During the Covid pandemic, The Siegel Group, a Las Vegas-based real estate firm, told staff members to force tenants out of its properties through such coercive tactics as removing air conditioners, calling a child protection agency without cause and threatening eviction despite a federal moratorium, congressional investigators say in a report published Wednesday.
The report from the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis alleges that four “corporate landlords” — The Siegel Group, Pretium, Invitation Homes and Ventron Management — engaged in a combined 15,000 evictions despite a temporary eviction moratorium the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ordered in September 2020.
“Rather than working with cost-burdened tenants, abiding by applicable eviction moratoriums, and accepting federal rental assistance,” said the subcommittee’s chair, Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., “these companies — with properties across 28 states — expedited evictions above all else.”
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According to committee investigators, The Siegel Group, which owns and operates at least 12,000 hotel rooms, many rented by the week, filed at least 774 evictions during the moratorium, which was extended by the Biden administration and lasted until August.
NBC News published a story in 2020 that described evictions during the pandemic by Invitation Homes, Pretium and Ventron.
The CDC moratorium did not prohibit all evictions. It gave tenants the opportunity to claim they had suffered an “adverse impact as a result of the pandemic” to protect themselves from being forced out of their residences.
The House report does not explicitly say the evictions were illegal.
In a statement, Siegel Group Executive Vice President and General Counsel Sean Thueson said the company was “surprised” the report had been issued without The Siegel Group’s “being called or interviewed for the report.”
“The Siegel Group has at all times been committed to abiding by the letter and the spirit of the law applicable to our operations,” Thueson said. “We will continue to put roofs over people’s heads and keep people employed. This is what we have always done. SIEGEL CARES!”
Asked about The Siegel Group’s contention, a select subcommittee spokesperson said: “The Select Subcommittee endeavored for months to get documents and information from Siegel, which initially refused to respond to the Subcommittee’s request. Only after sending a public letter from the Chairman, nearly four months after our initial request, threatening further action, did Siegel agree to cooperate and produce the minimal documents.”
In a news release Nov. 9, the subcommittee said The Siegel Group had “failed to produce key documents and information.”
Ventron Management did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In a statement, a Pretium spokesperson said the company has always complied with the CDC moratorium.
“No resident covered by a valid CDC declaration has ever been evicted from our homes for non-payment of rent,” the spokesperson said. “In fact, we had voluntarily extended the CDC moratorium for residents covered by valid CDC declarations beyond its expiration. Nothing in today’s report takes issue with either of these facts.”
A spokesperson for Invitation Homes said it responded to multiple requests from the House subcommittee over the past year.
“In a time when the focus should be on adding much-needed supply to the country’s housing market, it’s disappointing that the committee chose instead to pursue a fault-finding mission,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
“We have always worked with our residents to keep them in their homes, and we will continue to do so. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have provided help to more than 33,000 residents who were in need of extra time or financial assistance, for a total of nearly $175 million.”
Former Siegel tenant Kyuasha Parker, 43, a single mom, said she is not surprised by the findings. “They are preying on the vulnerable,” she said.
Parker alleged in court documents that a new management team harassed her. Siegel was ultimately granted a summary eviction of her and her son in February 2021 for what is legally known as “no cause” eviction, which is sought by landlords after they provide tenants with 30 days’ notice. Her lawyer obtained a stay, and she ended up moving out during that time, according to her attorney.
Parker lived in Siegel Suites Bonanza in downtown Las Vegas with her preschool age son for three years without problems until the pandemic hit. “It just went all bad,” she said.
Parker said she was finally able to scrape enough money together for a security deposit for a regular apartment when she got her federal Child Tax Credit payment.
Nancy Williams has not been so lucky. “Once you get in a weekly, you can’t get out,” Williams said.
Williams said she and her son were homeless when they moved into a Siegel property and lost their jobs during the pandemic. She said that she has been locked in legal battles over multiple eviction notices ever since but that she and her son remain in the apartment.
“We pay $300 a week in rent, so when you are only making $12.50 to $13 an hour, all of your paycheck goes to rent and food, so there is nothing left over, and they know that,” Williams said.
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Jim Berchtold of the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, who runs the Consumer Rights Project to help families in Las Vegas avoid evictions and has handled hundreds of eviction cases involving Siegel Suites, said: “At every step Siegel tried to find some way around every protection to continue to evict people. Siegel has always been an issue, because their basic business model is to take advantage of really, really low-income people who are unable to find other housing.”
Berchtold said tenants often turn to weekly rentals as a last resort because they cannot afford security deposits for regular apartments. “That is one step above homelessness,” he said.
Stephen Siegel, the founder and owner of the Siegel Group, defended his company’s business model in a New York Times story published in May 2021, saying it is intended to prevent homelessness, and he described understanding how families were struggling to live “check to check.”
Siegel also said the company provides housing to people who have been evicted in the past and may not be able to rent elsewhere.
During the pandemic, The Siegel Group and Ventron also received more than $2 million each in federal Paycheck Protection Program loans. The loans have been forgiven by the Small Business Administration.
The House report describes how a Siegel Group executive sent an email suggesting a series of aggressive ploys to get rid of a tenant in Texas who was behind in rent. One proposal, according to an email quoted in the report: “Call Child Protective Services … if there are too many [occupants] and some are kids.”
Other suggested tactics, according to the report, included having security knock on the tenants’ door twice every night and replacing functioning air-conditioning units with “nonworking AC” when tenants were not at home.
The report says Siegel Group employees also worked to deceive tenants who were behind on their rent into thinking they were not protected by the CDC moratorium. Staff members were alleged to have given tenants copies of a federal court ruling that said the CDC did not have authority to stop evictions but failed to note that the moratorium remained in effect while cases were on appeal. In an email detailed in the report, an executive referred to that as a way to “bluff people out.”
A property manager said of this tactic in an email that he “love[d] getting to say that this means the eviction may happen sooner than expected and seeing the look on their faces.” He signed the email with a smiley face emoji.
Clyburn said he has referred the potentially illegal actions by The Siegel Group to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Federal Trade Commission and the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. “I have referred our relevant findings to the appropriate federal and state agencies for further investigation and potential enforcement action,” he said.