How to Use this Resource

We hope the articles below help you understand your rights as a consumer. You can scroll through the titles, or sort by Practice Area or Topic. You can also use the search feature to locate information by keyword.

Flitter Milz represents people with a variety of problems involving consumer credit and collections. If you have a particular question or believe your consumer rights have been violated, Contact Us for a no cost consultation.

Solar Fraudsters Target Elderly

Our firm gets a lot of calls from consumers who are senior citizens, or from their children, after they have realized that the “free” solar panel deal they were promised is nothing of the sort.

Maybe the consumer got the first bill from the solar company and wondered “what’s this?” Or, perhaps the consumer tried to sell the home and learned the solar company has a lien on it from a solar installation.  Maybe they’ve only just learned of a 25-year contract with ever-increasing prices because it was sent to a bad email address or one the distraught solar customer never had or used.

Common Deceptive Statements in Solar Sales

Every week, we hear similar complaints from consumers who met with a solar sales representative and felt taken. Statements such as the following may be deceptive or outright false:
– “The salesman said it was a government program to help seniors save money…”
– “The salesman said the panels would be free and wouldn’t cost me anything…”
– “I was told I’d have no more electric bills…”

But that does not stop aggressive door-to-door solar salesmen from using them in their pitch to older consumers.

Were you promised a Federal Solar Tax Credit?

Salespeople are likely to tout a 30% federal solar tax credit (for 2023). Consumers must be careful, this is not cash or a refund, but rather a tax credit to count against the taxes you pay.  Some seniors pay only minimal taxes or no taxes at all (if, for instance, their sole income is Social Security) and may not benefit at all from this promised “government program.”  Other times, the company keeps the tax credit for itself.

Were you told there would be No Upfront Costs?

Salesmen also like to tout a “no cost installation” or “no upfront cost” because this makes it sound like the consumer is getting the solar panels for free.  That is not the case.  With programs like solar leases or power purchase agreements (PPAs), it is the solar company, not the consumer, who owns the panels that are installed on the roof.

Do I pay for the energy produced by the panels?

While the solar company may not charge upfront for the panels and the installation, the consumer is bound to pay for the energy that’s produced by the panels at ever-increasing rates – sometimes for 25-years or more – forcing some elderly consumers to pay expensive rates until they’re over 100 years old.  All the while, they are still obligated to pay their electric bill.

Why must I sign an i-Pad?

Solar sales can be expensive and burdensome to consumers.  Solar salesmen know this, and that’s why they use electronically displayed and signed contract documents (instead of a paper contract that you hold and keep) with deceptive language to hide the agreement from elderly consumers by using a bum email address or making up an email address that only the sellers control.

Seek Qualified Legal Help

If you’re considering solar, make sure to read all the fine print and demand paper contract documents on the spot before you sign anything.  If a solar company cheated you, CALL US.  We may be able to help.  There is no charge for the consult and if you have a case to bring, the solar company, not the consumer, will pay any legal fees.

Flitter Milz is a nationally recognized consumer protection law firm that evaluates solar panel sales matters involving fraud related to forged contracts, identity theft, and credit reporting privacy violations.
Pictured: Attorneys Cary Flitter (center), Andy Milz (left), Jody López-Jacobs (right).


Avoid Solar Panel Scams

The addition of solar panels to your home may sound like a great idea. From lower energy bills to a reduced carbon footprint, it’s the “green” thing to do.  However, you must assess whether it is the right decision for your home and your budget.

Consumers considering solar energy must take time to research the pros and cons of solar power, and then investigate the companies that sell, install and finance the panels. Do not feel pressured in to signing a contract for solar panels. Informed decisions make the best decisions.

Is the Solar Salesperson being truthful?

Many times, the sales process begins with an unsolicited call at your door.  You’re greeted by a salesperson that is personable and knowledgeable about the benefits of solar power.  They’re professional and trained to earn your trust. Most homeowners are persuaded with promises of free panels, reduced costs for energy, and low maintenance.

How did I end up in a contract for solar panels?

Maybe you aren’t completely sold on solar panels, and simply want more information about switching to solar power.  Beware. At this point of the presentation, the salesperson may casually suggest that you submit an application, just to see whether or not you qualify for solar panels. You’ll be offered an iPad or tablet to sign, and be told not to worry because you’ll receive copies of all documents by email.

Dangers of E-Signing 

Placing your signature or initials on an iPad, tablet, or phone may seem easy. However, your electronic signature or initials may be copied and affixed to a contract or other forms that you did not intend.

A signature on a contractual document or other written agreement, demonstrates that a party has read, understood and consents to the terms and conditions of the contract.

Before signing anything, insist on a paper copy of every document in advance.  Take time to read each document.  If the terms do not make sense, consult an attorney.

Written Permission to Access Credit Reports

Solar companies rely on financing to make solar panels available to consumers. Credit reports are accessed to evaluate a potential customer’s creditworthiness. The consumer must provide written permission for the solar company to obtain these reports.

