New Select Subcommittee Report Reveals Corporate Landlords Used Abusive Tactics to Evict Struggling Americans During Height of Pandemic
Washington, D.C. (July 28, 2022) – Today, the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, chaired by Rep. James E. Clyburn, released a new staff report with findings from its year-long investigation into the eviction practices of four large corporate landlords during the first 16 months of the coronavirus pandemic. The Select Subcommittee launched its investigation on July 20, 2021, following public reports that certain large landlord companies had failed to fully comply with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) eviction moratorium or to cooperate with rental assistance programs funded by Congress.
The Select Subcommittee found that the four companies under investigation—Pretium Partners (through its companies Progress Residential and Front Yard Residential) (Pretium), Invitation Homes, Ventron Management (Ventron), and The Siegel Group (Siegel)—engaged in abusive tactics to remove tenants from their homes. The investigation revealed that these companies filed a total of 14,744 eviction actions between March 15, 2020, and July 29, 2021—nearly three times more than previously known. At the same time, these companies each displayed evidence of financial stability: Invitation Homes reported record profits, Pretium invested in significant expansions, Siegel experienced almost no revenue decline, and both Ventron and Siegel each received more than $2 million in forgiven Paycheck Protection Program funds.
Chairman Clyburn released the following statement about today’s report:
“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. 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. 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. In some instances, the Select Subcommittee found that their abuses may have violated the law, and I have referred our relevant findings to the appropriate federal and state agencies for further investigation and potential enforcement action. These companies must be held accountable, and we must work to ensure that future emergencies do not result in further egregious evictions.”
Today’s staff report, entitled “Examining Pandemic Evictions: A Report on Abuses by Four Corporate Landlords During the Coronavirus Crisis,” is available in full here and reveals the following key findings:
- Pretium, Invitation Homes, Ventron, and Siegel filed nearly three times as many eviction cases as previously reported, totaling almost 15,000 eviction filings. At the time the Select Subcommittee launched its investigation, publicly available data showed these four companies had filed a combined totally of 5,413 eviction cases from March 2020 through July 2021. New data obtained by the Select Subcommittee from the companies themselves shows that they filed at least 14,744 eviction cases in this period. Two of these companies, Siegel and Invitation Homes, did not maintain complete data on eviction actions filed during this period, indicating that the total number of eviction cases filed may be even higher.
- Siegel used harassment tactics and engaged in deceptive and potentially unlawful practices to prevent tenants from understanding their protection from eviction under the CDC moratorium. New documents obtained by the Select Subcommittee show that executives aimed to “bluff” tenants out of their apartments by ordering that subordinates post and distribute copies of a court order holding that the CDC lacked authority to impose the eviction moratorium—deliberately hiding the fact that the court had also ordered that the moratorium’s protections would remain in effect as the case was appealed. A Siegel executive specifically directed that the stayed order be brought to a tenant “after 5pm” on a Friday “so the courts and constable office are closed and she cannot call to verify anything” and “see if she vacates over the weekend.” The executive followed up with the company’s regional managers to ensure that the deceptive strategy of distributing the order was being followed, writing that “properties have been using this order to bluff people out,” and “I hope you all are doing the same.” Property managers carried out this directive with evident glee, with one writing to an executive and a regional manager that he “love[d] getting to say that this means the eviction may happen sooner than expected and seeing the look on their faces 😊.” A regional manager similarly reported to executives that his region had been distributing the order and was “seeing positive results,” indicating that people were leaving their homes as a result, which he described as “to our advantage.”
- New evidence obtained by the Select Subcommittee also shows that Siegel executives directed employees to use harassment tactics to push tenants out of their apartments. One Siegel executive sent a property manager and a regional manager in Texas a suggested list of strategies to “get rid of” a “past due” tenant without obtaining an eviction order. The list included directions to “call Child Protective Services to come out” on the tenant “if there are too many [occupants] and some are kids,” even though such a situation would not warrant such a call. If a call was in fact made, it may have violated Texas criminal law prohibiting false reports of child abuse and neglect. The executive’s recommended strategies also included having security knock “on her door at least twice at night,” and replacing her air conditioning unit with a “nonworking AC.”
