Help available for tenants of landlord under investigation for use of rental program

·4 min read

May 18—As a local property management company comes under investigation for its use of federally funded rental assistance programs, those concerned about how the fallout will impact them include renters being forced to move and people fearing their identities were improperly used.

A recent Dayton Daily News investigation raised questions about federal rental assistance payments that went to Freedom for Living Property Management. Tenants told the newspaper that they didn't get benefits obtained in their names, and they or other programs such as Section 8 paid rent the same months the company was reimbursed for by Montgomery County.

Multiple investigations and reviews are under way. Miami Valley Community Action Partnership, which administered the program, and the local housing authority are reviewing their program files for Freedom for Living and other landlords to find possible overpayments. Some Freedom for Living renters say they have been contacted by FBI agents.

FBI spokesman Todd Lindgren would not comment.

"As a matter of policy we cannot confirm or deny the existence of a potential investigation," he said.

Two people listed as receiving rent assistance last year have since told the Dayton Daily News that they didn't rent from Freedom for Living.

Windal Woodson said he lived in Trotwood last year. He said he never rented from Freedom for Living, though his girlfriend did several years ago and he worked for the company at one point. Rental assistance program records say Freedom for Living got $6,000 last year to cover his rent at an apartment on Benchwood Road in Butler Twp.

"If he received any money ... it wasn't with my knowledge," Woodson said.

The actual tenant at the unit listed for Woodson is Dianne Woods, who said she was unable to get help with her rent last year after she lost her bartending job because of the recession. She didn't know that her unit's rent was paid in someone else's name for six months. She sold her furniture and borrowed money to pay rent.

"I paid my rent. I struggled so hard," she said. "I sold everything just to stay in my home. I had to borrow money from my mom I had to do whatever it took to survive."

Applying for assistance in the program required personal information like a Social Security number through an online portal. After a tenant applied for assistance, the landlord would submit a form stating how much rent was due.

MVCAP paid Freedom for Living $410,568 for 68 rental units. The money came from a $5 million program created by Montgomery County using federal CARES Act funds. Freedom for Living was the largest recipient of funds in the program.

Brittany Talmadge said she lived in Troy all year last year. She said she never rented from Freedom for Living, though it's possible someone else applied for an apartment there in the past trying to help her get a place.

Program records say MVCAP paid Freedom for Living $8,400 for Talmadge, covering eight months of rent also on Benchwood. The actual resident at her listed address is Tim Miller, who said he paid his rent last year and received no assistance.

"That's identity theft," Talmadge said.

Freedom for Living officials declined to comment on this or the newspaper's previous investigation.

Meanwhile the 43 families getting Section 8 assistance at Freedom for Living properties all have to move after the housing authority, Greater Dayton Premier Management, said it found company officials defrauding the program.

That has left people like Eleanor Stockton afraid of ending up on the street because of the difficulty finding landlords willing to accept Section 8.

"I don't think that's fair to us because we had nothing to do with what (Freedom for Living) did," she said. "We're victims."

MVCAP Vice President Erin Jeffries said her agency has funding available to potentially assist current Freedom for Living tenants desiring to move to a new residence.

"We encourage these tenants to apply for rental assistance on our website (https://miamivalleycap.org/) by clicking the 'COVID Relief' button at the top of the page and filling out an application for rental assistance," she said. "After submitting an application, we ask that tenants email us at appeals@mvcap.com with 'Freedom for Living tenant' in the subject line so we can prioritize their applications for processing."

"MVCAP is in contact with a law enforcement agency investigating Freedom for Living and we are providing full access to all documents and information related to Freedom for Living properties," she said.

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Dayton Daily News investigates

For our investigation, a reporter called or visited all the Freedom for Living properties listed as receiving rent assistance and told their stories. Your subscription makes this kind of in-depth investigative reporting possible.

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