If you do not want your credit accessed, do not provide your E-signature on an electronic device. That signature could be copied to a credit request form. Credit files accessed without permission could be a violation to the consumer’s rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).  This federal law offers protections to consumers for the privacy and accuracy of their credit information.

Common Misrepresentations to the Consumer

Solar panels will be free.
Many salespeople tell consumers that solar panels are free. In most cases, they are not free; in fact, they can cost you $20,000 to $30,000, or more. And, you can be in a 20+ year contract to pay for the panels.  As well, the consumer will pay for electricity that is produced by the panels, usually through a lease or power purchase agreement.

Tax rebates 
Many times, the solar panel company may not want to sell you the panels. If you, the buyer, purchases the panels, you would receive the tax credit, not the solar company. If the solar company leases you panels and only promises to sell you the solar power, the solar sales company may receive the tax credit, not you, the homeowner.

Your Neighbors Are Doing It!
A popular tactic used by solar salespeople to gain credibility is to mention that your neighbor signed the same contract as the one offered to you.  Don’t feel pressured. Speak with your neighbor first and find out about his experience.

Four Important Steps to protect yourself from Scams: 

  • Research whether adding solar panels is right for you. You may wish to visit websites for the Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or the Department of Energy
  • Evaluate the reputation of solar providers — Solar panels companies, installers and finance companies.
  • Consult consumers who have entered solar panel contracts. Visit websites for the Better Business Bureau, your State Attorney General, Federal Trade Commission, or online consumer complaint forums.
  • Review the solar panel contract. Understand the terms and financial obligation. Get answers to your questions. Once you sign, you may be on the hook for 20 years or more.

Seek Legal Help from a Qualified Consumer Law Firm

Flitter Milz is a nationally recognized consumer protection law firm that evaluates solar panel sales matters for potential violation of the consumer protection laws involving fraud, such as forged contracts, identity theft and credit reporting privacy violations.  Contact Us for a no cost evaluation.

Pictured:  Cary Flitter (center), Andy Milz (left), Jody López-Jacobs (right).


Who is Titan Solar?

Titan Solar is a door-to-door sale company that sells and installs solar products like rooftop solar panel systems.  Titan Solar teams up with finance companies like Goodleap to finance the installation through loans and power purchase agreements.

Common Complaints about Titan Solar

In online complaints, Titan Solar has been accused of engaging in predatory marketing and of misrepresenting facts.  Sometimes, Titan Solar is accused of not informing the customer that installation is conditioned upon agreeing to a decades-long loan or power purchase agreement, and the contract might be hidden from the consumer.  Titan Solar’s finance company partner may also pull your credit report without your permission.

Impermissible Credit Pull

Doesn’t a company need your consent to pull your credit report?
Generally, yes.  If you did not consent to your credit being pulled, the company that did so must have some other legitimate business purpose for pulling your credit.  Often, during the process of applying for new credit or utilities, or interviewing with a prospective employer or landlord, there may be a request to access the consumer’s credit file. The consumer must provide written permission for his or her credit file to be accessed.

Consumer Rights for Impermissible Credit Pull
When a credit report has been accessed without the consumer’s permission, there may have been a violation to the Fair Credit Reporting Act.  The FCRA is a federal law governing how consumer credit information can be used and distributed.  Consumers may dispute inaccurate information and inquire about companies who accessed their credit file that they do not recognize.

Check your Credit and Dispute Errors
Before applying for new credit, consumers should obtain current copies of their reports from the three main bureaus – Transunion, Experian and Equifax. The reports should be viewed for accuracy and privacy.  If errors or unfamiliar information is listed, written disputes should be sent to the credit bureau through the US Mail.  The bureaus have 30 days to respond.

Disadvantage of Hard Pulls on Credit Report

If there was a “hard pull” of your credit report, it could harm your credit standing going forward. Hard pulls will stay on your credit file for two years, and as a result over that time period, you might lose out on other job, housing, or credit opportunities.

Lenders evaluate the number of hard inquiries that appear on a consumer’s credit reports during the credit application review process. Although hard inquiries represent one factor in the calculation of credit scores, too many hard inquiries in a short time could impact scores negatively and jeopardize the approval of a new credit application.


Better Business Bureau Complaints about Titan Solar

Hundreds of consumers have complained about Titan Solar’s business practices to the Better Business Bureau. As of the date of this writing, customers on the Better Business Bureau site have rated Titan Solar 1.87 stars out of five. Some consumers have made the following types of complaints:

  • Never saw, signed for, or received a contract or loan agreement.
  • Were signed up for a loan without giving permission.
  • Were sold more panels that needed for the home
  • Poor performance resulting in higher energy costs.

Protect Yourself from Solar Panel Sales Scams

Consumers must use caution while considering a solar power contract. If there are problems, address them quickly whether they’re with the solar sales company, the panel installer, or the finance company.  Otherwise the results can be devastating and put you in thousands of dollars in debt.  Solar panel loans or power purchase agreements can last for 20 or 25 years, resulting in burdensome monthly payments on top of an expensive electricity bill.

