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This sounds too acceptable to be true, was one of Brenda Ortiz’s aboriginal thoughts aback a salesman showed up at her advanced aperture in Riverside County, California, in October 2018. He was with Vivint Solar, Ortiz recalled him saying, and was alive with her bounded utility, Southern California Edison, to acquisition bodies who able for chargeless solar panels.

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Ortiz beneath the offer. But she heard from neighbors that the salesman came back, endlessly at homes forth her cul-de-sac. One day, he swung by Brenda’s abode and begin her husband, Carlos, alive in the garage. Carlos said he had been dabbling with the abstraction of accepting a solar system, and he anticipation the salesman’s angle to carve their electrical bill articulate good. He active a ability acquirement acceding — a 20-year adjustment to pay Vivint Solar for ability generated by the solar panels.

When the aboriginal bills came in, the brace accomplished their ability costs were activity up, not down.  “I was actually physically ill,” Brenda Ortiz told FairWarning.

For the aboriginal time, they took a abutting attending at their 16-page contract. They recalled the affable salesman adage they would pay abandoned for the ability they used.  But the adjustment said they would be answerable for all the ability produced by the panels. The salesman could not be accomplished for comment.

The Ortizes said they advised draping tarps over the panels to stop them from bearing energy. But aback they apprehend their contract, they abstruse that alike if the panels were disconnected, Vivint Solar would bill them for the estimated activity that would accept been generated.


Frustrated, Brenda alleged the aggregation to abolish the contract. She said she was abashed to apprentice that it would amount about $26,000 to cancel. She and her bedmate were trapped.

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

With the apple adverse a ascent altitude crisis affiliated to the afire of deposit fuels, the accelerated advance of renewable activity is a huge positive. But the solar bazaar isn’t all sunshine. Over the aftermost decade, chump complaints adjoin U.S.-based solar companies accept multiplied.

Hundreds of complaints to the Better Business Bureau adduce grievances alignment from damaged roofs to poor chump service. Among them are claims that salespeople biased the acceding of ability acquirement agreements or leases. Some homeowners say they were tricked and bound into 20-year affairs that can’t be broken, abbreviate of advantageous the solar aggregation tens of bags of dollars.

“It’s arena aught for chump aegis violations these days,” said Andrew Milz, a Pennsylvania advocate who represents audience angry with solar companies. “When you accept young, motivated salesmen activity aperture to aperture with all-inclusive amounts of analysis and abstracts and admonition on the consumers… it’s aloof a compound for abuse.”

In contempo years, no aggregation has racked up added complaints than Vivint Solar, a ascendant amateur in the market. In October 2019, the Better Business Bureau appear that Vivint had 774 complaints over the accomplished three years—well added than either Sunrun Inc. or Tesla-owned SolarCity Corp., two arch competitors. Vivint’s appraisement with the BBB is B . Ratings are based on several factors, including aggregate of complaints and how companies acknowledge to them.

Vivint banned requests to anniversary aggregation executives. In acknowledgment to a anniversary of questions about specific chump complaints, lawsuits and aggregation practices, Vivint replied with a able anniversary that said the aggregation doesn’t abide bamboozlement or fraud, and that it maintains a able-bodied centralized acquiescence system.

“We collaborate with added than a actor consumers anniversary year through our direct-to-home sales model, and are appreciative of the solar activity solutions that we provide,” the anniversary said. “As a consumer-facing business, from time to time we accept complaints or are complex in chump disputes. We booty allegations of wrongdoing, no amount how small, actively and thoroughly investigate all allegations.”

Founded in 2011 as allotment of the Utah-based residential aegis firm, Vivint Smart Home, Inc., Vivint Solar is now a abstracted about traded company. It operates in 22 states and the District of Columbia, aggressive with accepted industry titans like Sunrun and SolarCity. Aftermost year, Vivint was the second largest residential solar installer in the U.S., with over 188,000 accumulative installations as of December 2019, and $341 actor in revenue. The company’s amusing media is abounding with testimonials from annoyed customers.

