A congressional report on a national extended-stay hotel chain with properties in New Mexico found the corporation lied to tenants, turned off amenities, towed vehicles and otherwise engaged in “egregious” and “illegal” tactics to force people out of their homes despite the pandemic -related eviction bans.
Siegel rooms are often the last housing people with low incomes find refuge in before they are forced into shelters, residents say. The company markets apartments as “flexible-stay” and says tenants can stay there for “a long-term home” or “forever,” according to the congressional report. It has three extended-stay hotels in Albuquerque.
The practices of the Siegel Group documented in a congressional report echo those in a Source New Mexico story from September 2021 on illegal evictions, in which tenants reported being threatened and harassed by management at the hotels.
In one instance at a Siegel Select hotel in Albuquerque, the Attorney General’s Office issued a cease-and-desist letter to the company after management turned off electricity to a room occupied by a man who used an electric wheelchair. The tenant was “rendered immobile by the manager’s actions,” AG Hector Balderas concluded in a letter in June of last year.
“The type of conduct alleged in the complaints is always concerning the (Attorney General), but during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are particularly concerned about the punitive actions taken … against residents,” the AG’s Office wrote to the company.
The congressional report found that the Siegel Group engaged in company-wide practices to subvert an eviction ban during the height of the pandemic, forcing many low-income tenants out of their stopgap shelter during one of the biggest economic shocks in global history.
“Siegel’s pandemic eviction practices were uniquely egregious,” the report states.
The company did so even though it suffered hardly any loss in revenue (an estimated $1,000, in total), according to the report. It also received federal pandemic assistance, including $2.3 million in forgiven loans and more in taxpayer-funded rental payments.
“While Congress appropriated tens of billions of dollars to both help tenants remain in their homes and make landlords whole, Siegel’s approach ruthlessly pursued the company’s own convenience and profit with little regard to tenants’ interests,” the report concludes.
Siegel rents about 12,000 units in eight states, most of which are in Arizona and Nevada. News reports about the company’s eviction practices in Nevada drew the attention of US Rep. James Clyburn (D-South Carolina), who launched a congressional probe in June 2021. The report made no specific mention of practices in New Mexico.
The committee reviewed more than 50,000 documents obtained from the Siegel Group and three other large companies with rental apartments. Much of the report is devoted to Siegel’s pandemic practices, which the report said were “particularly troubling and appear to be unlawful.”
According to documents, company executives shared tips on how to skirt the eviction bans to force tenants out or convince them that the law did not protect them.
Congressional probe labels Siegel Group’s eviction practices ‘uniquely egregious’
It was common for management in Siegel properties to post legal documents that would lead a tenant to erroneously conclude that they were soon going to be evicted.
“Executives aimed to ‘bluff’ tenants out of their apartments by ordering that subordinates post and distribute copies of a court order holding that the CDC lacked authority to impose the eviction moratorium,” the report reads, “deliberately hiding the fact that the court had also ordered that the moratorium’s protections would remain in effect as the case was appealed.”
Managers reported to executives that the tactic worked, including one who said in an email that he “love[d] getting to say that this means the eviction may happen sooner than expected and seeing the look on their faces,” followed by a smiley emoji.
Mike Tisdale, the senior vice president of operations, gave advice to a manager about ways to “get rid of” a tenant, including by calling Child Protective Services if the tenant had a lot of kids, knocking on her door at least twice at night , replacing the air conditioner with one that didn’t work or using a master remote to disable her television.
Pandemic restrictions prohibited landlords from evicting tenants in court for not receiving rent, an effort to prevent those who lost income during shutdowns and economic downturn from being forced into congregate living centers as a deadly virus raged.
In addition to the bans, the federal government passed several rounds of rent assistance packages in the tens of billions of dollars.
But even the promise of rental assistance did not stop Siegel, according to the report.
“Siegel evicted dozens of residents who had submitted rental assistance applications that had not yet been approved, showing the company participated in these programs for financial benefit but did not necessarily use the programs as an alternative to eviction when inconvenient,” the report states.
In New Mexico, Siegel residents told Source New Mexico that managers would bang on their doors and even burst into apartments if tenants were only a few hours late with payments and threaten to evict, even if they had no legal basis. So-called “self-help evictions” are illegal in New Mexico, although it is rare for a landlord to be sued.
In the instance of the tenant in the wheelchair, 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 by mid-September.
The company took him to court to evict for non-payment of rent, despite the New Mexico Supreme Court’s order barring such evictions during the pandemic. Had the tenant shown up to court, a judge likely would have granted a stay because of that moratorium.
But he didn’t make it to court, according to the records.
Siegel Select ultimately succeeded in its effort to force him out of his apartment, court records show.
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