Contact an Experienced Consumer Protection Law Firm

Did Titan Solar reach out to you to have solar panels installed without disclosing the existence of a loan or power purchase agreement?  Has a Titan Solar salesperson offered you “free” solar panels without mentioning a loan?  Have you received an alert that your credit has been pulled, and you never gave permission to the salesperson to do so?  If the answer to any of these questions is yes, contact Flitter Milz for a no cost legal evaluation. Pictured: Cary Flitter (center), Andy Milz (left), Jody López-Jacobs (right).

Thinking of Going Solar? Do your homework.

Most households are looking for ways to reduce costs.  Today, utilizing the sun’s power has become an enticing option. Lowering monthly energy bills and  contributing to a green environment are common reasons that homeowners opt for solar power.  But, choosing to add solar panels to your home is not a casual decision.  It requires research, investigation and planning.

Is my home suitable for solar panels?

There are pros and cons to every decision a homeowner makes.  Like any other investment, going solar may not make sense for every home.  After gathering facts, you need to evaluate:

  1. Energy usage for the home.  How much power must be generated to satisfy the needs of people in the home.
  2. Condition of the roof.  Does the roof need repair or to be replaced? Can my roof handle the weight of panels?
  3. Location of the home.  Am I in the right climate for solar panels?
  4. Sunlight v. Shade.  Does my roof get enough sunlight throughout the day to produce the power needed for my home?  Do trees need to be removed from my property for panels to work efficiently?
  5. Panel configuration.  Does my roof have enough space for solar panels?

Shopping Solar Companies & Financing

Similar to purchasing other items for the home, when considering solar panels, homeowners must shop around, get quotes, and investigate solar panel companies to compare one offer from another. There are a wide variety of products on the market with varying levels of efficiency, durability, reliability, output and design. As well, there are a number of solar companies and installers — some are better than others. Check the company’s reputation to see if complaints been filed against them with the Federal Trade Commission, State Attorney General, or Better Business Bureau?  Also, searching court dockets for lawsuits that have been filed against solar panel companies or their finance companies may provide insight to issues that other consumer’s have faced involving solar transactions.

CAUTION #1:  Is “Free” really free?

Frequently, we hear about door-to-door solar salesman telling homeowners that the solar panels will be free. After listening to a sales presentation and learning

of the benefits of solar power, the consumer is presented an iPad or tablet to sign, believing their signature gives the salesman  permission to evaluate the property for panels.  However,  the signature, or initials, on an iPad may authorize the solar company, without the consumer’s knowledge, to:


-Access the consumer’s credit file.
-Utilize the signature on documents that are Doc-U-Signed
-Enter the consumer in to a contract for solar panels
-Submit applications to finance the panels.

It’s not until panels have been installed on the home and bills begin to arrive that the consumer realizes solar panels are anything but free. Instead, many consumers find that they signed into a decades-long financial commitment which can last for 20 -25 years for the panels.  Bills from the local energy provider plus the cost of solar panels make the total cost of energy burdensome. All of a sudden, homeowners finds themselves in thousands of dollars of debt when they thought the panels were for free.

CAUTION #2:  Is the solar company reputable?

Before making a commitment to get panels, investigate reviews from other consumers. Obtain quotes from multiple solar companies for comparison. Then decide which company is best for you. For example, do I get panels from SunPower, Momentum Solar or Tesla?  Which company offers the product I want to buy?  Which company is presenting me with the best system for my home? What types of problems have other consumers faced when getting panels from one company versus another?

CAUTION #3: Why did the solar company access my credit report?

Prospective lenders for solar panels, such as banks, credit unions and financial institutions, seek access to the homeowner’s credit reports to determine whether to extend credit. This can only be done with the consumer’s written permission. When reports are accessed without the consumer’s permission, the consumer’s rights may have been violated. The Fair Credit Reporting Act is a federal law that governs the privacy and accuracy of credit reports.  If you do not want your reports accessed, do not sign anything that would grant permission.

CAUTION #4: How do I pay for the solar power system?

If you don’t have cash on hand to pay for the system, you must evaluate whether to lease, enter a power purchase agreement (PPA) or finance the system through a solar loan.

The benefit of entering a solar lease or PPA is that costs are not paid upfront. The solar company owns the system on your roof and monthly payments are made to them for the energy generated by the panels.

Solar loans work like other home improvement loans. The loan is taken out through a finance company with monthly payments made to the lender for the purchase of the system.  Just like researching the solar company, homeowners must research the best way to finance the solar power system. There are several companies, such as Goodleap, Mosaic, or Sunlight Financial, that offer loans for solar panels. But ask yourself, which one offers the best terms for me?

For instance: Who is Goodleap?