For consumers, a sharp decline in the amount of solar panels and tax break like the federal Solar Investment Tax Acclaim accept fabricated it easier to acquirement panels outright. But companies like Vivint additionally accept offered barter leases and power acquirement agreements.  Under the closing option, a aggregation agrees to design, install and advance panels on a consumer’s acreage for little or no upfront cost. The chump pays for whatever ability is generated anniversary month, but depending on local and accompaniment programs, they may be able to save money on their bill by affairs the balance ability aback to the anniversary grid. The solar company, which owns the panels, receives tax incentives and can sell renewable activity certificates. 

Because solar ability is apparent as so actually good, some consumers may carelessness attention aback sales reps appear calling. Forth with the abounding barter who accept done their bit for the ambiance and apparent their ability bills shrink, there are some, like the Ortizes, who ache the day they put their name on a contract.

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Amid such complaints, several states accept taken activity adjoin Vivint.

On January 6, the aggregation agreed to a $1.95 million settlement with New York’s advocate accepted afterward an analysis of Vivint’s business practices. The advocate accepted had accused the aggregation of application ambiguous sales pitches and said some of its console installations had acquired acreage damage. Vivint did not accept accountability in clearing the case.   

The acceding followed addition aftermost October with the New Jersey advocate general’s office, which had answerable Vivint with declining to bear promised activity savings. In that case, Vivint agreed to pay nearly $122,000 and change some of its sales practices.

In March 2018, New Mexico’s advocate accepted lodged a scathing complaint  adjoin Vivint, claiming its sales reps addled consumers by cogent them that 20-year affairs would save them abundant amounts of money. According to the suit, the aggregation advisedly fabricated its ability acquirement acceding opaque. Vivint has denied atrocity and has countersued, adage the advocate accepted has abandoned accessible almanac rules by denial abstracts approved by the company.

“It seems like Vivint [Solar] is still one of the affliction actors in the industry,” said Daniel Stevens, controlling administrator of the nonprofit babysitter alignment Campaign for Accountability. In 2018, the accumulation beatific belletrist advancement accompaniment attorneys accepted in California, Arizona, Nevada, New York and Texas to investigate rooftop solar companies, with an accent on Vivint.

In lawsuits, complaints and interviews with FairWarning, barter accept accused Vivint assembly of lying to them, artifice aged homeowners, accomplishment emails and signatures on affairs and active crooked acclaim checks.

On chump analysis sites like Yelp, consumers fumed about spending months aggravating to ability chump anniversary agents to fix burst panels and incorrect bills.

“Perhaps the affliction chump anniversary I’ve anytime accomplished in my life,” wrote John D. of Alexandria, Virginia, on Yelp.

“They will breach their contract, affiance you refunds you will never get, and accord you applesauce articles they will not uninstall,” wrote Kahlan A. of Las Vegas, Nevada.

“If they acquisition out you’re calling to cancel, they’ll put you on authority and afresh abstain you. For days. And days,” wrote Crystal D. of Kapolei, Hawaii.

“I accept been over billed and talked in circles for the accomplished 7 months… I am now because this to be a artifice bearings and will be gluttonous acknowledged 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, accepted admonition and carnality admiral of bazaar activity for the Solar Activity Industries Association. But, he added, chump grievances are additionally a accustomed byproduct of the industry’s growth.

“Solar is demography off,” Smirnow said, acquainted that tens of bags of systems accept been installed in California alone. As the industry expands and attracts added customers, he said, “the added issues and apropos you’re activity to see from consumers.”

This is little abundance to several Vivint customers, who told FairWarning they accept been aggressive the aggregation for months. John Masone, a Massachusetts citizen who bought a abode that came able with Vivint panels, told FairWarning that Vivint bootless to bill him for two years, afresh began calling him ambitious bags of dollars. He offered to pay for the activity he acclimated in barter for absolute the adjustment and removing the panels, but the aggregation refused.

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

A Vivint sales rep in Northern California who asked to abide bearding because the aggregation hadn’t accustomed him to allege said the aggregation in contempo years has bigger training of its sales force.

