Sean Hannity is a goddamn humanitarian for investing some of his Fox News millions in low-income housing (purchased with loans supported by Uncle Sam). After his real estate holdings became known, Hannity described his purchase of rental properties foreclosed on during the financial crisis as an act that just might earn him sainthood:
It is ironic that I am being attacked for investing my personal money in communities that badly need such investment and in which, I am sure, those attacking me have not invested their money. The fact is, these are investments that I do not individually select, control, or know the details about; except that obviously I believe in putting my money to work in communities that otherwise struggle to receive such support.
Well wouldn’t you know it, Hannity turns out to be a real bastard of an absentee landlord, according to an investigative report by the Washington Post. Or at least the management company that handles the day-to-day operations of Hannity’s Georgia apartment complexes is a right bastard of a corporate person: The managers of the four largest of Hannity’s apartment complexes file eviction notices against residents at double the average rate for Georgia rental properties, and they appear to use the frequent eviction notices as a tactic to make sure they collect every last late fee and cleaning charge possible. All of which is of course perfectly legal, since Georgia’s laws are heavily tilted in favor of landlords and against tenants, who really should be ashamed of not owning their homes anyway.
Property managers at the complexes sought to evict tenants more than 230 times in 2017, court records show. At one, a 112-unit subdivision in a suburb west of Atlanta, 94 eviction actions were filed last year, records show.
Among the tenants Hannity’s property managers sought to evict, records show, were a former corrections officer and her wife, who fell behind while awaiting a disability determination; a double amputee who had lived in an apartment with her daughter for five years but did not pay on time after being hospitalized; and a single mother of three whose $980 rent check was rejected because she could not come up with a $1,050 cleaning fee for a bedbug infestation.
And yes, the details are about as awful as the general descriptions. While the notices were followed up by some actual evictions, in many cases, the eviction notices were filed against the same tenants again and again; the tenants stayed in their apartments by scratching up enough money to to pay their back rent and other fees on top of that. Crom only knows what other bills they had to put off to manage that.
“When they are serially filing against the same tenants, they are using the courts as collection agencies,” said Susan Reif, head of the Eviction Prevention Project at the publicly funded Georgia Legal Services Program. “It appears they are just trying to increase their profit margin by demanding fees under the threat of being evicted from your home.”
Remember, Sean Hannity is a humanitarian, because not everyone would be willing to invest in these downtrodden areas. Also, everything the property managers do is perfectly legal, and a statement from Hannity’s attorney says he’s not involved in those decisions anyway:
“Mr. Hannity is not and has never been involved in the management of these properties,” Christopher E. Reeves wrote. “Evictions only occur after a material breach of the lease terms, which under Georgia law includes the failure to pay rent when due.”
WaPo notes that Hannity is, however, a part-owner of the management company, and the “other partners are people Hannity has worked with for many years, including Reeves,” and one of Hannity’s financial advisers. So it’s not just a generic “Property Managers R Us” he found on Craigslist.
The stories detailed in the article all illustrate a basic fact about being poor: Even when things are going mostly OK, you’re just one illness, one car breakdown, one unexpected setback away from being evicted. And in Georgia, you can be evicted almost immediately after the rent or fees are late. And of course, the back rent and the fees and the court dates to deal with the eviction notice all cascade, too, as Lashondra Cosby found after health problems forced her to take a leave of absence from her job and the rent and fees stared piling up. She and her wife, Zandra, fell behind on rent, tried to keep up by pawning belongings, but after five consecutive months of falling behind, with five consecutive eviction notices resulting in late fees and court costs, they gave up and moved out.
“They kept us down at the courthouse all the time,” Zandra Cosby said. “I’d have to call out a half-day and try not to cut off my nose to spite my face. I needed to be at work to pay them to stay but in court to explain it to the judge” […]
“I think they just wanted us out of there,” Zandra Cosby said of Hannity’s property managers. “We kept trying, but I finally said, ‘I give up.’ ”
The story also introduces us to the nice folks at PDQ Services, the company Hannity’s property managers use to handle eviction notices and actual evictions. WaPo notes PDQ’s website promises property owners and managers, “Our in-house eviction crews can remove your tenants quicker and more effectively than anyone else in the business.” As this screenshot from PDQ’s homepage indicates, they make evictions kind of fun, even. For landlords, at least:
PDQ handles filing all the paperwork with courts, too, and another fun line on the website’s eviction services page — not included by WaPo — emphasizes the efficacy of PDQ’s highly visible trucks, painted with EVICTION DEPARTMENT in large unfriendly letters, and the cheerful slogan “If you don’t pay, you don’t stay!”
Our crews arrive in a lettered truck that sends a clear message to other tenants who may be behind on rent.
Again, it’s all perfectly legal — and really, since gouging poor people for rent and then getting rid of them once you’ve wrung as much as you can out of them is already somewhat unpleasant, why not have a little fun as you apply the screws?
Yes, this is another of those “read the whole thing because it’s insane” articles; there’s plenty more about the routine — and completely legal — dickishness in the course of doing business. And while Hannity’s outfit — which he doesn’t run day-to-day! — appears more dickish than most, he’s got plenty of company. If we had even a shred of optimism, we’d say maybe this high-profile example of how aggressive management can make life even more miserable for poor people might spur some reforms, but then we remember that realtors have great lobbyists, and poor people are too busy trying to stay afloat already. There’s always good money in exploiting poverty, after all, because only real humanitarians like Hannity are willing to
make a buck off invest in poor communities.
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