Formerly known as Loanpal, Goodleap is a finance company that provides loans for solar products like rooftop solar panel systems. Goodleap teams up with door-to-door sales companies who sometimes entice people to sign up for “free” solar panels. Hundreds of consumers have complained about Loanpal/Goodleap’s business practices to the Better Business Bureau. The Better Business Bureau has rated Loanpal an “F.” From customer reviews, Loanpal received only one out of five stars. In fact, some consumers complain that they never saw or signed a contract. When faced with accusations that the solar panel salesperson engaged in fraud — such as signing up a consumer for a loan without their knowledge or consent — Goodleap has attempted to distance itself from the solar panel company.

The salesperson won’t even tell you that Goodleap needs to pull your credit report for a loan.  Your “consent” may have been buried in documents that were Doc-U-Signed on the iPad or tablet. And although you may have been promised copies of anything you signed, you never received them. Often, you won’t learn about the existence of any loan papers until the solar panels have been installed on your home.  Remember, it is fraudulent and unlawful for anyone to be signed up for a loan without written consent.

How to protect yourself when considering solar 

  • Get a copy of the contract and read it carefully before signing. There is no rush for you to enter into a deal.
  • Never give out personal information – bank account numbers, birth dates, Social Security Number – to a door-to-door salesman you just met.
  • Monitor your credit. It is illegal for a solar company to make a hard inquiry on your credit report without a permissible purpose. You must provide written authorization for someone to access your credit file.
  • Visit websites for the Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, State Attorney General, and the Better Business Bureau for insight on solar energy scams.

Seek Legal Help from a Qualified Consumer Law Firm

Flitter Milz is a nationally recognized consumer protection law firm that evaluates solar panel sales matters for potential violation of the consumer laws involving fraud, such as forged contracts, identity theft and credit reporting privacy violations.  Contact Us

Pictured:  Cary Flitter (center), Andy Milz (left), Jody López-Jacobs (right).

Solar panels on your home — an advantage or not?

Solar energy can provide benefits to many homeowners — from the financial reward of savings on energy bills, to the ecological benefits of  “going green”. While some folks may see a home with a solar power system as an added benefit, others may find it undesirable.

Regardless, the consideration of solar power and panels for the home requires research. Homeowners must explore the variety of products, evaluate the best system for the needs of the household, investigate cost savings, compare finance and/or lease terms, and finally, determine whether adding a solar system is right for their budget.

Is solar power is right for you?

Before contacting a solar sales company, the homeowner should take time to evaluate whether adding solar panels to the home would provide enough financial benefit, plus meet the energy needs of the household. Factors for consideration are: house size, roof — condition and dimensions, climate zone, community regulations, local electricity rates and government incentives. As well, the homeowner may contemplate the following:

Current energy usage?

Am I using my energy wisely?  Will solar panels reduce my monthly energy bill?
Review your energy bill for usage.  Determine ways that may reduce the current expense such as, changing light bulbs; installing dimmers; fixing a leaking faucet; repairing ductwork. Understand your cost of energy and how much you might save by changing to solar.

Sunlight Exposure?  

Does my roof get enough sunlight throughout the year?

Evaluate the sun’s path during daylight hours.  How many hours of the day does the roof get sunlight?  Calculate the number of hours that your roof is shaded.  Does the sun/shade ratio change from season-to-season?  Would solar panels provide the same benefit throughout the year?

Roof Condition?

Does the roof need repair before adding solar panels?
Does the roof and/or shingles require repair or replacement before installation of panels? Will the roof handle the weight of solar panels?  Shall I contact an independent roofer to evaluate the roof’s condition?


Tree Removal?

Do I need to remove trees to create more sunlight for my home?

Review landscaping around the property for sun exposure to the roof.  Will panels get enough sunlight to perform at maximum efficiency?  Consult with an arborist to estimate tree growth over a 25 year period and the impact of sunlight over the seasons. Will trees require removal or transplant?

Is solar power free?

Often, prospective customers for solar systems are told the panels will be free.  But, we must know, there is no such thing as a free lunch…and in this case, no such thing as free solar panels.  Customers will pay for the electricity that is produced by the panels, usually under a solar lease or power purchase agreement.  What is the difference?

Solar Panel Lease
A solar lease is a contractual agreement between the homeowner and the solar energy company for installation of solar panels on the roof of the home.  Usually, there is no down payment and the solar company is responsible for maintenance. The homeowner makes monthly payments to the solar leasing company at a fixed monthly amount or sells the electricity generated from the panels at a set price per Kilowatt-hour. The solar company is also entitled to all the rebates, tax breaks and incentives for solar power.  Solar leases typically last 20 – 25 years.

Power Purchase Agreement (PPA)
A Power Purchase Agreement is an arrangement in which the solar company plans for the design, permitting, financing and installation of a solar energy system on a customer’s property.  The homeowner does not own the hardware — the panels or inverter. The solar company sells the power generated to the homeowner at a fixed rate that is typically lower than the local utility’s retail rate. This lower electricity price serves to offset the customer’s purchase of electricity from the grid while the solar company receives the income from the sale of electricity as well as any tax credits and other incentives generated from the system.

