LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — The Siegel Group “has employed troubling practices to evict tenants,” all while accepting a $2.32 million federal loan during the pandemic, according to a new report critical of four national landlords.
The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan was forgiven in its entirety, according to a congressional staff report released Thursday. And milllions more went to Siegel through other pandemic relief programs.
The report singles out Pretium Partners, Invitation Homes, Ventron Management and The Siegel Group — which operates primarily in Nevada and Arizona, with 30 properties in Nevada. All were accused of understating evictions, and Siegel and Invitation Homes failed to maintain complete eviction records, suggesting the eviction numbers could be much higher than stated.
A total of 5,413 evictions were reported by the four landlords from March 2020 through July 2021, but at least 14,744 evictions were filed, according to new data obtained by congressional staff. “Siegel filed at least 774 actions compared with 573 that were previously identified,” the report said.
The report, “Examining Pandemic Evictions: A Report on Abuses by Four Corporate Landlords During the Coronavirus Crisis,” criticizes Siegel on several fronts:
- Of the four corporate landlords, Siegel was singled out for aggressive eviction practices that were “particularly troubling and appear to have been unlawful.”
- Evicting at least 89 Siegel tenants with pending rental assistance applications.
- Harassment tactics and “potentially unlawful” lockouts to push tenants out of their homes without filing formal eviction actions.
- Trying to “bluff” tenants out of their apartments by hiding the fact that eviction moratoriums remained in place while court appeals were pursued.
- Directing employees to use harassment tactics to get rid of tenants who were behind on rent. In one case in Texas, a list of strategies included reporting a tenant to Child Protective Services Harassing, having security knock on the door “at least twice at night,” and replacing an air conditioner with one that didn’t work.
An image (above) from the report shows email communications discussing the “bluff” tactic was used at one of Siegel’s properties on Charleston Boulevard.
Jim Berchtold is the directing attorney for the Consumer Rights Project at Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, which has helped many former Siegel Suites tenants.
“It was just a list of all the really bad things we’ve seen over the course of the last few years during the pandemic,” Berchtold said.
He told 8 News Now there’s no indication the practices have stopped.
“It’s now been referred to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for investigation, to the Federal Trade Commission for investigation. We’re hoping every entity at the state level is taking a critical look at this report to see if additional action is warranted,” Berchtold said.
The report says Siegel’s practices likely violated Federal Trade Commission and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau guidelines and rules requiring notice of CDC moratorium protections and prohibiting deceptive practices.
The full report:
Siegel manages about 12,000 apartments across eight states.
“Documents obtained by the Select Subcommittee show that Siegel experienced almost no decline in revenue during the second quarter of 2020, the most economically disruptive period of the pandemic,” according to the report. In addition to the $2.32. million PPP loan, Siegel received millions more, adding up to a total of at least $5.5 million during the pandemic:
- $1.785 million in rental assistance funded through the CARES Act in 2020 for tenants behind on rent — even before Congress authorized the funds.
- $1.44 million in rental assistance funds through July 2021, 2ith $87,000 in additional payments
The loans were issued to offset pandemic costs and cover rent payments for tenants who were behind.
The Siegel Group issued a statement Thursday afternoon:
“While we have read today’s report, we were surprised it was issued without being called or interviewed for the report. That said, The Siegel Group has and always will try to run the most dignified rental housing business we can, all while still dealing with some of the most difficult issues facing communities around this great country. The Siegel Group has at all times been committed to abiding by the letter and the spirit of the law applicable to our operations. We will continue to put roofs over people’s heads and keep people employed. This is what we have always done. SIEGEL CARES!”
Publicly traded Invitation Homes reported record profits during this period, Pretium acquired thousands of new properties, and both Siegel and Ventron received millions of dollars in direct relief. Siegel’s records also show that the company experienced almost no revenue decline even during the most disruptive early period of the pandemic.
The Siegel Group tactics to deceive tenants occurred even though managers understood that court appeals meant evictions couldn’t move forward.
Documents obtained by the Select Subcommittee also show that Siegel property managers understood that the stayed district court order did not actually void the moratorium’s protection, and that posting copies of that order was intended to deceive tenants into the belief that they were no longer protected from eviction. In a May 21, 2021, email to a Siegel executive and regional manager, a Siegel property manager informed his superiors that he would be serving notices to begin the eviction filing process for six tenants who had provided Siegel with CDC moratorium declarations attesting that they met the criteria for protection from eviction. The property manager wrote he would serve these tenants “with the hopes that they will move on their own since they all have received a copy of the District Judge’s ruling Vacating the CDC so if they are not up on the news I am hoping they will go.” Siegel’s Vice President for Operations responded “Good stuff !”Congressional staff report
Additionally, Siegel appears to have abused its access to tenants’ personal information — including their mail. Photos of checks sent to tenants were cited as proof that people weren’t entitled to eviction moratorium protections, according to the report:
Siegel also appears to have used its access to tenants’ personal information, including their mail and packages, to gain information to challenge tenants’ CDC declarations by arguing they had not experienced sufficient hardship as a result of the pandemic. Court filings show that the company used exhibits attaching pictures of tenant mail and packages and cited Social Security payments received “at the property” to argue that tenants were not entitled to protection under the CDC eviction moratorium. Emails suggest that executives were aware that managers were collecting this type of information about tenants.”Congressional staff report
A statement from Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak’s Office condemned the tactics detailed in the report and accused corporations of putting profits over people.
“Nevadans came together during a difficult time, and it is unacceptable that despite legal protections that were put in place, some corporate landlords benefited off of and abused vulnerable Nevada families,” the statement said. “It was crucial to our communities that Nevadans had homes to stay home in during the height of the pandemic, and it was to the detriment of all Nevadans that families were wrongfully evicted. Corporate greed is a driving force of the housing crisis, and the governor remains committed to putting Nevada families first.”
The Governor’s Office remains committed to “continue to work with federal, state and local partners to root out any and all bad actors and hold them accountable.” The statement also reminded Nevadans who need help that rental and mortgage assistance remain available:
- Rental assistance information: https://housing.nv.gov/.
- Mortgage assistance (through the Nevada Homeowner Assistance Fund): https://nahac.org.
The congressional report also suggested future actions to prevent landlord abuses.
“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,” the report said.