Corporate landlords used “deceptive” tactics to evict tenants during the pandemic despite federal and local eviction moratoriums being in place, according to a new report.
The report, compiled by the federal Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis, found that four corporate landlords—Pretium Partners, Invitation Homes, Ventron Management, and The Siegel Group—filed more than 15,000 evictions between March 2020 and July 2021. That total is three times more than the four companies previously admitted to filing.
At the same time, the landlords used “potentially unlawful” tactics to get their tenants to leave, such as locking them out of their homes, “bluffing” residents into leaving by distributing disinformation about the moratoriums, and rejecting rental aid payments.
“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,” said Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-SC, chairman of the committee.
“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,” Clyburn continued.
The committee began investigating the landlords in July 2021 after reports surfaced that the companies continued to file evictions despite the moratoriums being in place. It took the body a year to return its report on the conduct of the four companies.
According to the report, all companies had policies allowing for evictions to be filed while the moratoriums were in effect. These policies not only put residents at risk of losing their homes but also “saddled tenants with records of public eviction filings that could harm their ability to obtain housing in the future.”
Some companies also used intimidation tactics to force their tenants to leave without filing evictions.
For example, the Siegel Group’s executives sent property managers a list of strategies to “get rid of” tenants. These included calling Child Protective Services and accusing the tenants of child abuse. It also suggested having maintenance workers replace working air conditioning units with nonworking ones.
On top of this conduct, the report added that these companies also misstated their eviction data to federal regulators. For instance, Innovation Homes told Fannie Mae that just six percent of its eviction cases resulted in “residents losing their housing.” The special committee found that the actual number of cases ending this way was approximately 27 percent. The company also reported record profits for the year.
These companies also rejected tenants who had applied for assistance and were waiting on a response. In one instance, the Seigel Group evicted 89 residents who had pending rental assistance applications, according to the report.
“These companies must be held accountable, and we must work to ensure that future emergencies do not result in further egregious evictions,” Clyburn said. He added that the committee referred any abuses that may have violated the law to the appropriate authorities for further investigation.
Evictions became a central focus of the federal government’s COVID-19 strategy to prevent a steep increase in homelessness because of the economic impacts of the pandemic.
Since March 2020, the government has approved more than $46.5 billion in funding for state and local governments to expand their emergency rental assistance programs.
On top of the funding, the Center for Disease Control also issued a moratorium that prohibited landlords from filing evictions against tenants seeking assistance. Several states issued similar declarations between March 2020 and August 2021, when the Supreme Court struck down the moratorium.
These moratoriums were largely successful at keeping people housed. Data from Princeton University’s Eviction Lab, which tracks evictions in six states and 31 cities, shows the moratoriums prevented as many as 1.55 million evictions while in place. For comparison, landlords typically file 3.6 million evictions in an average year.
However, eviction cases are increasing across the country as local moratoriums expire. Eviction Lab data shows that states like Minnesota and New Mexico are seeing significant spikes in evictions. Meanwhile, cities such as Boston, Massachusetts, Charleston, South Carolina, and Dallas, Texas, are seeing their eviction filings climb as well.
How You Can Help
The pandemic proved that we need to rethink housing in the United States. It also showed that providing additional support and protections for renters is a clear-cut way to reduce future increases in homelessness.
That’s why we need you to contact your officials and representatives. Tell them you support keeping many of the pandemic-related aid programs in place for future use. They have proven effective at keeping people housed, which is the first step to ending homelessness.