PPAs typically range from 10 to 25 years and the solar company usually places a lien on the property.  The solar company remains responsible for the operation and maintenance of the system for the duration of the agreement. At the end of the PPA contract term, a customer may be able to extend the PPA, have the solar system removed or choose to buy the solar energy system from them.

Buying, Selling or Refinancing a Home with Solar Panels

Before entering an agreement for a solar power system, whether as an initial purchase, refinancing an existing contract, or purchasing a home with an existing system, you, the consumer, must obtain a copy of the solar panel contract. Take time to review the terms of the agreement. If you need clarification, consult with a real estate agent or real estate attorney for explanation of your legal and financial obligation.  Determine whether this agreement is right for you by evaluating:
-Monthly cost for panels
-Monthly cost for power
-Full term of lease or finance agreement.
Common questions:
-Ask whether you are able to assume the solar contract from the seller?
-Find out if the panels were purchased or leased.
-Inquire whether there is a lien on the property for the panels?
-Must the lien be satisfied before the sale?
-Does the solar panel contract allow for transfer to a new home buyer?
-Does the warranty transfer to the new home buyer?

Seek Legal Help from a Qualified Consumer Law Firm

Flitter Milz is a nationally recognized consumer protection law firm that evaluates solar panel sales matters for potential violation of the consumer laws involving fraud, such as forged contracts, identity theft and credit reporting privacy violations.  Contact Us

Pictured:  Cary Flitter (center), Andy Milz (left), Jody López-Jacobs (right).


Are Solar Panels Really Free? Things To Look Out For During Solar Sales

There may be a knock on your door by a friendly solar panel sales representative. You may be informed of the benefits of solar power and that by choosing to get panels for your home they would be ‘free’.

Remember the old adage – ‘There’s no such thing as a free lunch.’

Free Doesn’t Mean Free or ‘No-Cost’

A solar company sales representative may inform you that by signing up for solar power, you won’t have to pay for the panels themselves — they will be given to you for free.

The trouble is that you will still end up paying each month toward a lengthy contract which could last up to a quarter century. Basically, a solar lease, or solar power purchase agreement (PPA), closely resembles a home mortgage in contract duration than it would an automotive loan. (Think long-term versus short-term).

Solar Leases or PPAs: What Is The Difference? 

Solar Lease. If you opt to enter into a solar panel lease, you contractually agree to pay a monthly fee for the ability to essentially rent the solar system from a third-party vendor.  So, while the sales representative may tell you that by signing up you are getting the solar panels for ‘free,’ you are still locked into a contract for a system that you will have to pay toward for several years.

Power Purchase Agreement. The other model is a PPA, which is where the homeowner chooses to purchase power directly from the solar power company at a certain rate. In this type of arrangement, the solar companies typically make out better financially than the individual consumer, since the company can take advantage of certain tax credits and monetary benefits, being that they are technically the ‘owner’ of the system, while the individual customer still has to pay for a system that isn’t actually theirs.

The ‘Free’ Panels Aren’t Yours

Because both of these types of arrangements – a lease and a PPA – involve paying for electricity-generating equipment over a lengthy contract period, those ‘free’ panels that you were promised may be anything but. Once installed on your home’s roof, you will still end up paying toward an entire system that is leased or rented, for a number of years. In the end, the savings you may reap from the solar generated electricity itself may not be enough to make up for those ‘free’ panels.

Be Cautious…Be Patient…No need to act today.

Many door-to-door solar sales representatives often ask the consumer to make quick, on-the-spot decisions about obtaining solar power for the home. It is not unusual for the homeowner to feel pressured and the need to act immediately.



Before signing anything consider the following:

1.  Insist that the salesperson provide paper copies of contracts and documents
2.  Read every document that requires your signature or initials.
3.  Get all of your questions answered.
4.  Get all of the salesperson’s promises in writing.
5.  Seek advice from a trusted advisor.

Seek Legal Help

Flitter Milz is a nationally recognized consumer protection law firm experienced in evaluating fraudulent sales tactics, such as forgery, identity theft and unauthorized credit pulls by solar panel salesmen. If you feel as though you may have been scammed into leasing a home solar system, Contact Flitter Milz today for a no-cost consultation.

Solar Power – The Wave of the Future? Beware of scams.

Solar power can be an exciting and environmentally-friendly way to “go green” while potentially saving money on your electric bills.  Often consumers view the change to solar power for their home as an investment in the future with benefits for generations to come.  But before you or your family chooses solar, you should determine if solar is right for you and your home.

Continue reading Solar Power – The Wave of the Future? Beware of scams.

What if I never Got a Contract or my Notice of Right to Cancel?

Smiling fast talking salesman

These days, a lot of alarm systems, pest control services, or solar panel systems are sold by door-to-door salesmen who may knock on your door out of the blue.  They may talk fast, and confidently, offer you a deal that sounds too good to be true.  Often it is. 

Continue reading What if I never Got a Contract or my Notice of Right to Cancel?

A major player in solar energy leaves some customers seething

Over the last decade, consumer complaints against U.S.-based solar companies have multiplied.

