The report references an email from a regional manager for Siegel who wrote that they “love[d] getting to say that this means the eviction may happen sooner than expected and seeing the look on their faces.” The email ends with a smiley face emoji. (Nevada Current file photo)
Though a recent U.S. House committee investigation revealed Siegel Suites used abusive tactics to force people out during the pandemic and evicted tenants even as they waited on rental assistance, the damage is already done for Ashima Carter.
Carter received an eviction notice in March 2021 even though she was approved for rental assistance from Clark County. She and her two children, then 14 and 6, left the morning a constable was supposed to come, and have struggled to find permanent housing ever since.
“They messed my life up right now,” she said. “With that eviction from Siegel Suites on my credit, it’s been hard for me to get housing.”
A House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis had been investigating The Siegel Group, along with three other national extended stay corporations, Invitation Homes, Ventron Management and Pretium Partners, for the last year.
Early data from the committee estimated the four corporate landlords being investigated filed 5,414 eviction cases from March 2020 through July 2021.
Thursday’s report showed it was much higher.
Recent findings from the committee showed companies had “nearly three times as many eviction cases as previously reported, totaling almost 15,000 eviction filings.”
The report, which called The Siegel Group’s practices “uniquely egregious,” said the company used “deceptive and potentially unlawful practices” and engaged in harassment tactics. The panel’s investigation found emails from regional managers who were at times gleeful when an eviction took place.
All four companies had been found to file evictions even when tenants applied for or were waiting on rental assistance.
According to the report, “internal Siegel data show that the company evicted at least 89 tenants with pending rental assistance applications.”
South Carolina Democratic Rep. James Clyburn, who chairs the subcommittee, said at any other time the abuses “would be condemnable” but said they are “unconscionable during a once-in-a-century economic and public health crisis.”
“In some instances, the Select Subcommittee found that their abuses may have violated the law, and I have referred our relevant findings to the appropriate federal and state agencies for further investigation and potential enforcement action,” he said. “These companies must be held accountable, and we must work to ensure that future emergencies do not result in further egregious evictions.”
In an email, Gov. Steve Sisolak’s office applauded the work the panel has done and said Sisolak “is appalled and dismayed by the tactics employed by these corporate landlords during the worst public health emergency in our country’s history” adding the company “put profits over people.
Sean Thueson, the executive vice president and general counsel for The Siegel Group, said in a statement he was surprised the report “was issued without being called or interviewed for the report” and said the company tries to “to run the most dignified rental housing business.”
“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!”
Sisolak issued a blanket eviction moratorium in March 2020 after businesses shut down as Covid-19 began to spread. The statewide moratorium was extended multiple times until July 2021.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also issued an order in September 2020 saying landlords couldn’t evict people for the nonpayment of rent.
Tenants and legal groups warned at the time that landlords like Siegel Suites were trying to skirt the moratorium, sometimes using “no cause” evictions to oust tenants.
Nevada Current first spoke to Carter in March of 2021 right after she received a “no cause” eviction notice from Siegel. At the time, she was afraid to use her full name out of fear of retaliation but “it doesn’t matter at this point.”
Leading up to her eviction, Carter previously told the Current she had to reduce her hours as a warehouse worker with Amazon in order to help her son, who is legally blind, complete school assignments. Because of the virus, schools went virtual.
She eventually fell behind on rent, and needed to apply for assistance. Carter was approved for nearly $1,800 of rental assistance through Clark County’s CARES Housing Assistance Program. That didn’t stop Siegel Suites from filing an eviction against her.
Carter eventually opted to leave Siegel rather than potentially being ousted, along with her two children, by a constable.
She stayed at a hotel for a few weeks before finally landing at the Las Vegas Rescue Mission, where she lived for 11 months.
Jonathan Norman, the statewide advocacy, outreach and policy director for the Nevada Coalition of Legal Service Providers, said one of the ramifications of these evictions is the burden it placed on nonprofits.
“I would guess these (nonprofits) have seen how these practices have played out in having people become unhoused,” he said.
‘Shocking, yet not surprising’
A year later, things have finally started to turn around for Carter.
Over the summer, she was able to enter a program that allowed her to stay in a furnished two bedroom apartment with her children. Carter also has two jobs, one still with Amazon and the other as a substance abuse advocate.
“I literally work seven-days a week,” she said.
Though it has been a rough couple years, Carter is grateful she has a roof over her head and is able to work. But the program she is in ends at the end of August, and she has to find a permanent place to live before then.
She said the eviction on her credit report, which also shows she owes Siegel $1,300, has made that impossible.
“I don’t know why it shows I owe that,” she said. The County “paid them their money. I don’t know why they still are saying I owe them.”
The investigation into Siegel and the other landlords, as well as their impact on people like Carter, took a year. Siegel didn’t initially comply with requests to submit documents.
In November, Clyburn sent a letter to the group calling their failure “deeply concerning” before pushing them to release requested information. Siegel, along with Invitation Homes, don’t maintain complete data on evictions, the report found.
When asked about the findings from the report, Carter said she was happy Siegel’s practices are being brought to light.
“Even if nothing happens, or it takes five or ten years from now, at least they are exposed,” she said. “It’s like wearing a scarlet letter.”
The House committee’s investigation identified 14,744 eviction cases that appear to violate policies designed to protect tenants during the pandemic, but the report indicated the scope of evictions is much larger.
Norman said Nevada’s summary eviction process, which requires a tenant file with the court first after receiving a notice, might have played a role in the findings in the report.
“The number of people who self-evict after they get the initial notice that’s not filed with the court, we don’t know those numbers,” he said. “As bad as this report sounds, I wouldn’t doubt that it has impacted more people.”
He said even the number of people evicted while waiting for rental assistance, like Carter, is also probably larger than indicated.
For tenants behind on rent, the report shows Siegel received $1.87 million in rental assistance from the CARES Act in 2020 and $1.44 million in rental assistance through July 2021.
“Although some tenants were able to remain housed in Siegel properties as a result of federal rental assistance funds, the company does not appear to have used the funds as a clear alternative to eviction,” the authors wrote.
Not only did Siegel Suites not experience a decline in revenue, the report notes that “Siegel received a $2.32 million PPP loan in early August 2020, which was later forgiven in its entirety.”
Norman said the results were “shocking yet not surprising.”
“The legal service providers in the state have probably gotten the most referrals from cases originating in Siegel Suites,” Norman said. “We’ve seen the type of behaviors outlined in the report.”
Some parts of the examination, he said, were “especially egregious.”
The report references an email from a regional manager for Siegel who wrote that they “love[d] getting to say that this means the eviction may happen sooner than expected and seeing the look on their faces.” The email ends with a smiley face emoji.
Though Siegel received a chunk of attention in the report, Norman hopes larger implications aren’t lost.
He said other companies highlighted in the report, like Invitation Homes, are “buying up housing stock.”
“I think about how companies like Invitation Homes impact the affordability of housing throughout the state,” he said.
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