Tacoma Landlord Agrees to Pay $16,618 for Overcharging Homeless Veteran Tenant and Fraudulently Obtaining Federal Funds | USAO-EDWA
Sunrhys, LLC, a rental and real estate management company based in Tacoma, Washington, agreed to pay $ 16,618 to investigate allegations of violating the False Claims Act by overcharging a tenant and Veterans have fraudulently received federal funding from a federal program to provide housing for the homeless.
The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the United States Department for Veterans Affairs (VA) jointly manage the HUD-VA Support Housing (HUD-VASH) program. HUD provides rental assistance to veterans affected by homelessness, while VA Support Services assist homeless veterans with the identification, procurement, and maintenance of housing and other necessary support services. At the end of the 2020 financial year, around 80,000 formerly homeless veterans were given permanent housing as part of the HUD-VASH program.
“In creating the VA’s predecessor agency, President Abraham Lincoln said we must ‘provide for whoever is said to have fought,'” said Joseph H. Harrington, acting US attorney for the Eastern District of Washington. “No veteran who has served our country and given everything to protect the safety and comfort of Americans should be without the safety and comfort of a home. The HUD-VASH program provides important benefits to homeless veterans. This settlement is an example of the US Attorney’s commitment to the Eastern District of Washington to ensure the integrity of this program. “
Between July 2019 and April 2020, Sunrhys was a participating landlord in the HUD VASH program in relation to a Sunrhys rental property in Walla Walla, Washington, that Sunrhys rented to Daniel Avila, an eligible veteran. Each month Sunrhys collected part of the monthly rent for the Walla Walla property from Mr. Avila. Sunrhys then applied for a government rent support fund for the remainder of the total agreed rent. Under the Housing Allowance Agreement that governs Sunrhys’ participation in the program, Sunrhys was expressly prohibited from soliciting or collecting additional rent from Mr. Avila in excess of the eligible amount. The United States alleged that Sunrhys violated the HUD-VASH program agreement and requirements by fraudulently charging Mr. Avila an excessive monthly rent between July 2019 and April 2020.
Jason Root, Special Agent in charge of the VA Office of Inspector General, stated: “Joint oversight of HUD-VASH by VA OIG is one of the agency’s top priorities as it is important to protect grant programs aimed at reducing homelessness Quit veterans. VA OIG thanks the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Washington and the HUD Office of General Counsel for their partnership and commitment to protecting vulnerable homeless veterans. “
This matter arose when Mr. Avila filed a whistleblower or “qui-tam” complaint in February 2021. When a relative files a qui-tam complaint, the False Claims Act requires the United States to investigate the allegations and decide whether to intervene and take control, bring the lawsuit or refuse to intervene and allow the relator to continue the litigation on behalf of the United States. The relator can then usually participate in a recovery. The United States intervened in the lawsuit at the same time as the settlement. Mr. Avila receives $ 4,154 of the settlement. Mr. Avila was represented through the Northwest Justice Project, Washington’s largest publicly funded legal aid program that provides civil legal assistance and representation to low-income people in cases involving basic human needs such as family security and protection, housing preservation and income protection, access to health care , Education and other basic needs.
“Under the False Claims Act, landlords who overcharge their tenants under this program are required to repay not only the amount they overcharged their tenants, but also three times the total amount of federal funds that The landlord has received rental subsidies plus additional penalties for each month and provides a powerful fraud deterrent, ”added Acting Attorney Harrington. “I particularly want to commend the exceptional investigative work of the VA Inspector General, the Spokane Resident Agency, as well as the excellent work of the Northwest Justice Project representing the whistleblower. Our office will continue to work with our law enforcement partners, whistleblowers, and public interest groups such as the Northwest Justice Project to hold landlords accountable for abusing critical housing programs. “
The settlement was the result of a joint investigation by the VA Office of Inspector General and the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Washington with the assistance of the HUD Office of General Counsel, Office of Program Enforcement and HUD’s Office of Inspector General. The investigation and prosecution for the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Washington was conducted by US Assistant Attorneys Dan Fruchter and Tyler HL Tornabene. The claims settled by the civil law settlement are only assertions and no liability determination has been made. The case is entitled United States ex rel. Avila v. Sunrhys, LLC, 4: 21-cv-5013-TOR (ED Wash.).