Monday, May 13, 2024

Methods Landlords Nationwide Use to Illegally Evict Tenants


Image by Mariah Hernandez via 500px

Illegal and Threatening Self-Help Methods Landlords are Using Nationwide to Evict Tenants

       Despite the evictions moratoriums that have been implemented across America to stem the occurrence of homelessness during a pandemic that involves a contagious virus, many landlords are predominantly concerned about the bottom line. These landlords may be dealing with the pressure of paying for mortgages and are resentful of their non paying tenants even though the circumstances surrounding Covid-19 are beyond their tenants’ control. Other landlords have agendas beyond collecting money such as coercing their tenants into offering sexual favors. Whatever the agenda, many landlords are disregarding the evictions moratoriums, in favor of what is called self-help evictions. 

       Self-help evictions are defined as “when a landlord retakes possession of a property without using the eviction process. The use of self-help may amount to landlord harassment. Nearly every state prohibits a landlord from using self-help to evict a tenant.” Essentially a self-help eviction is when the landlord attempts to circumvent the court and legal processes to force a non paying tenant from the unit. By using this method, the landlord assumes that the eviction process can be faster and with less accountability. Amanda Golob, managing attorney of the housing law unit at Southeast Louisiana Legal Services in New Orleans, provides more insight,  “They are creating an environment that forces the tenant to leave on their own.” Here are few methods that landlords having been utilizing during Covid-19 to force tenants from their units:

1. Pretending to be Supported by Law Enforcement

Location: Cobb County, Georgia
       Even though Covid-19 is running rampant throughout the nation, this has not softened the stance of many landlords concerning rent. Generally legal evictions are supported by local law enforcement, but what if the eviction is illegal and the landlord simply wanted the eviction to appear legal? Economy Hotel Marietta, an extended-stay-hotel, found their solution by hiring someone to pose as a sheriff. Jeremy Rooks and his wife were abruptly kicked out by a man wearing a uniform with the likeness of a sheriff and a gun. The Cobb County Sheriff’s Office verified to Rooks “the gentleman in the video clip that you sent me is not Cobb County Sheriff’s Deputy.” The implication of violence added an element of danger to the situation, but that was the landlord’s intended effect. “When I found out they weren’t actually sheriff deputies, you know right then and there, I felt like me and my wife were in danger,” explained Rooks.

       Prior to the pretend sheriff deceptively forcing them from the unit Brooks noted, “Every day they tried to basically get us out of there. It was basically like a game to them.” The landlord used relentless harassment to convince the tenants to leave in lieu of using the legal process. Atlanta Legal Aid summarized the legal implications of their landlords behavior: this was an illegal eviction and could be considered criminal. 

CBS46: Mystery ‘sheriff’ evicts couple from extended stay during COVID-19 crisis
KSTP: Tenants behind on rent in pandemic face harassment, eviction
KTLA 5: U.S. tenants behind on rent face evictions, harassment despite SCOTUS ruling

2. Illegal Lockouts

Location: Santa Clara County, California

       Peloton Technology filed a lawsuit against landlord, Kelly Ventures, in the Santa Clara County Superior Court for allegedly locking them out the premises. According to the lawsuit, this lockout violates the countywide coronavirus eviction moratorium. Peloton Technology is at an economic disadvantage because their business was not deemed essential; despite their disadvantage if Kelly Ventures did lock out their commercial tenant they have violated the current eviction moratorium. Due to the lockout, now Peloton Technology is at risk of getting further behind. In addition to locking out the employees, Kelly Ventures allegedly shut off the power, “disabling servers and related systems to the extent that most Peloton employees can’t do key tasks,” the suit claimed. If too many businesses are illegally evicted from their spaces it could cause a sudden collapse of the economy. Aggressive eviction moratoriums have been put in place nationwide to prevent an economic cataclysm. In addition, like many businesses, Peloton Technology has had most of their employees working at home. Many businesses are balking at the idea of paying full rent for a space the stay-at-home orders prevented them from using. 



 Marin Independent Journal: Silicon Valley trucking-tech firm claims landlord broke coronavirus eviction ban: lawsuit
The Mercury News: Silicon Valley trucking-tech firm claims landlord broke coronavirus eviction ban: lawsuit

Location: Chicago, Illinois
       According to the Metropolitan Tenants Organization, in Chicago, calls about illegal lockouts has doubled from Mid-March to Mid-June. John Barlett, the executive director of the tenants group, explained that he has fielded 125 calls about illegal lockouts from March 18 and June 18. However it is not just the illegal evictions that this advocacy group is most concerned about. They are concerned about the amount of landlords that will be conducting legal evictions in the midst of a pandemic. Advocates believe that housing was already in crisis, but now the pandemic will worsen this crisis creating a cascade of homelessness. 

Chicago Sun Times: Despite coronavirus eviction ban, some Chicago landlords are locking out tenants

3. Shutting Off Utilities 

Location: Chicago, Illinois
       Dean Thompson of Chicago Illinois, is a prime example of those who were already feeling the impacts of the housing crisis before the pandemic. Dean Thompson and her daughter were already two months behind on rent and owed $1350. In addition, her daughter’s small business declined even worse during the stay-at-home order which almost ensured that their financial woes will only deepen. Despite these issues, Thompson’s landlord violated the eviction moratorium by shutting off electricity to their apartment on her 67th birthday. The daughter called 311 and a city worker advised that the shut off was illegal. In addition to the utilities illegally being shut off, the rental company sent a male employee to intimidate them. Thompson remembers the unsettling encounter, “It made me real scared. I didn’t know what he was going to do. I was scared to leave the building.”