By Eli Wolfe                (Consumer Protection Attorney Andy Milz quoted below)

This piece originally appeared on FairWarning and was posted by Salon.

This sounds too good to be true, was one of Brenda Ortiz’s first thoughts when a salesman showed up at her front door in Riverside County, California, in October 2018. He was with Vivint Solar, Ortiz recalled him saying, and was working with her local utility, Southern California Edison, to find people who qualified for free solar panels.

Ortiz declined the offer. But she heard from neighbors that the salesman came back, stopping at homes along her cul-de-sac. One day, he swung by Brenda’s house and found her husband, Carlos, working in the garage. Carlos said he had been toying with the idea of getting a solar system, and he thought the salesman’s pitch to slash their electrical bill sounded good. He signed a power purchase agreement — a 20-year contract to pay Vivint Solar for power generated by the solar panels.

When the first bills came in, the couple realized their power costs were going up, not down.  “I was literally physically ill,” Brenda Ortiz told FairWarning.

For the first time, they took a close look at their 16-page contract. They recalled the friendly salesman saying they would pay only for the power they used.  But the contract said they would be charged for all the power produced by the panels. The salesman could not be reached for comment.

The Ortizes said they considered draping tarps over the panels to stop them from producing energy. But when they read their contract, they learned that even if the panels were disconnected, Vivint Solar would bill them for the estimated energy that would have been generated.

Frustrated, Brenda called the company to terminate the contract. She said she was shocked to learn that it would cost about $26,000 to cancel. She and her husband were trapped.

The solar industry has enjoyed massive growth in recent years. In 2016, it hit the milestone of one million installations in the U.S.; in 2019, it reached 2 million, and if current trends hold, there will be over 4 million by 2023.

With the world facing a mounting climate crisis linked to the burning of fossil fuels, the rapid growth of renewable energy is a huge positive. But the solar market isn’t all sunshine. Over the last decade, consumer complaints against U.S.-based solar companies have multiplied.

Hundreds of complaints to the Better Business Bureau cite grievances ranging from damaged roofs to poor customer service. Among them are claims that salespeople misrepresented the terms of power purchase agreements or leases. Some homeowners say they were tricked and locked into 20-year contracts that can’t be broken, short of paying the solar company tens of thousands of dollars.

“It’s ground zero for consumer protection violations these days,” said Andrew Milz, a Pennsylvania attorney who represents clients fighting with solar companies. “When you have young, motivated salesmen going door to door with vast amounts of research and data and information on the consumers… it’s just a recipe for abuse.”

In recent years, no company has racked up more complaints than Vivint Solara dominant player in the market. In October 2019, the Better Business Bureau reported that Vivint had 774 complaints over the past three years—well more than either Sunrun Inc. or Tesla-owned SolarCity Corp., two leading competitors. Vivint’s rating with the BBB is B+. Ratings are based on several factors, including volume of complaints and how companies respond to them.

Vivint refused requests to interview company executives. In response to a list of questions about specific consumer complaints, lawsuits and company practices, Vivint replied with a prepared statement that said the company doesn’t tolerate deception or fraud, and that it maintains a robust internal compliance system.

“We interact with more than a million consumers each year through our direct-to-home sales model, and are proud of the solar energy solutions that we provide,” the statement said. “As a consumer-facing business, from time to time we receive complaints or are involved in consumer disputes. We take allegations of wrongdoing, no matter how small, seriously and thoroughly investigate all allegations.”

Founded in 2011 as part of the Utah-based residential security firm, Vivint Smart Home, Inc., Vivint Solar is now a separate publicly traded company. It operates in 22 states and the District of Columbia, competing with long-established industry titans like Sunrun and SolarCity. Last year, Vivint was the second largest residential solar installer in the U.S., with over 188,000 cumulative installations as of December 2019, and $341 million in revenue. The company’s social media is filled with testimonials from satisfied customers.

For consumers, a sharp decline in the cost of solar panels and tax breaks like the federal Solar Investment Tax Credit have made it easier to purchase panels outright. But companies like Vivint also have offered customers leases and power purchase agreements.  Under the latter option, a company agrees to design, install and maintain panels on a consumer’s property for little or no upfront cost. The consumer pays for whatever power is generated each month, but depending on local and state programs, they may be able to save money on their bill by selling the excess power back to the utility grid. The solar company, which owns the panels, receives tax incentives and can sell renewable energy certificates. 

Because solar power is seen as so unambiguously good, some consumers may abandon caution when sales reps come calling. Along with the many customers who have done their bit for the environment and seen their power bills shrink, there are some, like the Ortizes, who mourn the day they put their name on a contract.

Amid such complaints, several states have taken action against Vivint.

On January 6, the company agreed to a $1.95 million settlement with New York’s attorney general following an investigation of Vivint’s business practices. The attorney general had accused the company of using deceptive sales pitches and said some of its panel installations had caused property damage. Vivint did not admit liability in settling the case.   

The agreement followed another last October with the New Jersey attorney general’s office, which had charged Vivint with failing to deliver promised energy savings. In that case, Vivint agreed to pay nearly $122,000 and change some of its sales practices.

