Feds: Metro Atlanta landlord took $2.5M PPP loan and still sought evictions

Estevan Herbnandez speaks during a rally alongside tenants of Forest at Columbia Apartments outside of the DeKalb Government Building on Thursday, July 28, 2022. (Natrice Miller/natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

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Estevan Herbnandez speaks during a rally alongside tenants of Forest at Columbia Apartments outside of the DeKalb Government Building on Thursday, July 28, 2022. (Natrice Miller/natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

A corporate landlord with properties in the Atlanta metropolitan area pursued evictions against tenants as soon as they fell behind on rent even though the company received millions in federal relief funds, according to a congressional subcommittee investigation.

The U.S. House’s Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis reported on Thursday that four corporate landlords, including the Florida-based Ventron Management, tried to evict thousands of tenants during the federal ban on evictions.

According to the report, Ventron has 8,000 apartments across Georgia, Florida, and Alabama, with most of them based in the Atlanta metro area. Some of its properties include Embarcadero Club in College Park, Ashland Pines in Stone Mountain, Brookside Park in Atlanta, and Las Palmas in Norcross.

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College Park police are investigating a shooting at Embarcadero Club Apartments. College Park Police Chief Keith Meadows said it appeared to be an attempted robbery of a resident at the apartment complex. Meadows said two people inside the apartment were killed and one of the robbery suspects was killed. A fourth person was wounded. BRANT SANDERLIN / BSANDERLIN@AJC.COM

College Park police are investigating a shooting at Embarcadero Club Apartments. College Park Police Chief Keith Meadows said it appeared to be an attempted robbery of a resident at the apartment complex. Meadows said two people inside the apartment were killed and one of the robbery suspects was killed. A fourth person was wounded. BRANT SANDERLIN / BSANDERLIN@AJC.COM

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College Park police are investigating a shooting at Embarcadero Club Apartments. College Park Police Chief Keith Meadows said it appeared to be an attempted robbery of a resident at the apartment complex. Meadows said two people inside the apartment were killed and one of the robbery suspects was killed. A fourth person was wounded. BRANT SANDERLIN / BSANDERLIN@AJC.COM

The subcommittee reported Ventron did not necessarily engage in unlawful practices, but the government found the company filed “a staggering rate” of 4,401 evictions in a “machine-like” manner during the pandemic. Among 3,845 of Ventron’s eviction actions, 3,499 of them involved tenants who were behind on one month’s rent, according to the report.

Ventron did not respond to requests for comment concerning the government investigation.

Altogether, the subcommittee found the corporate landlords filed nearly three times as many evictions as previously reported amid the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s moratorium on evictions during the first 16 months of the pandemic.

“The four landlord companies investigated by the Select Subcommittee evicted aggressively to pad their profits. While the abusive eviction practices documented in this report would be condemnable under any circumstances, they are unconscionable during a once-in-a-century economic and public health crisis,” U.S. Rep. and subcommittee chair James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) said in a statement.

”These companies must be held accountable, and we must work to ensure that future emergencies do not result in further egregious evictions.”

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Congressman James Clyburn (D-SC) speaks at the John and Lillian Lewis Foundation’s inaugural gala on May 17th, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Nathan Posner for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Nathan Posner for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Congressman James Clyburn (D-SC) speaks at the John and Lillian Lewis Foundation’s inaugural gala on May 17th, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Nathan Posner for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Nathan Posner for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Congressman James Clyburn (D-SC) speaks at the John and Lillian Lewis Foundation’s inaugural gala on May 17th, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Nathan Posner for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Nathan Posner for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Nathan Posner for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Ventron’s practices were previously disclosed in a July 2020 WABE report. In the report, Ventron revealed that it automatically files evictions once a tenant is 10 days late for rent.

However, the subcommittee investigation also revealed that Ventron received $2.57 million in Paycheck Protection Program loans in April 2020. More than $2.5 million was forgiven.

The congressional report is the latest criticism against property owners accused of neglecting their tenants, which includes instances where complexes are riddled with crime and unsafe conditions.

Two weeks ago, prosecutors gathered at the Fulton County District Attorney’s office to discuss a crackdown on troubled apartments. The authorities mobilized after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published a year-long investigation into more than 250 Atlanta metro area apartments persistently plagued by violent crime and deplorable living conditions.

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Gunfire and violence are part of daily life in many metro Atlanta apartment complexes.

According to the subcommittee report, Ventron only provided notice of renters’ protections amid the pandemic after the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) stated last March and April that failure to provide notice could violate federal laws.

Until then, Ventron typically emphasized evictions more than moratorium protections, the subcommittee found. And at one point, the company’s collections director told staff in a March 30, 2021 email that they should “continue to build relationships with the Marshal/Sheriff Office in your county to hurry writs along” rather than working with tenants to help them stay in their homes, the subcommittee found.

“Ventron’s emphasis on maintaining relationships needed to ‘hurry’ to finalize evictions at a time when state and local governments were ramping up efforts to distribute tens of billions of dollars in emergency rental assistance is indicative of the company’s disregard of tenants’ interests,” according to the report.

“And, indeed, Ventron told Select Subcommittee staff in a briefing that the company continued to file pandemic eviction actions against tenants with pending rental assistance applications.”