in the future and another calling for refunds to pruchasers who entered into contracts after the order became effective.
The proposed changes have been published for public comment. After said comment is evaluated, the FTC will issue its final order.
FTC Chairman Michael Pertschuk said earlier this month that his agency would be scrutinizing the real estate industry more closely.
He told the Consumer Federation of America that the FTC wants to encourage competition in the real estate business and is checking into possible overcharges by brokers who set "rigid and uniform" rates for their areas.
"As real estate prices escalate," he said, "the economic stakes for both sellers and buyers of houses are enormous."