In March 2018, New Mexico’s attorney general lodged a scathing complaint  against Vivint, claiming its sales reps misled consumers by telling them that 20-year contracts would save them substantial amounts of money. According to the suit, the company deliberately made its power purchase agreement opaque. Vivint has denied wrongdoing and has countersued, saying the attorney general has violated public record rules by withholding documents sought by the company.

“It seems like Vivint [Solar] is still one of the worst actors in the industry,” said Daniel Stevens, executive director of the nonprofit watchdog organization Campaign for Accountability. In 2018, the group sent letters urging state attorneys general in CaliforniaArizonaNevadaNew York and Texas to investigate rooftop solar companies, with an emphasis on Vivint.

In lawsuits, complaints and interviews with FairWarning, customers have accused Vivint representatives of lying to them, duping elderly homeowners, forging emails and signatures on contracts and running unauthorized credit checks.

On consumer review sites like Yelp, consumers fumed about spending months trying to reach customer service agents to fix disconnected panels and incorrect bills.

“Perhaps the worst customer service I’ve ever experienced in my life,” wrote John D. of Alexandria, Virginia, on Yelp.

“They will violate their contract, promise you refunds you will never get, and give you crap products they will not uninstall,” wrote Kahlan A. of Las Vegas, Nevada.

“If they find out you’re calling to cancel, they’ll put you on hold and then avoid you. For days. And days,” wrote Crystal D. of Kapolei, Hawaii.

“I have been over billed and talked in circles for the past 7 months… I am now considering this to be a fraud situation and will be seeking legal representation,” wrote Tena R. of Stockton, California.

The solar industry wants to ensure that consumers aren’t ripped off by bad actors, said John Smirnow, general counsel and vice president of market strategy for the Solar Energy Industries Association. But, he added, customer grievances are also a natural byproduct of the industry’s growth.

“Solar is taking off,” Smirnow said, noting that tens of thousands of systems have been installed in California alone. As the industry expands and attracts more customers, he said, “the more issues and concerns you’re going to see from consumers.”

This is little comfort to several Vivint customers, who told FairWarning they have been battling the company for months. John Masone, a Massachusetts resident who bought a house that came equipped with Vivint panels, told FairWarning that Vivint failed to bill him for two years, then began calling him demanding thousands of dollars. He offered to pay for the energy he used in exchange for terminating the contract and removing the panels, but the company refused.

“I am in a standoff,” he said in an email.

A Vivint sales rep in Northern California who asked to remain anonymous because the company hadn’t authorized him to speak said the company in recent years has improved training of its sales force.

“So many of the problems that have been in the past are being solved,” he said, adding that some employees were recently fired because they failed to follow sales protocols. To prevent misrepresentations, he added, salesmen are periodically called on during trainings to perform their pitches so they can be refined, if needed.

Frankly, I wonder how people can do things wrong and cheat,” he said

Thomas Powers, a former Vivint Solar sales representative from Arizona, said the company took pains to train its sales force to behave ethically. But some sales reps could be “overzealous” about finding creative ways to land customers, he added.

“We had some guys… they’d wear outfits that made you look like you worked for the utility company,” Powers said. Higher-ups in the company put a stop to this once they discovered it, he said.

This practice was detailed by lawsuits in several states, which said Vivint salespeople falsely claimed to be affiliated with local utilities, including Atlantic City EnergyBaltimore Gas & ElectricPacific Gas & Electric and San Diego Gas & Electric.

Southern California Edison sued Vivint in November 2017 for trademark infringement after receiving “numerous complaints” about claims made in door-to-door solicitations in Southern California. The utility claimed that some sales representatives told customers they were “from Edison” or “in partnership” with the utility, while others allegedly counterfeited Edison logos and trademarks. In at least one case, salesmen were caught on a doorbell camera making misleading claims, according to the lawsuit.

The case settled in April 2018 after Vivint, without admitting blame, agreed to avoid any misrepresentations.

A former Vivint sales rep still working in the renewable industry described what she viewed as unethical marketing tactics. The ex-employee, who requested anonymity, said she was instructed to call potential customers who had already spurned Vivint’s sales appeals, and didn’t want follow-up calls.

“So that sucked, because all I could do was say ‘I’m sorry, I’ll mark here to make sure you aren’t contacted.’ But meanwhile I already know they’ve sent this list (of phone numbers) to other people,” she said. The employee also shared a script that she received during her training that emphasizes the money homeowners can save with solar.

In a video of a sales training session, at one time posted on Vivint’s Vimeo account, Jed Wintle, a salesman, instructed other reps to avoid detailed explanations, and to walk away from potential customers who ask probing questions. By selling people on the concept, he said, customers won’t ask about the fine print of a contract before signing.

Customers don’t read documents, he said, adding, “I could slide in anything I want. I wouldn’t. But I could.”

