In the first 16 month of the pandemic four large corporate landlords filed almost 15,000 eviction cases against their tenants. Executives and property managers engaged in harassment and deception of their tenants, and intentionally inflicting cruelty upon people who were unable to pay their rent.
The U.S. House Select Subcommittee of the Coronavirus Crisis releasedThursday’s report was the culmination of a year-long investigation into the eviction policies of Pretium Partners (Invitation Homes), Ventron Management and the Siegel Group. All of them were financially well-off at the time the committee began to examine their practices.
Pretium was investing heavily in a major expansion at the time that the committee, chaired by James Clyburn (D-S.C.), opened its investigation. Invitation was reporting record profits. Ventron and Siegel had both received more than $2,000,000 in Paycheck Protection Program funds. They were not required to repay this money.
Despite their financial well-being, publicly available data at the time showed that the four companies had filed a combined 5,413 eviction cases between March 2020 and July 2021 — a total that was dwarfed by the number the committee uncovered when it analyzed more than 50,000 pages of documents and held numerous meetings with company representatives.
The committee began investigating reports that corporate landlords were not following a federal moratorium on evictions, which was in effect during the pandemic, and with rental assistance programs.
“As countless Americans acted admirably to support their communities during the coronavirus crisis, the four landlord companies investigated by the select subcommittee evicted aggressively to pad their profits,” said Clyburn as the panel revealed that the true number of evictions by the companies was three times higher than previously known.
“While the abusive eviction practices documented in this report would be condemnable under any circumstances, they are unconscionable during a once-in-a-century economic and public health crisis,” Clyburn added. “Rather than working with cost-burdened tenants, abiding by applicable eviction moratoriums, and accepting federal rental assistance, these companies — with properties across 28 states — expedited evictions above all else.”
The report details numerous abusive practices that the companies used to force tenants out their homes during the crisis. This led to an increase in the unemployment rate. skyrocketingMarch 2020, left millions Many people are struggling to pay rent and other necessities.
The investigation’s findings included:
- Executives’ attempts to “bluff” tenants out of their apartments by posting in buildings a court order saying the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lacked authority to impose the eviction moratorium, but leaving out the fact that the moratorium was still in effect while the case was appealed;
- An executive’s directive that a property manager bring the court order to a tenant “after 5pm” on a Friday “so the courts and constable office are closed and she cannot call to verify anything” and so the company could “see if she vacates over the weekend”;
- A property manager’s message to executives that he “love[d] getting to say that this means the eviction may happen sooner than expected and seeing the look on their faces”; and
- An executive’s attempt to “get rid of” a tenant whose rent was past due without obtaining an eviction order by ordering a property manager to call Child Protective Services to complain about them — an action that would have violated Texas criminal law prohibiting false child abuse reports.
“In some instances,” said Clyburn, “the select subcommittee found that their abuses may have violated the law.”
These companies also showed evidence of financial stability.
— Invitation Homes reported record profits
— Pretium invested in significant expansions
— Ventron and Siegel obtained significant government support from pandemic-related relief programs
— Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis (@COVIDOversight) July 28, 2022
The committee urged Congress and federal agencies to require states and localities provide direct-to tenant assistance to renters with landlords refusing to cooperate with rental assistance programs; to support state and local rental infrastructure; and to prioritize investigating abusive or deceptive business practices that expedite evictions.
Peter Hepburn, a research fellow with Princeton University’s Eviction Lab, told NPR that the committee’s report likely only reveals the “tip of the iceberg” and that abuses by corporate landlords could be rampant across the country.
“These firms are buying up a lot of housing, and they’re particularly buying up housing in places that have relatively weak tenant protections, places where eviction is easier, faster and cheaper,” Hepburn said. “And I don’t think that that is coincidental.”