ADDED 04/27/2018

Sean Hannity: 400% rise in eviction orders since host bought Georgia apartment complex

FROM 04/27//2018 | The Guardian

BY Jon Swaine

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The number of eviction orders obtained against tenants in a Georgia apartment complex owned by Sean Hannity has sharply increased since the property was bought by the Fox News host.

County court records say that judgments approving the removal of 61 different residents of the Hampton Place apartments in Perry have been issued during the three years and 10 months since Hannity took over.

The previous owner of the 152-unit apartment complex obtained similar orders against 12 different tenants during the preceding three years and 10 months, according to the records, before selling it to Hannity for almost $8m.

Christopher Reeves, an attorney for the Fox News host, said in an email: “Mr Hannity is not involved in the management of these properties. Evictions only occur after a material breach of the lease terms.”

The Guardian first reported on Sunday that Hannity was the secret owner connected to a group of 20 shell companies that have spent $90m on more than 870 homes across seven states over the past decade.

Hampton Place is one of two apartment complexes in Georgia that Hannity bought in 2014 for $22.7m. The purchases were partly funded with $17.9m in mortgages guaranteed by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. Apartments at the site are currently advertised for rent from $860 a month.

The court records suggest the rate of eviction orders at Hampton Place has increased by more than 400% under Hannity’s ownership. Landlords can obtain the orders from a magistrate judge when a tenant taken to court for unpaid rent fails to respond or pay within seven days. The orders empower local sheriff’s deputies to forcibly remove tenants and their property.

Betsy Coleman, a Hampton Place tenant who was evicted by Hannity’s company last year, said she had to leave the property after falling behind on her rent.

“It feels awful, because you don’t have anywhere else to go,” said Coleman, who is 49. “You’re trying to work to get the rent up, and you promised to get the money, and when you don’t get it, you have to go to court.”

Hannity is reportedly paid $36m a year for his primetime Fox News show and syndicated radio program.

Not all the tenants who received eviction orders were ultimately removed from the property. One who asked not to be identified said he was given a reprieve last year after agreeing to pay about $300 in extra fees in addition to a late $725 monthly rent payment for his two-bedroom apartment. “It seemed kind of harsh,” he said.

In any case, the court orders are likely to be flagged on background checks and some credit reports that may be screened by future employers and landlords when considering applications from the tenants.

The records show that Hannity’s property managers have moved to evict several other tenants who challenged the court action and were instead ordered by the court to pay outstanding debts as low as $232.

Perry, which is in Houston County and about 100 miles south of Atlanta, has a population of about 16,200. According to the US census bureau, 22.6% of residents are living in poverty, compared with 16% of Georgia and 12.7% across the US. At $20,470 a year, Perry’s average income is about 31% lower than the US average.

Lindsey Siegel, a senior attorney at the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, said Georgia state law made it relatively easy for landlords to force tenants out of rented homes.

“Georgia is one of the harshest states for tenants,” said Siegel. “You can be evicted for being a single day late on your rent – regardless of whether you’ve paid on time for the past five years.”

The court records state that 37 eviction orders were issued after tenants were taken to court by SPMK XVI Hampton, the Hannity-backed shell company that owns the complex. Another 24 were given in response to eviction actions by the property’s management company, which is co-owned by Hannity and his financial advisers.

Latonia Grady, who left the Hannity apartments after receiving an eviction order in August 2015, said the managers were unhelpful when her home needed repairs. “They were aggressive,” said Grady, who is now 51. The management company says that it offers comprehensive on-site and emergency maintenance services.

Hannity has defended his real estate investment decisions, stating in a post to his website that he had chosen to invest his wealth in “communities that badly need such investment” and that he had limited involvement in the venture’s day-to-day operation.

“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,” Hannity wrote.

Paperwork on the deal for Hampton Place between Hannity, his lender and Hud state that from June 2019 he may apply for permission from Ben Carson, the Hud secretary, to convert the property to sellable condominiums.

Another of the companies linked to Hannity bought foreclosed houses through a property dealer who later pleaded guilty to fraud and was sent to prison.

Eleven homes purchased by Jeff Brock in foreclosure auctions in Georgia during 2011 and 2012 were transferred to corporate vehicles and then sold on to the Hannity-linked company.

US investigators found Brock and accomplices rigged foreclosure auctions to obtain properties at lower prices. They secretly agreed not to make competing bids at the auctions and then gave payoffs to one another in return. Hannity has not been accused of any wrongdoing.

Reeves, the attorney for Hannity, said the Fox News host had no direct involvement in selecting the houses that Brock had bought at auction. Reeves also said they had been unaware of Brock’s fraud before being alerted by the Guardian.

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