Corporate Landlords Pushed Out Thousands Of Tenants During Eviction Moratorium, Investigation Finds
A congressional investigation has found that four corporate landlords forced out almost 15,000 tenants while the national eviction moratorium imposed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was in effect.
The investigation by the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis on Thursday published its report on four companies — Invitation Homes, Pretium Partners, The Siegel Group and Ventron Management — revealing business practices advocates say are much more commonplace from large investors than small landlords. The investigation also found the issues extend far beyond just the named companies.
The subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, subpoenaed the four landlords last summer after initial research found they had evicted 5,000 tenants despite the CDC moratorium. But that referred only to evictions carried out after court judgments; the number of tenants who moved after receiving eviction notices but ahead of a damaging court judgment was much greater.
The Siegel Group went so far as to call Child Protective Services on some Texas tenants with children, citing baseless claims as an intimidation tactic. The investigation further found it told many of its tenants the CDC moratorium had been lifted before that was the case.
The Siegel Group and Ventron own or manage apartment buildings, but Pretium and Invitation Homes focus primarily on single-family rentals — part of the deluge of institutional investors buying up single-family homes and driving up rent and home prices across the country, especially in Southern states where population growth is strongest and housing markets are less regulated.
Investor landlords have been accused in multiple forums of using evictions to create opportunities for turning over units and pushing rents upward. The subcommittee's investigation, as well as Clyburn's comments to the press, give weight to such claims, NPR reports. In many of the cases reviewed by the subcommittee, tenants served eviction notices were behind on rent by as little as one month and/or had already applied for Emergency Rental Assistance, according to the report.
After the CDC's moratorium expired in September, official eviction numbers remained relatively low, which the Biden administration hailed as a victory for the ERA program. But evidence is mounting that functional evictions were happening with some frequency anyway, with tenants either fearing a court judgment's effects on their future housing prospects or leaving due to pressure campaigns from landlords.
Though the findings don't carry any legal weight, the subcommittee requested the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission "investigate further and consider enforcement actions." It made a similar request of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services regarding The Siegel Group's alleged abuse of CPS.
The report also recommended that Fannie Mae, the publicly owned mortgage lender, reconsider its relationship with Invitation Homes, one of the largest owners of single-family rentals in the country. The report singled out Invitation Homes for misrepresenting its own data about evictions to downplay the frequency with which it evicted tenants.