December 28 wasn’t a good day for RealPage and corporate landlords Essex Property Trust, Equity Residential, and Camden Property Trust. That was when Chief U.S. District Judge Waverly Crenshaw ruled that tenants in multiple states, including California, can move forward with a massive antitrust lawsuit against RealPage and its corporate clients for colluding to wildly inflate rents.
The RealPage Scandal has been playing out since October 2022, when ProPublica, the investigative journalism site, exposed the predatory business practices of Big Tech and Big Real Estate. RealPage, a Big Tech firm based in Texas, offers a controversial software program that helps a cartel of corporate landlords to work together to jack up rents in numerous states, including California, Washington, and Colorado.
Outrage over the scandal was heavy and swift: numerous Congressional members urged the Department of Justice to investigate RealPage and its corporate clients and more than 30 federal lawsuits have been filed by tenants.
Housing Is A Human Right also broke the story that several of RealPage’s clients, including Essex Property Trust, Equity Residential, and AvalonBay Communities, shelled out tens of millions in campaign contributions to kill pro-rent control ballot measures in California – Proposition 10, in 2018, and Proposition 21, in 2020. RealPage also delivered $500,000 in campaign cash to stop Prop 21.
So while corporate landlords were spending mountains of cash to stop two initiatives that would have ended their ability to charge any rent they like, they also formed a cartel to wildly inflate rents through the RealPage software program.
The damage created by Big Real Estate has been considerable: a worsening housing affordability crisis in California and other states and an intensifying homelessness crisis in California, where a UC San Francisco study recently found that skyrocketing rents are pushing people into the streets.
Essex Property Trust, Equity Residential, AvalonBay Communities, and other major landlords are now preparing to stop the Justice for Renters Act, a November statewide ballot measure that will expand rent control in California. A broad coalition of housing justice groups, social justice organizations, labor unions, and civic leaders, including Housing Is A Human Right and its parent organization, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, is pushing for the passage of the initiative.
Desperate to avoid public scrutiny, Essex Property Trust, Equity Residential, AvalonBay Communities, and other corporate landlords, a Housing Is A Human Right investigation found, are now using the California Apartment Association as a front group to carry out their dirty work, contributing huge sums to the California Apartment Association Issues Committee. That political action committee then moves Big Real Estate cash to Californians for Responsible Housing, the California Apartment Association committee that will work to stop the Justice for Renters Act.
Along with the RealPage Scandal, that shell game is another prime example of Big Real Estate’s under-handed business practices. It’s also the kind of shadiness that activists are trying to rein in through the Justice for Renters Act.
2024 will be a difficult year for Essex Property Trust and the other corporate landlords. They will not only be tried, in federal court, for colluding to charge outrageous rents, but they will also face millions of California voters who believe the rent is too damn high and Big Real Estate must be finally reined in through the Justice for Renters Act. The corporate landlords will undoubtedly pull more slippery schemes to avoid a devastating comeuppance.