A congressional report on a national extended-stay hotel chain with properties in New Mexico found that the company lied to renters, turned off amenities, towed vehicles, and otherwise engaged in “blatant” and ” illegal” to force people out of their homes despite pandemic-related eviction bans.
Siegel rooms are often the last accommodations low-income people find refuge in before being forced into shelters, residents say. The company markets apartments as “flex stay” and says renters can stay there for “a long-term home” or “forever,” according to the Congressional report. It has three extended stay hotels in Albuquerque.
The Siegel Group’s practices documented in a congressional report echo those of a September 2021 Source New Mexico article on illegal evictions, in which tenants said they were threatened and harassed by hotel management.
In one case, at a Siegel Select hotel in Albuquerque, the attorney general’s office sent a cease-and-desist letter to the company after management turned off the power to a room occupied by a man who was using a electric wheelchair. The tenant was “immobilized by the actions of the manager”, concluded AG Hector Balderas in a letter in June last year.
“The type of conduct alleged in the complaints still relates to the (Attorney General), but during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are particularly concerned about the punitive action taken…against residents,” the AG’s office wrote to the company.
The congress report found that the Siegel Group engaged in company-wide practices to overturn an eviction ban during the height of the pandemic, forcing many low-income tenants out of their temporary shelter during the one of the greatest economic shocks in world history.
“Siegel’s pandemic eviction practices were particularly egregious,” the report said.
The company did this even though it suffered virtually no revenue loss (about $1,000 in total), according to the report. He also received federal pandemic aid, including $2.3 million in canceled loans and more in taxpayer-funded rent payments.
“While Congress has earmarked tens of billions of dollars both to help renters stay in their homes and to make landlords whole, Siegel’s approach has ruthlessly pursued convenience and corporate profit without caring about the interests of tenants,” the report concludes.
Siegel leases approximately 12,000 units in eight states, most of which are in Arizona and Nevada. News reports about the company’s deportation practices in Nevada caught the attention of U.S. Representative James Clyburn (D-South Carolina), who launched a congressional investigation in June 2021. The report made no specific mention practices in New Mexico.
The committee reviewed more than 50,000 documents obtained from the Siegel Group and three other major companies offering rental apartments. Much of the report is devoted to Siegel’s pandemic practices, which the report said were “particularly troubling and appear to be illegal.”
According to documents, company executives shared advice on how to circumvent eviction bans to force tenants out or convince them that the law did not protect them.
It was common for management of Siegel Properties to release legal documents that would cause a tenant to mistakenly conclude that they were soon to be evicted.
“Executives aimed to ‘bluff’ the tenants of their apartments by ordering that subordinates post and distribute copies of a court order asserting that the CDC had no authority to impose the eviction moratorium,” says the report, “deliberately concealing the fact that the court had also ordered that the moratorium protections remain in effect while the case is under appeal.
Managers have reported to executives that the tactic has worked, including one who said in an email that he “liked[d] say that means the eviction may happen sooner than expected and see the look on their faces,” followed by a smiling emoji.
Mike Tisdale, the senior vice president of operations, gave advice to a manager on ways to ‘get rid of’ a tenant, including calling child protective services if the tenant had a lot of kids , knocking on his door at least twice a night, replacing the air conditioner with one that didn’t work, or using a master remote to turn off his television.
Pandemic restrictions have barred landlords from evicting tenants in court for not receiving rent, an effort to prevent those who have lost income during lockdowns and the economic downturn from being forced into shelters lives as a deadly virus raged.
In addition to the bans, the federal government has enacted several sets of rental assistance programs worth tens of billions of dollars.
But even the promise of rental assistance didn’t stop Siegel, the report said.
“Siegel evicted dozens of residents who had submitted housing assistance applications that had not yet been approved, showing that the company participated in these programs for financial benefit but did not necessarily use programs as an alternative to deportation when that was not suitable,” the report said.
In New Mexico, residents of Siegel told Source New Mexico that managers knock on their doors and even barge into apartments if tenants are only a few hours late with payments and threaten to evict, even if they don’t. they had no legal basis. So-called “self-help evictions” are illegal in New Mexico, although it is rare for a landlord to be prosecuted.
In the case of the wheelchair-bound tenant, Siegel Select said in court filings that the tenant moved into the complex in mid-February 2020 and owed more than $2,000 in rent as of mid-September.
The company sued him to evict him for nonpayment of rent, despite the New Mexico Supreme Court’s order barring such evictions during the pandemic. If the tenant had gone to court, a judge would likely have granted a stay because of this moratorium.
But he did not appear in court, records show.
Siegel Select was ultimately successful in forcing him out of his apartment, according to court records.
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