Is Invitation Homes the Worst Corporate Landlord in the U.S.?
For years, Invitation Homes, led by CEO Dallas Tanner, has been slammed for its shocking treatment of tenants and fueling the country’s housing affordability crisis. The corporate landlord was even criticized by the United Nations for its predatory ways. Now, in California, Invitation Homes is shelling out major cash to stop Proposition 21, the statewide ballot measure that puts limits on unfair, sky-high rent increases. It’s hardly surprising.
Proposition 21 is backed by a growing movement of labor unions, social justice organizations, housing justice groups, and important civic leaders, including U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, labor and civil rights icon Dolores Huerta, and Congresswoman Maxine Waters. The initiative seeks to urgently address California’s longtime housing affordability crisis, which has only worsened because of the financial devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. More than ever, millions of renters can’t afford the excessive rents that have plagued California.
But none of that matters to Invitation Homes and CEO Dallas Tanner.
Invitation Homes, based in Dallas, is one of the largest owners of single-family home rentals in the nation. Traded publicly, the corporate landlord owns more than 80,000 homes and operates in California, Seattle, Dallas, and other markets, with total assets of $17.3 billion. Until recently, Invitation Homes was a division of Blackstone Group, one of most notorious mega-landlords in the world.
So far, Invitation Homes has shelled out a whopping $619,340 to Californians for Responsible Housing sponsored by the California Apartment Association, the main political committee that’s opposing Proposition 21. Invitation Homes is the seventh largest contributor to Californians for Responsible Housing, joining real estate investment trusts Essex Property Trust, Equity Residential, and AvalonBay Communities as major funders. For years, these corporate landlords have operated without restrictions, charging obscenely high rents and driving California’s housing affordability crisis.
Among the top No on 21 contributors, the track record of Invitation Homes and CEO Dallas Tanner may be the worst.
In a 2019 letter to Blackstone Group CEO and billionaire Stephen Schwarzman, United Nations experts Leilani Farha and Surya Deva charged that Invitation Homes is “quick to threaten eviction or file eviction notices to late payment of rent or late payment of fees, no matter the circumstances.”
They also noted that tenants “indicated that they feel insecure living in these conditions, where above average rent increases, exorbitant fees, or the smallest infraction can result in arrears and lead to eviction and the threat of homelessness.”
Alarming stuff — and it’s been playing out throughout the U.S.
In 2018, a Reuters special investigation of Invitation Homes found that in “interviews with scores of the company’s tenants in neighborhoods across the United States, the picture that emerges isn’t as much one of exceptional service as it is one of leaky pipes, vermin, toxic mold, nonfunctioning appliances, and months-long waits for repairs.”
“I have given up calling them,” Whitney Hurst, a mother of two young boys, told Reuters. “I mean, there are spiders in my kids’ toys.”
Reuters also found that tenants “complain about excessive rent increases and fees that can add up to hundreds of dollars a year. In a proposed class-action lawsuit filed in May in the U.S. District Court for Northern California, renters accuse the company of ‘fee-stacking.’ They allege that Invitation Homes charges tenants $95 if their rent is one minute late — even if the late payment is due to the company’s own nonfunctioning online payment portal — and then files an eviction notice to add more fees, penalties, and legal costs if the tenant wants to stay in the home.”
Invitation Homes tenant Willie Jean Brister, a grandmother who takes care of five children, told Reuters, “You can’t just jump up and move with children.”
There are even more disturbing stories.
In Florida, as reported by WFTS in Tampa Bay, an Invitation Homes tenant became seriously sick because of toxic black mold in his bathroom. The corporate landlord refused to fix it.
“It was a solid 20 days where we just didn’t hear from anyone and we just decided to pack up and leave,” said tenant David Sawyer, who suffered nosebleeds and severe headaches.
Sawyer ended up needing sinus surgery.
In Nashville, an Invitation Homes tenant was charged excessive fees of nearly $8,000 and couldn’t get her security deposit back. “I tried to call their office multiple times,” Desiree Tromblee told NewsChannel 5. She added, “You start to think it’s just the way the company is, predatory almost, you know?” Tromblee finally got her security deposit, but only after NewsChannel 5 put in a call to Invitation Homes.
Horror stories about Invitation Homes are endless, including major exposés by The Atlantic and The New York Times Magazine. Talking to The Times, Dana Chisholm, who leads a Facebook support group for tenants who’ve been mistreated by corporate landlords, summed up Invitation Homes’ way of operating: “You either pay these fees and settle with us or we’ll make you homeless, or we’ll ruin your credit with an eviction. That is the threat renters live under!”
For Invitation Homes and CEO Dallas Tanner, profit is the only thing that counts — no matter who must suffer. Californians, though, can finally rein in the corporate landlord — by passing Proposition 21 in November.