Written by Associated Press
(AP) — A Las Vegas-based corporate owner of thousands of residential rental properties in several U.S. states is facing investigations about whether it improperly evicted tenants during the coronavirus pandemic, while it received millions of federal dollars aimed at keeping people in their homes.
Probes of The Siegel Group announced by Nevada state Attorney General Aaron Ford’s office and Clark County officials followed findings by a congressional oversight panel that company executives used “potentially unlawful” tactics last year to force tenants out.
“Siegel’s pandemic eviction practices were uniquely egregious,” the U.S. House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis said in its 41-page report. It said documents showed “harassment tactics and potentially unlawful lockouts to push tenants out of their homes without filing formal eviction actions.”
“Siegel received at least $5.5 million in federal assistance to offset pandemic costs and tenant rental arrears as it flouted tenant protections,” the report said.
Sean Thueson, Siegel Group executive vice president and general counsel, provided a company statement Wednesday saying Siegel was not “called or interviewed” for the House committee report.
“The Siegel Group has and always will try to run the most dignified rental housing business we can,” the statement said, adding that the company “has at all times been committed to abiding by the letter and the spirit of the law applicable to our operations.”
The congressional panel looked at evictions filed through July 2021 by subsidiaries of The Siegel Group and three other companies: Ventron Management, with apartments in Georgia, Florida and Alabama; Pretium Partners, corporate parent of Progress Residential and Front Yard Residential with rental homes in 24 states; and Invitation Homes, a publicly traded company with single-family rental houses in 11 states.
It said Siegel executives advised subordinates to “bluff” tenants out of their apartments by confusing them about protections they had under a federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eviction moratorium — including posting copies of a court order suggesting the CDC eviction moratorium was no longer in effect.
A national eviction moratorium enacted in September 2020 by the CDC was lifted in August 2021 after a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In another case, the House panel said, a Siegel executive sent to employees in Texas a list of strategies to “‘get rid of’ a ‘past due’ tenant without obtaining an eviction order from a court,” the congressional panel found.
Instructions included replacing the tenant’s air conditioning unit with one that didn’t work, asking state child welfare officials to investigate the tenant, and having security knock on her door “at least twice at night,” the report said.
Ford, the Nevada attorney general, characterized the report as “shocking and disturbing.”
“Evicting people from their homes during one of the most disastrous public health crises in our nation’s history is not only irresponsible, but offensive,” he said in a statement.
A Nevada eviction moratorium was first enacted in March 2020 amid business closures due to the pandemic by Gov. Steve Sisolak. The state moratorium was extended several times and ended in May 2021. Ford and Sisolak are Democrats.
Ford said the state “worked with tenants and landlords, including Siegel Suites, to ensure compliance with the directive.”
County officials want to review rental assistance provided to Siegel Suites and Siegel Select hotel-apartment units in and around Las Vegas, and “remedy any wrongs,” Dan Kulin, a county spokesman, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Monday.
Kulin did not immediately respond Wednesday to messages from The Associated Press.
Siegel Suites rents apartments beginning at $169 a week in states also including Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. It markets rentals as “flexible-stay” because it does not require a long-term lease.
The congressional panel noted the Federal Trade Commission and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau “warned against deceptive and unfair business practices” during the pandemic, but said it “is not clear that enforcement actions were prompt enough to deter such behavior from causing tenants to lose their homes.”