House panel targets corporate landlords tied to thousands of evictions

Eviction Notice. Man holding eviction noticeA House panel is pressing four corporate landlords to explain why 5,000 renters were allegedly forced out during the pandemic while a federal eviction moratorium was in place.

As part of its investigation into pandemic evictions, the select subcommittee on the coronavirus crisis called on Invitation Homes, Pretium Partners, Ventron Management and the Siegel Group to provide documentation about their eviction practices, according to letters dated Monday and signed by Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), the panel’s chairman.

Some of these companies “refused to accept rental assistance funds” as an alternative to eviction, the letters stated, while others have accepted funds and moved to evict families anyway. As a result, such practices have had a “substantial negative impact” on struggling American families, the letters said.

Ventron Management moved to evict more than a quarter of its 8,000 tenants during the pandemic, the letter said. The Siegel Group, meanwhile, has repeatedly “challenged” whether the eviction moratorium applies to its tenants and has “rapidly” increased its eviction filings for reasons not related to payment of rent.

Invitation Homes saw its profits soar 30 percent in 2020 “while continuing to benefit from federally supported financing” that allowed it to expand its stock of rental units, Clyburn wrote, but the Dallas-based company nonetheless moved to evict scores of tenants, including many who had been approved for federal rental assistance.

“The failure of some large landlord companies to comply with eviction moratoria or to cooperate with rental assistance programs is creating significant hardship for tenants affected by the coronavirus crisis and could contribute to a needless housing crisis as our nation recovers from the pandemic and its economic fallout,” Clyburn wrote.

Ventron Management and Las Vegas-based Siegel Group did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In an email to The Washington Post, Pretium Partners contends it has secured upward of $25 million in rental assistance on behalf of more than 3,000 residents since the beginning of the pandemic. The New York City-based company also said it has “forgiven and provided relocation assistance” amounting to an additional $25 million and has administered “tens of thousands” of payment plans.

“Our policy is, and always has been, to not evict any resident covered by a CDC declaration, and we have committed to honor CDC declarations beyond the stated expiration,” the company said.

Invitation Homes has “always worked” to keep its 80,000 tenants in their homes and will “continue to do so,” the company told The Post in an email. It said it will comply with the House panel’s request for documents.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have assisted our residents facing COVID-related financial hardships by offering them a variety of payment options, informing them of their rights, and connecting them with local and national emergency rental assistance programs,” Invitation Homes said in an email to The Post. “We’ve also helped hundreds of residents in applying for rental assistance where we’re permitted to do so.”

Housing has emerged as one of the most unequal features of the economic recovery. On one end, rising rents and the expiration of the U.S. eviction moratorium on July 31 pose further harm to some of the nation’s most vulnerable households. On the other end, a hot housing market has sent home prices skyrocketing, as wealthier Americans take advantage of low mortgage rates and a booming stock market to scoop up the relatively few homes available.

Roughly 11.5 million Americans were behind on rent as of late June, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Black and Latino renters have faced the greatest threat of eviction in the pandemic, according to research from Harvard University. But Black tenants faced dramatically higher eviction filing rates than White renters even before the pandemic, according to research from Princeton University’s Eviction Lab.

Pretium Partners, which is helmed by former Goldman Sachs partner Don Mullen, says it is the second-largest owner and operator of single-family rental homes in the United States, with a portfolio of 70,000 properties.

The company has said its managers “work with residents and seek to avoid eviction.” But research from the Private Equity Stakeholder Project, a nonprofit that has been tracking eviction filings by corporate landlords in the pandemic, found that Pretium Partners has filed for eviction at far higher rates in majority-Black counties than majority-White counties.

The four companies have until Aug. 3 to produce documents sought by the subcommittee, including all communications and internal policies regarding federal eviction moratoria and records of evictions and rental assistance claims.

Eviction “can disrupt virtually every aspect of a family’s life,” putting them at greater risk of job loss and chronic homelessness, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who chairs the House Financial Services Committee, wrote in a July 1 letter to companies that allegedly violated federal eviction bans. “Housing instability can be particularly traumatic for young children and can have lifelong impacts, including through disruptions to their education.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will not extend its eviction moratorium past the end of this month, which raises the stakes for state and local governments to significantly ramp up the amount of emergency rental relief reaching tenants and landlords. All told, Congress has appropriated $46 billion for emergency rental aid. Of the $25 billion appropriated in December, only $1.5 billion was spent on rent, utilities and arrears from January through May, according to the latest figures from the Treasury Department. The agency has yet to release data on how much of the other $21 billion has been spent.

The Biden administration is calling for an all-hands-on-deck approach to keep people in their homes. That includes local governments, the court system, tenant advocates, landlord groups, legal aid organizations and others who can help slow-track eviction cases and roll out other diversionary measures.

On Wednesday, the White House will host a second eviction-prevention summit as housing concerns mount ahead of the July 31 deadline. The hope is that local officials can split up responsibilities and come away with a plan to stave off an eviction crisis. After the initial White House meeting on June 30, some participants gave The Post mixed reviews on whether concrete plans were made.