Vivint Solar accused of dishonest sales practices by New Mexico attorney general

(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) David Bywater, of Vivint Solar speaks after Gov. Gary R. Herbert, Sen. Curt Bramble and industry leaders formally announced the stateÕs pathbreaking net metering agreement for residents with solar panels and discussed what the outcome means for Utah's energy future Wednesday, October 4, 2017.

Albuquerque, N.M. • Vivint Solar Inc. was accused Thursday by the New Mexico attorney general of defrauding residents and jeopardizing their homeownership through deceptive sales practices.

The residential rooftop solar provider, an offshoot of Vivint Inc. (the naming-rights sponsor for the arena where the Utah Jazz play), is based in Lehi but also operates in New Mexico and 19 other states.

Attorney General Hector Balderas filed a lawsuit in state district court against Vivint Solar over claims that the company engaged 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 Solar 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 Solar’s customers in the state.

According to the complaint, Vivint Solar binds New Mexico consumers into 20-year contracts that require them to purchase electricity generated by the solar panels installed on their homes at rates that increase by more than 72 percent during that time frame.

Prosecutors alleged the sales model allows staff to overstate the cost savings and 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 Solar’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 Solar 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.

Provo-based Vivint launched the solar energy company in 2011. Solar Vivint opened an office in Las Lunas, N.M., in 2015.

Vivint, formerly known as APX Alarm Security Solutions, Inc., has had its own legal issues. In January, it agreed to pay $10 million to settle a Florida lawsuit over alleged deceptive sales practices.