Feds probing D.C. landlords for overcharging voucher units

HUD examining landlord docs from local housing authority

HUD Investigating D.C. Landlords’ Voucher Actions
From left: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge and D.C. Housing Authority Executive Director Keith Pettigrew (Getty, District of Columbia Housing Authority)

The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development is looking into whether landlords in Washington, D.C. are discriminating against apartments rented to voucher holders.

The federal agency launched an investigation into potential overcharging of low-income voucher holders, the Washington Post reported. HUD declined to comment on the ongoing investigation.

The agency initiated its investigation last year and has since engaged D.C. Housing Authority for documents and data, including analyses of market rent paid by those without vouchers.

HUD started looking at landlords’ compliance with federal law, including a requirement that landlords verify they aren’t charging more from voucher holders than market-rate tenants in comparable apartments.

To that end, HUD requested information from forms landlords fill out when renting to voucher holders, which include landlord certification that they aren’t charging above market-rate rent. Owners of properties with at least five units must also disclose the three most recent market-rate deals they signed with non-voucher tenants.

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HUD requested data from these forms dating back to 2018. The Post’s own Freedom of Information Act requests found many landlords left the portion of the forms requiring information about other units’ rents blank.

An unrelated review by HUD in 2022 found the DCHA wasn’t ensuring that it didn’t pay landlords above-market rates. An investigation by the Post last year found the housing authority annually overpaid landlords by millions of dollars, doing little to ensure reasonable rents other than enact rent caps that didn’t appear tied to market conditions.

The DCHA last summer revamped its procedures to come into compliance with federal law, contracting with an independent group to determine appropriate market-rate rent for each of its units. Ongoing leases were grandfathered into the changes, however, meaning overcharging persisted.

The local housing authority, which saw its executive director replaced two months ago, was required to address the issues raised in 2022 by last March. That deadline was already extended once and it’s unclear what the deadline is today, if there’s any at all. DCHA is required to submit a plan to reimburse the federal government for any overcharges.

Holden Walter-Warner

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