Horses

Authorities investigate home-rental agency

Authorities are looking into complaints that a Phoenix-based company made big promises — and took large fees — but did little to rent houses for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

As of Friday, the section of Major Event Rentals' Web site listing WEG rentals had been taken down. The site had been a primary means of generating business.

There have been dozens of calls about the company to the Better Business Bureau of Central and Eastern Kentucky, said the BBB's director of communications, Heather Clary.

There are also complaints pending against the company in Phoenix, said Felicia Thompson, vice president of communications for the Better Business Bureau of Central, Northern and Western Arizona. (Actual complaints are filed through the BBB branch that geographically covers the home office of the company involved.)

Thompson said she couldn't release the number of complaints. But she said her office is investigating the claims and trying to reach officials with Major Event Rentals.

A phone call by the Herald-Leader to the company's toll-free number was not returned Friday, nor was a call to a number previously used to contact Frank White, the company's regional director.

Homeowners with concerns about the company should contact the BBB office in Phoenix, Thompson said. "We want to hear from them."

The best way to file a complaint is through the group's Web site, arizonabbb.org. The BBB works to facilitate a settlement between the consumer and the company.

That's not the end of the questions about the company.

Deputy Fayette County Attorney Brian Mattone said his office is investigating whether to pursue a civil or criminal case after Lexington code enforcement officers collected more than 500 signs from rights of way around the county.

"I've never seen so many signs for one thing, ever," said David Jarvis, director of code enforcement. Jarvis said it's difficult to pursue cases against out-of-town companies. But, he said, the fine for placing a single sign in a right of way is $500. (That fine times 500 possible violations equals $250,000 total.)

A spokesman for the Kentucky attorney general, which handles consumer-fraud cases, said one homeowner has requested a complaint form concerning Major Event Rentals.

Homeowners concerned about the company can file a complaint online at ag.ky.gov.

Stacy Borden, a Central Kentucky photographer who shot photos for Major Event Rentals, said he has been getting calls from clients who want to know how to contact the company.

"People are calling me and asking me, 'Why can't I get ahold of anybody?'" he said.

Homeowners told him they were being charged $1,200 to $1,700, plus a commission, to list a home with Major Event Rentals, and they were being promised large returns, like $30,000 if they rented their three-bedroom home for the entire 15 days of the Games.

That compares to a $199 fee, plus commission, charged by Lexington-based Event Home Leasing, which is the official housing rental agency for the Games.

Borden said he has his own problems with the company. He says it owes him nearly $7,000 for taking photographs for some 93 clients, some with multiple homes.

Though he didn't sign a contract, he says he has e-mail exchanges detailing how he was to be paid $100 to $150 per house, depending on the number of bedrooms. Payment had been sporadic, he said, and then it stopped.

He said he last heard from someone with the company on Monday, and that person said he would "make it right" and "call right back." He didn't call back, Borden said.

Borden is in contact with an attorney.

Kentucky isn't the only place that Major Event Rentals has made its presence known. Hundreds of signs have gone up in the Dallas-Fort Worth area promising homeowners they could make as much as $10,000 per night when the 2011 Super Bowl comes to town.

In April, White told The Dallas Morning News that some homes listed through the company that are not rented for the Super Bowl would be given partial refunds.

If that policy extends to Kentucky, Major Event Rentals could be sending out some checks.

"Of all the people that I've spoken to," Borden said, "not one with them has rented a house."

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