Chicago Sun Times: Despite coronavirus eviction ban, some Chicago landlords are locking out tenants

Location: New Orleans Area, Louisiana
       Sada Jones, a 23 year old hotel cook, was furloughed on March 19th. Jones’ landlord, Joshua Bruno, has been taking aggressive measures against her such as cutting off her utilities. Jones described the dilemma, “I’m scared because I don’t want to move with the situation that’s going on with COVID, but I also don’t want to live in these conditions. I’m constantly anxious and paranoid about what they’ll do next. I don’t feel safe.” A few days later after Jones missed her April payment and after he sent maintenance workers to harass her, her landlord began to cut off an variety of utilities. He disconnected her air conditioning cables despite the hot weather and turned off power in parts of her apartment, including her kitchen. Jones reports that she no longer has a working stove. She concluded, that “I want to pay and I’ll pay as soon as I can, but I can’t give you something I don’t have.” Bruno’s harassment does not change that for now Jones should be protected until July 25, 2020 by a federal moratorium through the CARES ACT due to Bruno’s mortgage for the property being a Fannie Mae Loan.


NBC News: Some landlords are using harassment, threats to force out tenants during COVID-19 crisis 

4. Manipulation and Illegal Use of Law Enforcement

Location: Orange County, North Carolina
       Instead of hiring an individual to pose as law enforcement, more strategic landlords will misrepresent the tenants as trespassers. Many tenants may not realize that despite not paying rent, under the law they are still recognized as tenants until the court formally terminates this status. Jamie Paulen, founder of Paulen Solidarity and President of Tenant Rights, Inc., explained that landlords target low income tenants who do not know their rights. Joshua Bruno claimed that Sada Jones was trespassing and that there was an “open police investigation into her breaking back into her apartment.” Jones and attorneys with Southeast Louisiana Legal Services say that there was no evidence that Bruno has filed a police report or that there was an ongoing police investigation. However in some cases, landlords can successfully utilize the police to assist in an illegal self-help eviction. 

       “On April 15, a deputy knocked on my door and told us we were trespassing,” Barbara of Orange County, NC told ABC11. Barbara and her husband were unable to pay rent since her husband’s business, painting houses, dwindled. Prior verbal agreements that her husband would work in lieu of paying rent seemed to have been forgotten, negotiations broke down and the landlord’s daughter began harassing them and screaming at them. Despite the invalid orders from the deputy, Paulen said, “I actually did tell (Barbara) that she did not have to leave. I understand I’m the attorney and not the one living in those circumstances. I can only tell a client what the law is. And the law says your landlord can not do that. It’s unlawful.”

ABC11: North Carolina’s Covid-19 eviction moratorium not stopping some landlords from forcing renters out
NBC News: Some landlords are using harassment, threats to force out tenants during COVID-19 crisis

5. Damaging Quality of Life

Location: Conway, Arkansas
       Landlords may seek to damage your quality of life inside the unit by refusing to do maintenance work. Lease violations does not mean that the landlord is exempt from providing a livable environment, noted Hannah Adams, a legal aid attorney with Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, who is representing Jones. In addition, instead of simply refusing to do maintenance work, landlords may use maintenance workers to break appliances. Bartlett described that at times landlords may even remove the toilets out of the unit. Maintenance workers may also be used as a tool for harassment which Sada Jones experienced. 

       Milton Light received a barrage of illegal attempts by his landlord to remove him from the property. Once Light lost his full time job as a coiled tube operator, he approached his landlord with honesty. However as an intimidation tactic, his landlord used this admission as a cue to begin showing the property to future tenants. Light said. “There were families coming through here to look at the house. Some of them didn’t know I was living in the house and I was under a lease and everything. She even got a new tenant to sign a lease,  she texted him to say that the planned move-in date was April 7. 

       Frank Jenner, a Center for Arkansas Legal Services attorney who is representing Light states,“His landlord began a campaign to terrorize him.” Milton Light also claims that his landlord used every trick in the book to bully him into moving away from the property. His landlord tried to have his vehicle towed from his home by placing no trespassing signs around the home then calling the police. She filed a complaint with the Arkansas Department of Human Services alleging that his home was unsafe for his four young children. She aimed to ruin his reputation, “It’s in his best interest to figure this out quickly because if something gets on his record, it’s hard to remove,” Walker-Macklin wrote Sharika on April 12 in regards to falsely reporting Light for improper living conditions. Then while Light was away from his home  Walker-Macklin had movers remove his items from the home and load them into a truck. Police had to intervene and place his belongings back into his home. “I was gone for an hour and I come back, and my stuff is moved,” Light said. “My living room set was loaded up on a trailer getting ready to move, I pulled my truck in front of that truck, as soon as I pulled up the landlord [started] fake crying.” According to Jenner, without a court order or Writ of Possession, Walker-Macklin is not legally authorized to remove Light or his belongings. Even though Arkansas has no statewide eviction moratoriums, there is suspicion that Walker-Macklin’s mortgage is an FHA loan thus placing Light under federal eviction protection until July 25, 2020. For now the property continues to be listed for rent while Light spends much of his time guarding his property from the next onslaught of attacks. 

Arkansas Times:  No shelter in place: Conway renter says landlord tried to illegally force him out of his home
Chicago Sun Times: Despite coronavirus eviction ban, some Chicago landlords are locking out tenants
KATV: Conway landlord accused of 'self-help eviction’ caught removing tenant’s belongings
Legal Services Corporation: Conway Renter Says Landlord Tried to Illegally Force Him Out
NBC News: Some landlords are using harassment, threats to force out tenants during COVID-19 crisis

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