An 82-year-old woman has filed a lawsuit asking a jury to block the sale of her beloved Northeast Portland house, claiming a real-estate agent tricked her into signing papers to sell her home in one of the city’s hippest neighborhoods.
Josephine Gantt has lived in the 1922 Alberta Arts District bungalow for the past 47 years and had no immediate plans to move when, in fall 2014, she asked RE/MAX agent Erin Renwick about the value of her home, according to the lawsuit filed last week in Multnomah County Circuit Court. Gantt asked because she was curious and told Renwick repeatedly that she wasn’t ready to sell and had nowhere to go, the suit states.
Over the following year, the lawsuit states, Renwick befriended Gantt through repeated phone calls and gifts of flowers and pie, and continued to pressure her to list her home. The suit claims that Renwick then found an out-of-state buyer and got Gantt — who has poor eyesight — to sign a stack of papers agreeing to the sale.
“Mrs. Gantt had come to rely on Erin Renwick as a confidant and would share with her challenges she was having in her life,” the lawsuit states. “She trusted Erin Renwick and never imagined she would defraud her.”
Moments after learning she’d unwittingly signed papers to sell her home, Gantt begged Renwick to tear them up, the suit states, but Renwick refused. The real estate agent then left without leaving Gantt copies of the papers — and later that day the buyer Renwick had lined up signed the papers, the suit alleges.
Renwick, who works out of the RE/MAX office at 237 N.E. Broadway, declined to comment for this story. The suit also lists two other agents — Gary Horton and principal broker Rod Renwick — as defendants. They also declined to comment.
RE/MAX Equity Group also is listed as a defendant. In-house attorney Jeffrey Davis offered this statement: “There are legal and factual errors in the complaint filed on behalf of the plaintiff. We do not comment in detail about pending litigation, but we are confident that we will prevail after all of the facts in this case are brought to light.”
The three-bedroom, one-bathroom, 1,800-square-foot home is within walking distance of several Alberta Arts District hot spots, such as the Salt & Straw ice cream shop, Little Big Burger and several popular brunch locales. Gantt raised four children as a single mother in her home, the suit states. Despite her declining vision and arthritis, she has been able to live independently because of a first-floor bedroom and a carport that she can easily access from the side of her house, the suit states.
Agents typically charge 5 to 6 percent of the sale price as commission. According to the suit, Renwick represented both the buyer and Gantt. That means the $430,000 selling price would translate into a $21,000 to $26,000 commission for Renwick and RE/MAX.
Court records show that Erin Renwick — formerly Erin McMullen before a name change in 2013 — has had financial troubles in recent years. In 2009, a credit collection company sued her for $1,465 in unpaid debt, and that matter was settled after the company garnished Renwick’s wages through RE/MAX. In 2014, another credit collector sued for $1,855 in unpaid debt from a Nordstrom credit card. She reached a settlement with the collector in 2015.
The state agency that oversees the licenses of real-estate agencies — the Oregon Real Estate Agency — has issued no discipline against any of the three agents. Deputy commissioner Dean Owens said the agency’s rules don’t allow it, however, to say whether there are any pending investigations against agents.
Erin Renwick has been an agent in Oregon since 2012; Horton for 14 years and Rod Renwick for more than 30 years.
The suit claims that Erin Renwick and the other co-defendants committed elder abuse at a time when Gantt’s health was failing, she had stopped taking her medication and was depressed over the recent deaths of her sister and nephew.
The suit claims that in August 2015, Erin Renwick was “frantic” to represent Gantt, and even though Gantt didn’t want to sell her home she agreed to let Renwick represent her because she wanted relief from the sales pressure. The suit states that Gantt told Renwick she wanted a long selling period.
The suit claims that shortly after that, Erin Renwick deceived Gantt into signing the papers to sell her house to Scott Wirkus, a buyer from the Puget Sound area in Washington. The suit also lists Wirkus as a defendant — claiming that he hasn’t backed down from the sale even after learning of Gantt’s protestations. Wirkus couldn’t be reached for comment for this story.
Although the sale was supposed to close in October, Gantt has sought legal help, the suit states. She is still living in her house — but in fear that the buyer, will force her out. An arbitration hearing to “compel” her to move out is scheduled for next week, the suit states.
Gantt is being represented by the Oregon Law Center, which provides free legal services to low-income people, and Legal Aid Services of Oregon, which is a nonprofit that represents low-income clients.
Gantt’s suit asks for a jury to decide the ownership of her home. The suit also asks for $50,000 in economic damages and $100,000 in emotional distress — which under Oregon’s elder abuse law, can all be tripled to a total of $450,000.
Read the lawsuit here.
— Aimee Green