Dallas owner made record profits while avoiding eviction moratoriums, US House committee says – The Gilmer Mirror

By Joshua FechterThe TexasTribune

Dallas owner made record profits while avoiding eviction moratoriums, U.S. House committee sayswas first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that educates — and engages with — Texans about public policy, politics, government and issues in the world. statewide.

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DALLAS — A Dallas-based business owner skirted a federal ban on evictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic while making record profits and raising rents, according to findings from a congressional investigation released Thursday.

Invitation Homes, a Dallas company that owns about 80,000 rental units across the country, has sought to evict thousands of tenants during a federal moratorium on eviction filings, according to a report from the Special Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis. The moratorium was intended to prevent a wave of people from losing their homes while suffering financial hardship as the pandemic ravaged the economy.

Invitation filed evictions against tenants even as they waited for help from federally supported housing assistance programs and refused to take funds from those programs if they deemed the amount of assistance too low, the committee said. Meanwhile, Invitation downplayed the number of tenants the company ultimately evicted to Fannie Mae, the federal housing institution, which backed the company with a $1 billion loan in 2017.

In an emailed statement to the Texas Tribune, a spokesperson for Invitation Homes said the Dallas company worked to keep tenants housed, helping more than 33,000 “who needed extra time or financial assistance, for a total of nearly $175 million”. The statement said the company helped 10,000 tenants get rental assistance.

“At a time when the focus should be on adding much-needed supply to the country’s housing market, it is disappointing that the committee has instead chosen to pursue a fault-finding mission,” the gatekeeper said. -word of Invitation.

The House committee’s findings, however, come after a year-long investigation into the eviction practices of Invitation and three other big business owners — Pretium Partners, Ventron Management and The Siegel Group — as the Moratorium on evictions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was in place for the first 16 months of the pandemic.

In total, landlords filed more than 14,000 evictions across the country during that time as their businesses appeared to be doing just fine, the committee found. Nearly 2,000 of those deportation records were in Texas, according to documents provided to the committee that the Tribune reviewed.

“While countless Americans have done admirably to support their communities during the coronavirus crisis, the four landlord corporations the select subcommittee investigated were aggressively expelled to boost their profits,” the rep said. US Democrat Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, who chaired the committee. “While the abusive eviction practices documented in this report are condemnable in any circumstance, they are unconscionable during an economic and public health crisis that only occurs once in a century.”

The CDC’s moratorium was intended to help tenants in financial difficulty during the peak of the pandemic, but did not apply to all evictions or halt them uniformly. Tenants had to show they were trying to pay the rent or that they would have nowhere else to go if they were evicted, among other requirements. But not all tenants knew the command or how to use it. On top of that, the moratorium has not been enforced in all areas of Texas.

Investigators allege the companies used aggressive tactics to get rid of tenants who fell behind on rent during the height of the pandemic’s economic fallout – although it’s unclear whether the landlords broke the law.

In one such case, a Siegel executive sent an email to managers overseeing a San Antonio property with a list of aggressive methods to try to get rid of a tenant behind on their rent.

Managers could try telling the tenant on a Friday night that they were planning to evict her on Monday and see if she was leaving over the weekend, the executive wrote in an email sent in May 2021. They could also try to call “Child Protective Services” or replace her. working air conditioner with a non-working one, the executive suggested.

On Thursday, Clyburn contacted the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to inquire whether Siegel employees had made false allegations of child abuse — a felony in a Texas state prison — to the agency regarding the one of their tenants.

A spokesperson for Pretium — which filed more than 1,800 evictions in Texas while the CDC moratorium was in place — said the company “has always complied” with the federal moratorium and voluntarily extended its protections after the the order expires in August 2021. No Pretium tenants have been evicted. for non-payment of rent if they had a “valid CDC statement,” the spokesperson said.

“We share the goal of housing stability and are committed to partnering with bipartisan policymakers on meaningful solutions that appropriately bridge the gap between the role of government as a public safety net and the role of the private sector. as a fiscally responsible provider of safe, stable and affordable rental accommodation,” the Pretium spokesperson said.

The invitation filed at least 3,300 evictions from March 2020 to July 2021, company insiders told committee investigators. More than 140 of them were in Texas, according to records provided to the committee. But that number could be higher given that Invitation did not keep accurate records of company-initiated evictions, according to the report.

Meanwhile, Invitation’s earnings have hit record highs during the pandemic – growing over 30% to nearly $200 million in 2020 and another 30% in 2021 to over $260 million. During this period, the average monthly rent for its houses increased by almost 10% between the beginning of 2020 and the end of 2021.

But when asked by Fannie Mae about its eviction practices, Invitation downplayed the number of its tenants initiating eviction claims against those who ended up being evicted from their homes. An executive told a Fannie Mae representative in March 2021 that only 6% of households the company had tried to evict in the previous six months had ultimately lost their homes.

But according to company records, that figure was more like 27%. During the moratorium, about 29% of Invitation tenants the company attempted to evict ultimately lost their homes, according to the report.

In a letter to Fannie Mae on Thursday, Clyburn suggested the federal agency “review the conduct and statements of Invitation Homes regarding its pandemic eviction practices before acting as a significant creditor of the business in the future”.

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This article originally appeared in The Texas Grandstand at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/07/28/dallas-landlord-profits-evictions/.

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