BOSTON (WWLP) – After accepting unauthorized utility payments from a low-income tenant while taking part in a federal housing subsidy program, Holyoke landlord Carmen Manix agreed to pay a $15,000 penalty for filing false claims to the government.
The Federal Housing Choice Voucher Program, also known as “Section 8,” offers low-income people federal funds to assist them in finding safe and affordable housing. The local public housing agencies, which are funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), determine the total monthly rent, which includes some utilities, that landlords of Section 8 residents must pay. Landlords receive the housing subsidy directly from HUD.
In exchange, landlords agree to adhere to a number of program criteria, such as not raising the rent or utility costs for Section 8 residents over what the public housing agency has set.
Despite this restriction, Carmen Manix demanded and received monthly utility payments from a Section 8 tenant between September 2000 and August 2017. According to a Department of Justice news release, this tenant later sued Manix for false claims under the False Claims Act’s whistleblower provisions. Manix acknowledges that she violated her agreements with HUD by requesting and receiving utility payments from the Section 8 tenant as part of the settlement reached Wednesday.
“The Section 8 program provides critical assistance to low-income families in need of safe and affordable housing,” said United States Attorney Rachael S. Rollins. “This case should be a warning that landlords who exploit low-income housing-insecure people to line their own pocket will be called out and held accountable. We use the False Claims Act every day to recover millions of dollars from companies that commit health care fraud. We will also use it to vindicate the rights of everyday citizens who rely on government programs being followed with integrity. Any Section 8 tenant who has been forced to pay excess rent or utilities in violation of the terms of his or her lease is encouraged to bring their concerns to our Office’s attention.”
“This settlement represents HUD OIG’s priority in protecting HUD beneficiaries from bad actors who prey on their vulnerability for self-enrichment,” said Christina Scaringi, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Inspector General, Northeast Region. “HUD OIG will continue to pursue and bring to justice landlords who fraudulently overcharge HUD-assisted tenants in violation of Federal law.”
Private individuals with knowledge of fraud are permitted to file civil lawsuits on behalf of the government under the False Claims Act. The whistleblower will get a portion of the $15,000 that the defendant is required to pay the United States under the settlement agreement.