- Ventron and Pretium continued to apply a low threshold for initiating eviction filings during the pandemic. Documents show that 91% of the eviction actions Ventron filed during the first 16 months of the pandemic involved tenants who were only one month behind on rent. Pretium’s policies, similarly, placed tenants into its eviction filing process after they fell as little as $500 to $1,000 behind on rent. The quick resort to eviction filing during the latter part of this this period, after significant federal rental assistance funds were allocated in December 2020 and March 2021, may have deprived renters of housing at a time when states and localities were working to set up new programs to disburse federal emergency rental assistance.
- Invitation Homes downplayed the impact of its pandemic eviction filings to its major government-backed creditor. Invitation Homes responded to inquiries from representatives of Fannie Mae—the government-sponsored enterprise that supported Invitation Homes with $1 billion in financing in 2017—about its pandemic eviction practices by downplaying their impacts. Invitation Homes told a Fannie Mae representative in March 2021 that only 6% of in the company’s eviction filings in the previous six months resulted in “residents losing their housing,” but appears to only reflect tenants who were formally evicted by court order. The company’s own data for October 2020 through March 2021 show that approximately 27% of tenants whom it filed to evict in that period lost their housing either formally through court-ordered eviction or because they vacated or moved out of their homes after an eviction case was filed. For the entire March 15, 2020 through July 29, 2021 period, approximately 29% of the company’s tenants whom Invitation Homes filed to evict lost their housing.
- Ventron, Invitation Homes, Siegel, and Pretium had policies or practices that allowed filing eviction cases even when a tenant had applied for rental assistance and was waiting for aid. The policies, statements, and eviction filing practices of these companies show that they filed for eviction against numerous tenants who were waiting for pandemic rental assistance as state and local governments set up infrastructure to disburse billions in federal assistance dollars. Rental assistance programs ultimately disbursed more than $25 billion in aid to renters, but in the first three months after Congress first allocated rental assistance dollars (from January to March 2021), state and local governments had only been able to deliver $250 million to renters awaiting assistance. While not unlawful in most states, these companies’ decisions to file such actions put tenants—very few of whom likely had legal representation—at risk of losing their homes while waiting for assistance and saddled them with records of public eviction filings that could harm their ability to obtain housing in the future.
- These corporate landlords’ aggressive eviction filing practices during the first 16 months of the pandemic, which continued even after the appropriation of billions of dollars in federal rental assistance, cannot be explained by severe financial duress. Invitation Homes reported record profits during this period, Pretium Partners acquired thousands of new properties, and both Siegel and Ventron received millions of dollars in Paycheck Protection Program funds. Siegel’s records also show that the company experienced almost no revenue decline even during the most disruptive early period of the pandemic.
The report recommends that, in future emergencies, Congress and watchdog agencies help prevent more people from losing their homes, specifying that: Congress can prevent aggressive eviction filing by corporate landlords by including safeguards to protect tenants whose landlords do not accept rental assistance offers by requiring states and localities provide direct-to-tenant assistance to tenants with uncooperative landlords; Congress can make tenants less vulnerable to eviction filings by supporting state and local rental assistance infrastructure so relief can be delivered more quickly; and watchdogs like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) can also protect tenants in future emergencies by prioritizing investigation of deceptive or unfair business practices used by landlords to push tenants out of their homes, like those used by Siegel to deceive tenants into the belief that they were not protected by the CDC eviction moratorium.
Chairman Clyburn has referred relevant findings of the Select Subcommittee for further investigation and potential enforcement or other action to: the CFPB and FTC regarding Siegel’s CDC moratorium-related deceptions; Fannie Mae regarding Invitation Homes’ potential misrepresentations; and the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to determine whether any Siegel employee filed any false report of child abuse or neglect to coerce tenants to leave their homes.
The Select Subcommittee examined over 50,000 pages of documents obtained from the four companies and held four staff meetings and briefings with company representatives. The Select Subcommittee also held a hearing on July 27, 2021, regarding pandemic evictions by corporate landlords and pandemic rental assistance programs.
Click here to read the letter from Chairman Clyburn to the Federal Trade Commission.
Click here to read the letter from Chairman Clyburn to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Click here to read the letter from Chairman Clyburn to Fannie Mae.
Click here to read the letter from Chairman Clyburn to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.