House launches investigation into evictions defying moratorium on weekly apartments
Throughout the pandemic, legal groups, housing justice organizers and tenants have warned that weekly-stay apartments are chasing tenants despite federal and local protections.
Bailey Bortolin, director of defense, outreach and statewide policy for the Nevada Coalition of Legal Service Providers, compared the steps some business owners have taken to get around moratoriums on evictions to “Driving a truck through a loophole”.
“We saw that business owners in particular had the power, the money, the resources and the lawyers to systematically bypass protections,” she said.
Several business owners, including The Siegel Group, which operates thousands of rental units in southern Nevada, are currently under investigation by Congress.
The select subcommittee on the coronavirus crisis announced on Tuesday that it plans to review evictions carried out by business owners during the pandemic.
South Carolina Democratic Representative James Clyburn, who chairs the subcommittee, said the first hearing is scheduled for July 27. The committee will begin to review whether homeowners have complied with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention moratorium put in place in September 2020.
The federal moratorium is due to expire on July 31.
In addition to The Siegel Group, the panel is examining Invitation Homes, Ventron Management and Pretium Partners, which also owns properties in southern Nevada, for filing more than 5,000 evictions during the pandemic.
“The Siegel group’s eviction practices during the pandemic are of particular concern”, Clyburn wrote. “Although the Siegel Group only operates around 12,000 homes, the company has filed at least 573 evictions since the CDC’s moratorium on evictions took effect in September 2020. Unlike many other landlords, the demands Siegel’s evictions appear to have barely declined from before pandemic levels, despite moratoriums on evictions and the availability of rental assistance. “
Clyburn’s letter to the Siegel Group cited reports from the Nevada Current and the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Many articles from Current have chronicled stories of tenants facing evictions despite the statements.
One story, which was cited in the letter, highlighted Samantha Forbes, who struggled to pay her rent after the foreclosure and received an eviction notice in September despite submitting her CDC statement to Siegel . In a message on Wednesday, she told The Current that she was ultimately kicked out in June for an eviction without cause.
A tenant in March faced a eviction without cause days before the statewide moratorium expires. She was approved for $ 1,800 in county assistance.
A Review-Journal survey showed 450 eviction orders were made by Siegel Suites, which has received millions of dollars in federal rent assistance.
“What you see in this Review-Journal article is that when you look at the data from the Siegel Group, it doesn’t appear that there has been a drop in the number of evictions despite the protections in place,” Bortolin said. “I think it’s great that someone gets to the bottom of this and sheds light on the fact that even though the law is not perfect, people should be held accountable for driving trucks through loopholes. “
In an email, Siegel Group Senior Vice President Michael Crandall said the report does “not accurately portray the actions of the Siegel Group with respect to the CDC moratorium.”
“We therefore look forward to responding to the Committee’s request for information to provide the facts ignored and / or omitted in these reports, ”he added.
While the committee is expected to hold a hearing on the investigation on July 27, each company has until August 3 to provide:
- The total number of tenants evicted or having received an eviction notice from March 15 to July 31;
- The number of CDC tenant declarations submitted to the company;
- The amount of rental assistance refused and the number of times the business refused to participate in rental assistance programs;
- Number of times tenants have been threatened with eviction within 120 days of receiving rental assistance
- The policies and practices put in place by the company to ensure that it complies with the moratorium;
- Any report or incident where a Siegel employee has reviewed a tenant’s personal mail for information about their ability to pay rent or whether they have received an economic impact payment.
While Siegel Suites is one of several weekly and extended stay hotels in southern Nevada, Bortolin is hopeful that the large business stock survey will have an effect on other properties.
“When we talk about this moratorium on evictions and the housing crisis, it’s the people with louder megaphones who often tell the story,” Bortolin said. “We have heard from owners specifically that when we extend the moratorium, they are the victims. It does not match what we are seeing on the ground. Hopefully this will shed some light on the situation for tenants facing a housing crisis. Even with the protections in place, many didn’t stand a chance.
Governor Steve Sisolak first issued a general moratorium on evictions in March 2020 after businesses shut down as Covid-19 began to spread.
When the moratorium ended in the fall, tenants relied on the CDC’s moratorium, which was in effect for rental dependent tenants who submitted a return.
Despite the CDC’s statement, rental assistance and a statewide eviction mediation program, the Las Vegas court saw a alarming spike in eviction cases in November 2020.
Sisolak issued another moratorium in December, which expired on May 31.
“When we saw these owners bypassing protections, Governor Sisolak stepped in and created a state moratorium, which was effective and had a greater impact in forcing owners to comply with the original intent of the moratorium. of the CDC, “Bortolin said.
Before the moratorium expired, lawmakers passed Assembly Bill 486 to link the eviction process to tenancy applications. Tenants who applied for or were waiting for rental assistance could have their file suspended while their application was being processed.
Bortolin believes lawmakers learned from loopholes used by some landlords and drafted the legislation to reflect the issues tenants faced.
“When they adopted AB 486, instead of using the generic ‘non-payment of rent’ language to craft the protections, they also broadened it to apply to all cases where there is a rent deficit. and this legal distinction is really important, ”she said. “This means you can’t access any road for eviction without going through these safeguards because we know the owners were actively working around the protections. “