TOP STORIES Corporate landlords used aggressive tactics to force out more...

Corporate landlords used aggressive tactics to force out more tenants than was known


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Housing activists in Swampscott, Massachusetts, Oct. 14, 2020 A congressional report says four corporate landlords acted aggressively to evict tenants during the first year of the pandemic despite a federal eviction moratorium and billions in emergency rental assistance.

Michael Dwyer/AP

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Michael Dwyer/AP

Housing activists in Swampscott, Massachusetts, Oct. 14, 2020 A congressional report says four corporate landlords acted aggressively to evict tenants during the first year of the pandemic despite a federal eviction moratorium and billions in emergency rental assistance.

Michael Dwyer/AP

After a year-long investigation, a congressional subcommittee said four corporate landlords quickly ousted tenants during the pandemic and filed nearly three times as many eviction lawsuits as previously reported, nearly 15,000 in total. results add data and details to growing array making report — and growing complaints — about investor landlords, including concerns that they are fueling skyrocketing rents amid a historic shortage of affordable housing.

“As countless Americans have performed admirably to support their communities during the coronavirus crisis, four rental companies … have been aggressively moving out to increase their profits,” House Majority Representative James Clyburn, D.C., said in a statement.

He chairs the Special Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, which began its investigation after reports that companies, despite a federal eviction moratorium, have high rates of eviction filings and often refuse to accept emergency rental assistance. The report examines the actions of Pretium Partners, Invitation Homes, Ventron Management and The Siegel Group during the first 16 months of the pandemic. Companies own real estate in 28 states.

Pretium said in a statement: “We have always respected the CDC moratorium” and that in some cases the company has voluntarily extended this moratorium after it expired. Invitation Homes noted that “we have assisted more than 33,000 residents who needed extra time or financial assistance” and helped 10,000 more receive housing assistance. The other two companies did not immediately respond to inquiries.

List of strategies to “bluff” people out of their apartments

One company, The Siegel Group, is accused of using deception techniques to “spoof” people from their apartments. The report said staff took steps to make tenants think the CDC moratorium on evictions was no longer in effect, though it remained in place after the appeal.

“It looks like they used information and even disinformation to set people up for eviction,” Rep. Clyburn told NPR.

It also describes a list of “harassment” strategies that executive Siegel says can be used to force a Texas tenant to leave without a formal eviction order. These included security knocking on her door “at least twice a night”, replacing her air conditioner with one that was not working, and calling Child Protective Services to visit her. Lawmakers suggest that some of these tactics may be illegal, and they have referred the findings to federal and state agencies for further investigation.

The Congressional report said companies often filed eviction orders for tenants who were only one month past due on rent, or sometimes while they were waiting for emergency rent relief. It says Invitation Homes downplayed the impact of its practice, reporting in March 2021 that only 6% of the tenants against whom the lawsuits were filed actually lost their home. In fact, the legislators say, only those who were formally evicted by court order entered here, and many others left without waiting for this, bringing the total share to 27%.

“Too often, we tend to put the blame on residents,” says Jim Baker, executive director of the Private Equity Stakeholder Project, a nonprofit advocacy group that also monitors evictions. “But what we saw, and what the subcommittee showed, was actually a model for action. These big companies have taken numerous steps to sort of get these people out of their homes.”

Last year, Baker’s team found that one of the companies featured in today’s report, Pretium, filed for eviction in predominantly black neighborhoods at a significantly higher rate during the pandemic. At the time, Pretium called the allegations “baseless” and said its property managers were “working with residents and seeking to avoid eviction.”

Baker says today’s report says these companies “made the economic calculation that they could raise rents for new residents instead of allowing current residents to stay in their homes.”

These companies may be the tip of the iceberg.

The report covers the worst part of the pandemic, the period when the federal moratorium on evictions was in effect, as well as many local ones. Peter Hepburn, research fellow at the Eviction Lab at Princeton University, says it’s important that Congress pay attention to corporate landlord practices at the time and name names.

“These remedies were put in place to protect our public health, and they deliberately undermined those efforts,” he says. “I think it’s reprehensible.”

He also believes the four companies are just the “tip of the iceberg” and says the report shows the need for more transparency as corporate landlords expand their footprint. Last year they share of purchases of individual housing jumped to a record quarter of the market.

“These firms are buying up a lot of housing, and they are especially buying in places where tenant protection is relatively weak, where eviction is easier, faster and cheaper,” Hepburn says. And I don’t think it’s accidental.

Cathy Goldstein runs the housing program at the Center for People’s Democracy and says eviction is just one of the many challenges she faces with corporate landlords. Tenants are also complaining about declining services and repairs, higher monthly payments and skyrocketing rents.

Some cities and states have expanded tenant protections, such as requiring them to get legal aid in eviction court. The Goldstein group and others also want federal restrictions on rent increases and the circumstances under which people can be evicted.

“What we really want is for tenants to be able to experience stability, not situations where corporate landlords can double or triple rent, depending on how the market looks in the area,” says Goldstein.

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