“So abounding of the problems that accept been in the accomplished are actuality solved,” he said, abacus that some advisers were afresh accursed because they bootless to chase sales protocols. To anticipate misrepresentations, he added, salesmen are periodically alleged on during trainings to accomplish their pitches so they can be refined, if needed.

“Frankly, I admiration how bodies can do things amiss and cheat,” he said. 

Thomas Powers, a above Vivint Solar sales adumbrative from Arizona, said the aggregation took pains to alternation its sales force to behave ethically. But some sales reps could be “overzealous” about award artistic means to acreage customers, he added.

“We had some guys… they’d abrasion apparel that fabricated you attending like you formed for the anniversary company,” Powers said. Higher-ups in the aggregation put a stop to this already they apparent it, he said.

This convenance was abundant by lawsuits in several states, which said Vivint salespeople falsely claimed to be affiliated with bounded utilities, including Atlantic City Energy, Baltimore Gas & Electric, Pacific Gas & Electric and San Diego Gas & Electric.

Southern California Edison sued Vivint in November 2017 for brand contravention afterwards accepting “numerous complaints” about claims fabricated in door-to-door solicitations in Southern California. The anniversary claimed that some sales assembly told barter they were “from Edison” or “in partnership” with the utility, while others allegedly apish Edison logos and trademarks. In at atomic one case, salesmen were bent on a doorbell camera authoritative ambiguous claims, according to the lawsuit.

The case settled in April 2018 afterwards Vivint, afterwards acceptance blame, agreed to abstain any misrepresentations.

A above Vivint sales rep still alive in the renewable industry declared what she beheld as bent business tactics. The ex-employee, who requested anonymity, said she was instructed to alarm abeyant barter who had already spurned Vivint’s sales appeals, and didn’t appetite aftereffect calls.

“So that sucked, because all I could do was say ‘I’m sorry, I’ll mark actuality to accomplish abiding you aren’t contacted.’ But meanwhile I already apperceive they’ve beatific this anniversary (of buzz numbers) to added people,” she said. The agent additionally aggregate a script that she accustomed during her training that emphasizes the money homeowners can save with solar.

In a video of a sales training session, at one time acquaint on Vivint’s Vimeo account, Jed Wintle, a salesman, instructed added reps to abstain abundant explanations, and to airing abroad from abeyant barter who ask acid questions. By affairs bodies on the concept, he said, barter won’t ask about the accomplished book of a adjustment afore signing.

Customers don’t apprehend documents, he said, adding, “I could accelerate in annihilation I want. I wouldn’t. But I could.”

Wintle’s training admonition appears at allowance with a separate Vivint video on ethical standards. That video cautions adjoin exaggerating the allowances of tax credits by suggesting the chump will get a “bag of cash.” In his video presentation, Wintle afresh likened tax allowances to “free money” and “bags of cash.” The videos were publicized in November 2019 by the analytic account aperture The Capitol Forum.

Although Vivint says it pitches ability acquirement agreements to consumers with able acclaim scores, the above sales rep said she was encouraged to ambition low-income homeowners.

“They actually said to us they will ask you beneath questions and feel beneath advantaged to admonition to analyze their options,” she said.

A class activity lawsuit filed in December in federal cloister in San Francisco additionally accuses Vivint of targeting low-income people. Two plaintiffs enrolled in a accompaniment affairs that already provides discounted electric ante to low-income barter were abiding to assurance Vivint ability acquirement agreements, according to the complaint. The abrupt declared that aback one plaintiff who accomplished problems with Vivint’s announcement approved to accept the panels removed, the aggregation accepted about $40,000. The added plaintiff claimed that Vivint assertive her terminally ill father, who was already accepting subsidized rates, to assurance a 20-year ability acquirement agreement. According to the suit, he died one year later, and aback his babe approved to abolish the adjustment Vivint said it would amount $21,000.

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

In a deposition taken in a New Jersey case in 2019, Vivint sales rep Philip Chamberlin accepted that he entered incorrect email addresses for abeyant audience to briefly accumulate them from accepting cyberbanking copies of their ability acquirement agreements. Chamberlin said he abstruse the tactic through added sales representatives, according to the deposition.

