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A Tool to Help Level the Playing Field for Low-Income Tenants

Posted  January 24, 2022
By Gordon Schnell

Published in the Boston Globe

It happens all the time to low-income tenants: apartments crumbling and in disrepair, mold growing on the walls, pest infestations, unfair extra charges, and landlords who will not make things right so long as they can still make a buck. . . .  For these mistreated tenants, there remains little ability to enforce their right to safe and stable housing.  For the most part, they remain at the mercy of the almighty landlord.

But a recent Boston-area DOJ enforcement action highlights a very powerful tool available to tenants to help realign this inherent imbalance of power.  It’s an option everyone interested in housing justice should keep in mind.  It involves using the False Claims Act, DOJ’s principal fraud-fighting statute, to back up aggrieved tenants with the strong arm of the federal government.

That is exactly what DOJ did with its False Claims Act action against a Chelsea landlord for allegedly overcharging tenants who participated in the [HUD Section 8] Housing Choice Voucher Program. . . .  What makes the act . . . especially well-suited to address Section 8 housing fraud is the statute’s whistleblower (or qui tam) provisions, which allow whistleblowers to sue violators on the government’s behalf.  This means if individual tenants are subject to illegal overcharges, substandard housing, unsafe conditions, or the like, they can sue the offending landlords in the government’s name. . . .

The False Claims Act thus levels the playing field between low-income tenants and their well-resourced landlords by bringing the government into the mix. . . .  In short, the statute provides disadvantaged tenants — or those seeking justice on their behalf — a potent pathway to rein in and set straight shady landlords. . . .  The clear takeaway for Section 8 tenants feeling helpless and hopeless against landlords behaving badly is that they do not have to take it anymore.  The False Claims Act evens the scales. . . .

Read the full article here.

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