Invitation Homes, the nation’s largest single-family rental company, is being sued for charging late fees that a plaintiff is arguing violates state law in all 12 states where the company rents homes.
The lawsuit, which was first reported by Curbed, says that tenants at Invitation Homes’ more than 82,000 properties are charged a $95 late fee if they are even an hour late on rent. Those late fees stack up as it’s company policy to charge tenants additional fees of $95 for lateness or if the tenants carry any balance or unpaid late fees or other charges, according to the lawsuit.
“Defendant’s late fees are an illegal penalty under the laws of every state that [Invitation Homes] operates in,” the lawsuit reads. “The penalty is illegal, and thus, void, because it is excessive and bears no relation to any actual damages incurred by Defendants when rent or other fees are paid late.”
In one instance, the plaintiff, Jose Rivera, argues he attempted to pay his rent through the company’s online payment system, which he says goes out frequently.
“In February of 2017, Rivera tried to pay his rent online but the portal was not working,” the lawsuit reads. “He called [Invitation Homes] and [the company] told him to ‘not worry about it’ and to just ‘keep trying.’”
“Rivera tried multiple times to pay online, but the online portal would not work,” the lawsuit continues. “Eventually Rivera just mailed in his rent payment. It was technically ‘late,’ although through no fault of Rivera.”
Rivera was then returned his rent payment because, as it was technically late, it did not include the necessary late fees.
In the wake of the economic crash a decade ago, companies like Invitation Homes — which Wall Street giant The Blackstone Group originally invested in, and it now publicly traded — began to snatch up hundreds of thousands of homes.
A report released earlier this year by three activist groups detailed accounts of mistreatment, high eviction rates and overcharges to tenants by companies like Invitation Homes, American Homes 4 Rent and Tricon.
Wall Street landlords are often driven by profit, as opposed to building a traditional landlord and tenant relationship, the report says. That same charge is repeated in the lawsuit.
“These changes have hurt consumers,” the lawsuit reads. “The Wall Street landlords evict tenants at an astonishingly higher rate than other single-family landlords.”
In the Atlanta area, nearly one-third of all Invitation Homes tenants received eviction notices in 2015, the lawsuit alleges. Tenants also often face steep rent increases where there’s no rent protection.
“The Wall Street landlords, furthermore, often systematically refuse to do necessary and even routine maintenance on homes because those costs eat into their crucial bottom line,” the lawsuit adds.
A spokesperson for Invitation Homes said the company cannot comment on any pending litigation.
“While our homes represent less than 1 percent of the single-family rental market, we believe the professional service and resources we can deploy are helping set a new higher, standard for quality across the board,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “Residents give us high ratings for customer service and satisfaction, and renew their leases and stay 50 percent longer compared to the apartment industry.”