State, local officials react to rental aid investigation as more aggrieved renters come forward

State auditors are discussing the next steps in auditing apparent risk in Ohio rental assistance programs after a Dayton Daily News investigation found hundreds of thousands of dollars in aid went to a property management company with several renters who say they didn’t get the aid and they or other programs continued paying rent.

“Appropriate management controls and monitoring should be designed and placed in operation to ensure those in need, who properly qualify for the program, receive the benefit from the program, not others through fraud or abuse,” Ohio Auditor’s Office spokeswoman Allie Dumski said.

The company Freedom for Living Property Management received $410,568 last year through a $5 million program created by Montgomery County with federal CARES Act money to help roughly 1,600 renters stay in their homes amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Dayton Daily News interviews with tenants revealed the company might have received aid for apartments already covered by public housing rental vouchers, or for months when the tenants paid rent or didn’t live there.

County officials say they referred the newspaper’s report to the state.

ExploreDayton Daily News investigates: Landlord received thousands in questionable rental aid

Montgomery County Commissioners Judy Dodge, Debbie Lieberman and Carolyn Rice did not return messages seeking comment, but issued a statement through county spokeswoman Deb Decker.

“We understand people could have unknowingly made a mistake on their application. But for those who knowingly committed fraud, we will recoup those funds,” Decker said. “The commissioners fully support any decision by the state and federal government to prosecute offenders and recoup those fraudulent payments.”

Officials from Freedom for Living have declined to comment or not responded to multiple attempts to contact them. Investigations and reviews are under way of the company’s use of the program, but no one connected to the company has been charged with any crime.

Jeff Rickerman, president of the Ohio Real Estate Investors Association, said that if the concerns about misuse of funds are true, “this is obviously an egregious case of abuse of public funding that is out there to really help people in need.”

“There should certainly be safeguards in place that hopefully don’t slow the process down any more than it already is,” said Rickerman, whose organization represents landlords across the state. “The rent relief that has been put out so far has been confusing, slow and inconsistent”

ExploreFederal rental assistance checks went to landlords of uninhabitable properties, newspaper investigation finds

More renters come forward

For our story, the Dayton Daily News attempted to contact the tenants at all 68 properties where Freedom for Living — the largest recipient of aid funds in this program — were paid. Since the story ran, several renters who couldn’t be contacted have reached out to the paper.

Teralynn Williams spoke to the Dayton Daily News last week and said several members of her family were misled by Freedom for Living, which received money in their names.

Freedom for Living received $4,170 in her name to cover rent from June through October at a unit on Benchwood Road. But she said the landlord told her the program only paid for one month of her rent.

“We paid all the other months,” she said.

She moved in August, she said, to another unit nearby owned by Freedom for Living and paid a deposit. Rent there is $1,350 a month, she said.

But in October, Williams’ husband lost his job, she said, and they applied for assistance again in his name. That time Freedom for Living received $10,500. This was for $1,500 a month rent from June — before they moved in — through December.

She said the landlord told her, again, only one month of rent was paid. She didn’t know Freedom for Living received a September rent payment from her and from MVCAP at two different addresses.

“There were times we were struggling because my husband was not working,” she said.

Williams said her mother and sister both rent from Freedom for Living and also were told MVCAP only covered one month of their rent. The community action partnership paid 15 months of rent for them combined, totaling $12,635, according to program records.

Her mother is currently facing eviction in Vandalia Municipal Court for unpaid rent last year and this year, though MVCAP paid for her rent through December.

During the newspaper’s investigation, Greater Dayton Premier Management, the local public housing authority, says it found the company was defrauding the Section 8 program and revoked the company’s ability to accept housing vouchers. MVCAP officials say help is available to assist Section 8 tenants and others forced to move from Freedom for Living properties.

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

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