BRENTWOOD, Tenn. (WTVF) — Nearly $700,000 will buy you a pretty nice house these days.
But when an older man moved into a large retirement community in Williamson County last year, he says all that money didn't buy him anything at all.
He says that money was his life savings. And after he decided to move out, he had to go to court to get it back.
It's called the Heritage of Brentwood.
"I thought this was the place to be," Gary Farber told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.
Shortly after Farber's wife of 54 years died last year, Farber decided to move into the sprawling retirement community along Interstate 65 and Concord Road in Brentwood that offers a variety of independent living options along with more intensive care as you age.
Its website talks of a "beautiful senior living community" where there are "trails," "water aerobics," a "putting green" and "musical performances in the auditorium."
"Online, it looked like utopia. Unfortunately, it wasn’t utopia," Farber said.
Now in a lawsuit, Farber accuses Heritage of violating the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act, intentional misrepresentation, multiple counts of fraud and unjust enrichment.
"I thought I was taken advantage of," he explained.
According to Farber and his attorney, while the Heritage website shows a variety of units and spacious floorplans, nowhere does it say how much any of this will cost you. It's not, Farber and his attorney contend, until you share all of your financial information, including the value of your home, how much you have in savings and retirement accounts, and how much you get from social security and pensions, that the Heritage determines how much you can afford and then reveals how much your so-called Entrance Payment will be.
According to the AARP, there are some 2,000 continuing care retirement communities like Heritage across the country that offer different living options for people as they age. Most charge an entrance payment or fee that can run hundreds of thousands of dollars. But that's not buying you an actual home in the community. That money simply allows you to move in.
But Farber insists that no one from the Heritage ever explained that to him.
"I thought I was purchasing an apartment. I thought it was like a condo or a co-op," he recalled.
His entrance payment was just over $698,000.
"Why did you think you were buying your apartment?" NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Farber.
"Because they said it was a closing. They said it was a sale. They were using real estate terms, and I thought I’d purchased something," he replied.
Farber contends in his lawsuit that "Heritage's unfair and deceptive misconduct" gives potential residents the impression they are buying their next home.
In fact, Farber has emails from Heritage employees discussing the "price" of his unit, how he could "close" within 90 days, and how after the "sale" they would send him "a closing statement."
"The language in the email that was sent to my client reasonably led him to reasonably conclude that he had engaged in a real estate transaction in which he was then the owner of property," said Davis Griffin, Farber's attorney.
Even the Heritage website talks about the benefits of making an "entrance payment" instead of renting a unit, because according to the site, it allows you to "secure your equity."
And, on the website, where there are testimonials from residents, a woman identified as Kathy describes having "a sense of home...because you invest in your apartment or villa, so you feel like more of a family than if you were just renting."
"So you paid 600, more than $600,000 for what?" NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Farber.
"For nothing. I got nothing for it in return. I didn’t get anything. I had no shares, no property," he replied emphatically.
"What Heritage says he got is the privilege of living at the Heritage. If that is the case, it seems strange that he would then also be required to pay a monthly fee of conveniently nearly every dollar of his state pension," Griffin, added.
On top of the $698,000 he paid to move in, Farber was also charged $5,538 a month for "accommodations and services." But he says he quickly discovered that some of the amenities, like the meal program, were not as advertised. So a month after moving in, Farber decided to move out.
And he asked for his $698,000 back.
"It was half of my life savings. My wife and I worked hard to accumulate this money," he said.
The Heritage though refused, explaining that buried in the fine print of the Heritage's Residency Agreement, that Farber had signed, it says the company considered the money "a loan" and could keep it after Farber moved out or died, for up to two years, interest-free.
"Why would I give them an interest-free loan of almost $700,000?" he asked.
Attorneys for the Heritage argue that had Farber read the 27-page agreement, he would have known the "interest" residents get from "loaning" the money is the ability to continue to live at the development as they age and receive additional care.
But Farber says that doesn't make sense which is why he's now speaking out.
"I don’t want anybody to have the same problem I had," Farber stated.
Nashville Mayor John Cooper is the founder and majority owner of the Heritage at Brentwood. We reached out to him, the facility's director, and attorneys for the Heritage, but no one wanted to speak on the record.
Meanwhile, it wasn't until after Gary Farber sued that Heritage finally agreed to give him his money back.
The judge in the case recently wrote in a ruling that she had "serious concerns about (the unconscionability of) the Residency Agreement," the document where this is all laid out. But she said it was essentially out of her hands because this same Residency Agreement also requires residents who have concerns to take their issues to arbitration rather than a courtroom.