House launches probe of moratorium-defying evictions at weekly apartments

By: - July 22, 2021 5:57 am

A Siegel Suites weekly near Flamingo and Paradise. “Troublingly, the Siegel Group maintains that it cannot identify how many tenants it filed to evict during the pandemic because that information is held at ‘the property level,’” wrote Rep. James Clyburn.(Nevada Current file photo)

Throughout the pandemic, legal groups, housing justice organizers and tenants have warned that weekly stay apartments have been ousting renters despite federal and local protections. 

Bailey Bortolin, the statewide advocacy, outreach and policy director for the Nevada Coalition of Legal Service Providers, likened actions taken by some corporate landlords to circumvent eviction moratoria as “driving a truck through a loophole.”

“We saw corporate landlords in particular had the power, the money, the resources and the attorneys to systematically work around the protections,” she said. 

Several corporate landlords, including The Siegel Group, which operates thousands of rental units in Southern Nevada, are now being investigated by Congress. 

The Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis announced Tuesday it plans to review evictions conducted by corporate landlords during the pandemic. 

South Carolina Democratic Rep. James Clyburn, who chairs the subcommittee, said the first hearing is scheduled July 27. The committee will begin to look at whether landlords complied with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s moratorium put in place September 2020.

The federal moratorium is set to expire July 31.

In addition to The Siegel Group, the panel is looking into Invitation Homes, Ventron Management and Pretium Partners, which also has properties in Southern Nevada, for filing more than 5,000 evictions during the pandemic.

“The Siegel Group’s eviction practices during the pandemic are particularly concerning,” Clyburn wrote. “Although the Siegel Group only operates about 12,000 housing units, the company has filed at least 573 evictions since the CDC eviction moratorium went into effect in September 2020. In contrast to many other landlords, Siegel’s eviction filings appear to have hardly decreased from pre-pandemic levels, despite the eviction moratoria and the availability of rental assistance.”

Clyburn’s letter to The Siegel Group cited the Nevada Current and the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s reporting. 

Numerous articles from the Current have chronicled stories of tenants facing evictions despite submitting declarations.

One story, which was cited in the letter, highlighted Samantha Forbes, who struggled to pay rent following the lockdown and received an eviction notice in September despite submitting her CDC declaration to Siegel. In a message Wednesday, she told the Current she was finally evicted in June on a no-cause eviction.  

One tenant in March faced a no-cause eviction days before the statewide moratorium was set to expire. She was approved for $1,800 in assistance from the County.  

An investigation by the Review-Journal showed 450 eviction orders were carried out by Siegel Suites, which received millions of dollars in federal rental assistance. 

“What you see in that Review-Journal article is when you look at the data from the Siegel Group, it doesn’t appear there was any decline in their eviction numbers despite the protections being in place,” Bortolin said. “I think it’s awesome we are going to have someone get to the bottom of that and shed light on the fact that while the law is not perfect people should be held accountable for driving trucks through loopholes.”

In an email, The Siegel Group’s Senior Vice President Michael Crandall said the reporting does not “accurately portray actions by The Siegel Group with regard 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 those reports,” he added.

While the committee is expected to hold a hearing on the investigation July 27, each company has until Aug. 3 to provide:

  • The total number of tenants evicted or receiving an eviction notice from March 15 through July 31;
  • The number of CDC declarations tenants submitted to the company;
  • The amount of rental assistance turned down and the number of times the company declined to participate in rental assistance programs;
  • The number of times tenants were threatened with eviction within 120 days of receiving rental assistance
  • The policies and practices the company implemented to ensure it was complying with the moratorium;
  • Any reports or incidents when a Siegel employee reviewed a tenants’ personal mail to obtain information about their ability to pay rent or whether they received an economic impact payment. 

Though Siegel Suites is one of numerous weekly and extended stay hotels in Southern Nevada, Bortolin hopes investigating actions of the larger corporations will have an effect on other properties. 

“When we talk about this eviction moratorium and the housing crisis, it is the people with louder megaphones who are often telling the narrative,” Bortolin said. “We’ve heard from landlords specifically that when we extend the moratorium that they are the victims. It doesn’t match what we’re seeing on the ground. I hope this sheds light on how this is for tenants experiencing a housing crisis. Even with the protections in place many didn’t stand a chance.”

Gov. Steve Sisolak first issued a blanket eviction moratorium in March 2020 after businesses shut down as Covid-19 began to spread. 

When the moratorium lapsed in the fall, tenants relied on the CDC moratorium, which was in effect for rent-burden tenants who submitted a declaration.

Despite the CDC declaration, rental assistance and a statewide eviction mediation program, Las Vegas Justice Court saw an alarming spike in eviction filings in November 2020. 

Sisolak issued another moratorium in December, which expired May 31. 

“When we saw these landlords skirting protections, Gov. Sisolak stepped in and created a state moratorium, and that was effective and had a greater impact on forcing landlords to comply with the original intent of the CDC moratorium,” Bortolin said. 

Ahead of the moratorium expiring, lawmakers passed Assembly Bill 486 to connect the eviction process to rental applications. Tenants who applied for or were waiting for rental assistance could have their cases paused while their applications were being processed. 

Bortolin thinks lawmakers learned from loopholes being used by some landlords and wrote the legislation to reflect issues tenants were facing.

“When they passed AB 486, instead of using generic ‘nonpayment of rent’ language to craft the protections, they also broadened it to apply to any case where there is a deficiency in rent and that legal distinction is really important,” she said. “It means you can’t access any road to an eviction without going through these protective measures because we know landlords were actively working around the protections.”

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Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle

Michael Lyle (MJ to some) has been a journalist in Las Vegas for eight years. While he covers a range of topics from homelessness to the criminal justice system, he gravitates toward stories about race relations and LGBTQ issues.