Wintle’s training advice appears at odds with a separate Vivint video on ethical standards. That video cautions against exaggerating the benefits of tax credits by suggesting the customer will get a “bag of cash.” In his video presentation, Wintle repeatedly likened tax benefits to “free money” and “bags of cash.” The videos were publicized in November 2019 by the investigative news outlet The Capitol Forum.

Although Vivint says it pitches power purchase agreements to consumers with strong credit scores, the former sales rep said she was encouraged to target low-income homeowners.

“They literally said to us they will ask you less questions and feel less entitled to information to compare their options,” she said.

class action lawsuit filed in December in federal court in San Francisco also accuses Vivint of targeting low-income people. Two plaintiffs enrolled in a state program that already provides discounted electric rates to low-income customers were persuaded to sign Vivint power purchase agreementsaccording to the complaint. The brief stated that when one plaintiff who experienced problems with Vivint’s billing tried to have the panels removed, the company demanded about $40,000. The other plaintiff claimed that Vivint convinced her terminally ill father, who was already receiving subsidized rates, to sign a 20-year power purchase agreement. According to the suit, he died one year later, and when his daughter tried to rescind the contract Vivint said it would cost $21,000.

In March, the court ordered most of the plaintiffs to pursue their claims in arbitration.

In a deposition taken in a New Jersey case in 2019, Vivint sales rep Philip Chamberlin admitted that he entered incorrect email addresses for potential clients to temporarily keep them from receiving electronic copies of their power purchase agreements. Chamberlin said he learned the tactic through other sales representatives, according to the deposition.

Court papers filed in the case claimed that Vivint and Chamberlin had forged the signature of the plaintiff, Melissa Knight, and had engaged in similar frauds on at least six other occasions. Vivint denied the claims in Knight’s suit and filed a counterclaimdemanding her unpaid bills. The court ordered the case to arbitration, which Knight has appealed. FairWarning was unable to reach Chamberlain.

Three lawsuits in California that accuse Vivint of abusive sales tactics single out the same salesman, Tyler Williams. A case filed in 2018 in Alameda County, California, claimed that Williams forged the signatures of an 86-year old woman and her daughter on a power purchase agreement. Vivint has denied the allegations, and court records show the case is pending.

Another 2018 case filed in San Diego on behalf of an elderly widow accused Williams and another sales rep of forging her husband’s signature on a work order to install solar panels on a home she owned. According to court records, Vivint agreed to remove the solar panels after learning that her husband had died in 2015, three years before the work order was signed. Vivint denied the claim of fraud, and the case ended in a confidential settlement.

Williams was named in a third suit in San Diego in 2018. The plaintiff said that a different Vivint salesman falsely claimed to be working for a local utility, and said she qualified for free solar panels. She said that her signature was forged on a power purchase agreement, which was also signed by Williams—a man she said never met. Vivint argued that the lawsuit was based on a lie because the plaintiff admitted signing the power purchase agreement in an email and urged the court to allow the case to proceed to arbitration. The case was settled for a confidential sum at the end of 2018.      

Vivint did not respond to written questions about the lawsuits involving Williams, who is listed as a licensed sales rep for Vivint by the California Contractors State License Board.  In 2018, when the three lawsuits were filed, Williams appeared in a San Diego TV spot promoting Vivint, and in a podcast said he managed over 400 Vivint sales reps on the West Coast. Efforts to reach Williams were unsuccessful.

Many complaints about Vivint to the Better Business  Bureau are from consumers in California, the country’s biggest solar market

About 36 percent of the power from Vivint panels is generated in California, according to the company’s most recent annual report. Vivint is poised for further growth in the state, thanks to a new law that, with some exceptionsrequires solar panels on new single-family homes. But the company has also seen opportunity in the highly publicized failure of big utilities to avoid blackouts caused by fires.

“It’s interesting, we knock on millions of doors a year at this company, and in California, it’s the highest penetration outside of Hawaii,” said Vivint Solar CEO David Bywater during a November 2019 earnings call. “But every door now is a fresh door again,” he said, partly because of the PG&E blackouts. “And so it kind of resets the market and allows you to go back and have a conversation again.”

Vivint has pledged to change some of its business practices in California. As part of a court settlement, the company said it will give sales pitches and contracts in the same language, following complaints about Spanish speaking customers getting contracts written in English.

Last year, California began requiring companies to give consumers a solar disclosure document, which is to be included in every contract. The document lists the cost of the system, contact information for the contractors licensing board and notice of a three-day right to cancel.

“As an industry, we do have an obligation to be proactive and educate consumers about the disclosure forms, and to make sure consumers are informed so when they’re talking to an installer they’re asking the right questions,” said Smirnow of the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Brenda Ortiz said she and her husband are still trying to come to an arrangement with Vivint Solar.

Among other things, Brenda said, Vivint wanted her husband to sign a non-disparagement clause, which would bar him from speaking about the company.

“I don’t want to stop telling people,” Ortiz said. “I don’t want to reach a point where I have to sign something that says I can’t say anything about Vivint.”

To potential buyers, she added, “For god’s sake, read the contract.”