Rent monopoly crackdown continues as FBI raids corporate landlord for 18 Arizona properties

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Cortland Biltmore Place is one of 18 properties in Arizona run by Cortland Management. The Atlanta-based company's corporate office was raided in May 2024 as part of an FBI investigation into rental price-fixing scheme. Photo by Camaron Stevenson

By Camaron Stevenson

June 3, 2024

Federal agents raided a property management company operating in Arizona as part of an investigation into price-fixing rent, marking a distinct escalation in the renewed push to enforce consumer protection laws.

Cortland, an Atlanta-based property management company, joins nine other real estate conglomerates under investigation for creating a rental monopoly, resulting in rents across Arizona going up by more than 30% since 2022. The common thread between the 10 is RealPages, a co-defendant and consulting firm whose software they utilized to determine the maximum amount rent could be raised, then doing so in tandem in a manner Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes has characterized as monopolistic.

“The conspiracy allegedly engaged in by RealPage and these landlords has harmed Arizonans and directly contributed to Arizona’s affordable housing crisis,” said Mayes. “This conspiracy stifled fair competition and essentially established a rental monopoly in our state’s two largest metro areas.”

Taking on anti-consumer corporations

The unannounced FBI raid of Cortland’s corporate offices, as first reported by MLex reporter Khushita Vasant, took place as part of a criminal investigation into RealPage and multiple landlords across the country. The probe started as a civil inquiry in 2022 and was escalated to criminal in March 2024, after a series of state-level investigations into Realpages was announced in Washington, DC, Arizona, and five other states.

The state-level investigation in Arizona does not currently include Cortland, and the Attorney General’s Office declined to comment on whether they would be added to the current lawsuit or investigated separately.

The heightened scrutiny of anti-competitive business practices is part of the Biden administration’s larger initiative to lower the cost of living for middle-class families. In addition to taking on landlords in an attempt to lower the cost of housing, Biden has capped costs for medicine like insulin and expanded healthcare subsidies, and reduced excessive administrative fees in rental applications, bank overdraft penalties, and entertainment and travel purchases.

Building a case

While most other state-level investigations are only targeting RealPage for orchestrating the scheme, Mayes’ investigation in Arizona implicates nine landlord companies representing over 400 apartment complexes as co-conspirators.

An analysis by The Copper Courier found that roughly 100,000 rental units in the state are managed by companies listed in Mayes’ lawsuit. With the federal investigation into Cortland added to the mix, now over 420 apartment complexes—home to hundreds of thousands of renters—in the state are now under investigation for conspiring together to fix prices and create a rental monopoly.

Those interested in checking to see if their landlord is implicated in efforts to fix prices can use the map below—or click on the direct link here—and search either the name or address of the property using the search function at the top of the map legend.

Anyone who suspects their current or former landlord was involved with the scheme can file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office here.

Building tenant power

Dominique Medina, co-executive director of Fuerte Arts Movement, said the investigations confirm what his organization has known for years: private equity and hedge funds have cornered the rental market, cut out competition, and systematically raised rents in a way that unfairly burdens tenants.

“Knowing that it’s literally illegal, I think, is a move in the right direction,” Medina told The Copper Courier. “Let’s solve this with existing laws, and let’s solve this by holding our lawmakers and policymakers accountable to doing even more to make our housing system fair.”

In addition to tackling the housing crisis through legal avenues, Medina stressed the importance of building solidarity among those impacted by unfair housing practices. To facilitate this, Fuerte Arts Movement has been gathering stories from renters and is working to build a coalition to demand more protections and rights for tenants.

“We’re going to be giving people a platform to share the experience of being directly affected,” said Medina. “We’re going to build even more power through voting, through finding champions to support so that when they’re in office, we can hold them accountable.”

What’s known as the “Rent is Too High” campaign will hold its next event on June 25 at Olla Volla Crepes on Van Buren Street and 17th Avenue in Phoenix. During the event, tenants will be given the opportunity to share their stories, Medina and other campaign members will map out goals for the year, and state lawmakers are expected to speak on their plans to address Arizona’s housing crisis.

@coppercourier

How to file a complaint with the state against your landlord for raising your rent too damn high. The complaint form is right here: https://consumer-complaint.azag.gov/publiccomplaint/begin.aspx #housing #arizona #az #everythingarizona #landlor #landlord #landlordsfromhell #landlordproblems #landlordlife #renter #renters #renterproblems #housing #housingcrisis #phx

♬ original sound – Copper Courier

Author

  • Camaron Stevenson

    Camaron is the Founding Editor and Chief Political Correspondent for The Copper Courier, and has worked as a journalist in Phoenix for over a decade. He also teaches multimedia journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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