Court affidavit filed in the case claimed that Vivint and Chamberlin had artificial the signature of the plaintiff, Melissa Knight, and had affianced in agnate frauds on at atomic six added occasions. Vivint denied the claims in Knight’s clothing and filed a counterclaimdemanding her contributed bills. The cloister ordered the case to arbitration, which Knight has appealed. FairWarning was clumsy to ability Chamberlain.

Three lawsuits in California that allege Vivint of calumniating sales approach distinct out the aforementioned salesman, Tyler Williams. A case filed in 2018 in Alameda County, California, claimed that Williams artificial the signatures of an 86-year old woman and her babe on a ability acquirement agreement. Vivint has denied the allegations, and cloister annal appearance the case is pending.

Another 2018 case filed in San Diego on account of an aged added accused Williams and addition sales rep of accomplishment her husband’s signature on a assignment adjustment to install solar panels on a home she owned. According to cloister records, Vivint agreed to abolish the solar panels afterwards acquirements that her bedmate had died in 2015, three years afore the assignment adjustment was signed. Vivint denied the affirmation of fraud, and the case concluded in a arcane settlement.

Williams was called in a third suit in San Diego in 2018. The plaintiff said that a altered Vivint salesman falsely claimed to be alive for a bounded utility, and said she able for chargeless solar panels. She said that her signature was artificial on a ability acquirement agreement, which was additionally active by Williams—a man she said never met. Vivint argued that the accusation was based on a lie because the plaintiff accepted signing the ability acquirement acceding in an email and apprenticed the cloister to acquiesce the case to advance to arbitration. The case was acclimatized for a arcane sum at the end of 2018.      

Vivint did not acknowledge to accounting questions about the lawsuits involving Williams, who is listed as a accountant sales rep for Vivint by the California Contractors Accompaniment License Board.  In 2018, aback the three lawsuits were filed, Williams appeared in a San Diego TV atom promoting Vivint, and in a podcast said he managed over 400 Vivint sales reps on the West Coast. Efforts to ability Williams were unsuccessful.

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

About 36 percent of the ability from Vivint panels is generated in California, according to the company’s best contempo anniversary report. Vivint is assertive for added advance in the state, acknowledgment to a new law that, with some exceptions, requires solar panels on new single-family homes. But the aggregation has additionally apparent befalling in the awful publicized abortion of big utilities to abstain blackouts acquired by fires.

“It’s interesting, we beating on millions of doors a year at this company, and in California, it’s the accomplished assimilation alfresco of Hawaii,” said Vivint Solar CEO David Bywater during a November 2019 balance call. “But every aperture now is a beginning aperture again,” he said, partly because of the PG&E blackouts. “And so it affectionate of resets the bazaar and allows you to go aback and accept a chat again.”

Vivint has apprenticed to change some of its business practices in California. As allotment of a court settlement, the aggregation said it will accord sales pitches and affairs in the aforementioned language, afterward complaints about Spanish speaking barter accepting affairs accounting in English.

Last year, California began requiring companies to accord consumers a solar acknowledgment document, which is to be included in every contract. The certificate lists the amount of the system, acquaintance admonition for the contractors licensing lath and apprehension of a three-day appropriate to cancel.

“As an industry, we do accept an obligation to be proactive and brainwash consumers about the acknowledgment forms, and to accomplish abiding consumers are abreast so aback they’re talking to an installer they’re allurement the appropriate questions,” said Smirnow of the Solar Activity Industries Association.

Brenda Ortiz said she and her bedmate are still aggravating to appear to an adjustment with Vivint Solar.

Among added things, Brenda said, Vivint capital her bedmate to assurance a non-disparagement clause, which would bar him from speaking about the company.

“I don’t appetite to stop cogent people,” Ortiz said. “I don’t appetite to ability a point area I accept to assurance article that says I can’t say annihilation about Vivint.”

To abeyant buyers, she added, “For god’s sake, apprehend the contract.”

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