Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Landlords To Fork Over $19K Plus Tenant's Legal Fees To Resolve Allegations That They Squeezed Section 8 Tenant For Excessive Rent Disguised As Trash Removal Fees; Use Of Whistleblower Provisions Of Federal False Claims To Blow Whistle On Landlord Will Allow Renter To Share In Settlement Proceeds

From the Office of the U.S. Attorney (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania):
  • The United States Attorney's Office announced today that Bellante Properties, of Lehigh County, PA, and its owners Vincent Fantozzi and Bernard Fantozzi, will pay the government $19,120 to resolve allegations surrounding federally-funded rental assistance payments it received. According to a civil complaint, Bellante Properties received rent subsidy payments from the Lehigh County Housing Authority while unlawfully requiring a tenant to pay supplemental rental payments disguised as trash removal fees.

    The lawsuit was filed by Karen Schware, in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, under the whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act. The False Claims Act allows private citizens to bring civil actions on behalf of the United States and to share in any recovery.

    The Section 8 housing assistance program is designed to provide affordable housing to low-income families. According to the government’s complaint, between July 2007 and September 2013, Bellante Properties received payments from the Lehigh County Housing Authority under the Section 8 rent assistance program. In addition to receiving federally-funded Section 8 rent assistance payments, and approved rent payments from the tenant, the government alleges that Bellante Properties also unlawfully required the tenant to provide supplemental rent payments that had not been approved by the Lehigh County Housing Authority.

    The unlawful supplemental payments were disguised as trash removal fees. The parties have agreed to settle the dispute for a payment by the defendants of $19,120 to the United States. Bellante Properties and its principals, Vincent Fantozzi and Bernard Fantozzi, are also barred for three years from participation in HUD’s Section 8 program. As a whistleblower, Schware will receive a share of the settlement proceeds. Bellante Properties will also pay Schware’s legal fees.

    The settlement was the result of a coordinated effort by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and the Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Inspector General. The case was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Joel M. Sweet.
Source: United States Settles With Lehigh County Landlord Over Section 8 Rent Subsidy Payments.

For the whistleblower lawsuit complaint in intervention filed by the Feds, see USA ex. rel. Schware v. Fantozzi. (Note: The original suit was filed on behalf of the tenant by Community Justice Project ("CJP"), Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and North Penn Legal Services, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Both firms are nonprofit legal services organizations providing civil legal aid to low-income residents of Pennsylvania. In addition, CJP is an “unrestricted” legal services program, working on issues and cases that traditional non-profit legal services organizations cannot handle (ie. litigating class actions, representing undocumented immigrants, and litigating against the government).

For an earlier story involving the use of federal whistleblower suits against landlords accusing them of violating Section 8 rules, see Miami Non-Profit Law Firm, Local Feds Join To Score Wins In Two Novel Whistleblower Suits Accusing Local Landlords Of Illegally Squeezing Gov't, Section 8 Tenants Out Of Excessive Rent Subsidies; $uccessful Recovery Includes Tenants' Damages, Legal Fees.

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home