February 09, 2022

Brown Hosts Renters From Across the Country for Listening Session on How Big Money Landlords Are Changing the Housing Market

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, hosted renters from across the country for a listening session. The renters shared their stories about living in homes owned by private equity firms and other institutional investors.

“More and more deep-pocketed investors are buying up the homes that serve as the foundation for families’ lives. They see these buildings as nothing more than annual return on equity. These out-of-town – maybe even out-of-country – investors are raising rents 50 percent, issuing eviction notices, and leaving toxic mold and pest infestations to grow worse, all in the name of their own bottom lines,” said Senator Brown at this morning’s listening session. “…Investors see their homes as nothing more than an opportunity to squeeze out a little more profit, no matter what the cost. Our speakers today represent the experiences of millions of residents who can’t be here today. Their stories are often overlooked by the investors who take their rent. We need to hear their stories.”

In addition to today’s listening session, Chairman Brown will hold a Committee hearing on Thursday, February 10th, titled “How Institutional Landlords are Changing the Housing Market.” The hearing will be live streamed at banking.senate.gov.

Excerpts from each renter’s statement are included below. Production-quality video is linked.

Kathleen Hernandez is from Las Vegas, Nevada and is a member of Renters Rising.

“My family and I deserve to live in a home that is safe and clean. We deserve a property manager who is committed to keeping properties in good repair and not just squeezing the last dime out of tenants while providing substandard hazardous living conditions because that is a biohazard,” said Ms. Hernandez. “We need real protections for tenants in Las Vegas, in the state of Nevada, and all across the country.”

Rachel Jones is from Minneapolis, Minnesota. She is a working mother renting a single family rental home.

“They are targeting the lower socioeconomic class to grab money,” Ms. Jones said. “When my rent went up by hundreds of dollars last year, I asked a representative from Havenbrook, ‘Why is it going up so much? I have faithfully paid my rent. I have done everything you’ve asked me to do and more. And you're still going to every year to charge me hundreds of more dollars.’ She said, ‘We have to please the investors.’”

Cindy Newman is from Great Falls, Montana. She has lived for 20 years in a manufactured housing community that was recently acquired.

“They've cut back on all amenities and strip value out of our communities. They are brutal, absentee landlords whose new management promotes bullying, fear mongering and harassment. If you get behind on your lot rent they can evict and quickly seize your home. They ordered us to remove yard toys like basketball hoops and wading pools, even when schools were closed because of the pandemic. There are many new fees like for our pets!” said Ms. Newman. “What is hardest to live with is that I thought my home would preserve my memories and secure my future but that was taken away when the profit driven, uncaring Havenpark Capital came in. They are bleeding us dry because with few consumer protections we now live with fear and uncertainty.”

Juan Cuellar is from Hyattsville, Maryland and lives in an apartment he and his family have rented for twenty years.

“The majority of us living here are from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, and almost all of us are immigrants. The owners think that because we are immigrants, we are not important. For them, they want the money to arrive every month without doing anything for us. We have the need to live in an apartment but not live like this,” said Mr. Cuellar, as translated from Spanish by his interpreter, Jorge Benitez-Perez. “The ceilings in the hallways are falling in. The wood floor is buckling. We don’t have heat. There are cockroaches and mice. The air conditioning units don't work. There is a lot of mold. The refrigerator doesn’t work. They don't want to fix anything, including the stove, refrigerator, heater, or fix the floors. It is harming our entire family. And it is not just our family that is being harmed, but all of the families in the complex. 

Debbie Nunez is from San Francisco, California. Her long-time rental unit was bought by a large investor.

“Veritas is sophisticated and expert at exploiting legal loopholes. To raise rents on long term rent control tenants, they pass on the cost of cosmetic projects, resulting in double digit increases because of largely aesthetic and exaggerated construction cost. When tenants are priced out, they gut the vacant units, tear down walls with haphazard regard for lead and asbestos protocols. Water and utility shut offs, downed elevators, and inconsistent noticing reduce tenants quality of life,” said Ms. Nunez. “I never wanted to make a stink about tough conditions. I wanted to work through things and survive. But when Veritas tried to raise my rent and my neighbors’ rent by 10 percent because of construction costs that I believe to be fraudulent, that was it for me.”

Stephen Frischmuth is from Austin, Texas.

“The current owners, Cooper Street Capital, did return the complex to habitability, but maintenance is shoddy and management is hostile, insulting, mendacious, and always voracious. Management contrived false and outrageous ledger balances against tenants then illegally threatened to enter and attach any property that might cure this so-called debt. Management threatened evictions. They threatened to take kids’ toys from the front porch and then fine the parents. They begin charging $20 a month for each parking space, then hired a tow company to tow anyone with an expired parking sticker. They never give any receipts. They never put anything in writing,” said Mr. Frischmuth.

Anh-Thu Nguyen is a renter in Brooklyn, New York.

“[Greenbrook Partners] announced the purchase of our building on March 21st, 2021. One day later, on March 22nd, I received a notice to vacate in the midst of the ongoing COVID pandemic. You may ask, why would any landlord do this to a stable, long-term tenant? Private equity landlords are a different breed. Their goal is maximizing profit, not the stability that comes with a long term tenant. I am a suboptimal tenant to them because they think they should be able to extract much more rent in order to maximize profit on their speculative investment,” said Ms. Nguyen. “Greenbrook’s investment strategy is to take advantage of housing markets that are in ‘COVID-related distress’ and quickly buy up multifamily assets from smaller landlords in a targeted area, effectively cornering the market.”