Too Much Rent Relief? CBS13 Investigates Rent Relief Overpayments

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — While tens of thousands of landlords and renters remain in limbo, desperately waiting for their rent relief checks, a Sacramento man says his landlord got too much rent relief.

Generally, the tenant files the rent relief application and the checks are sent directly to the landlord, but it appears at least one local rent relief program is paying landlords without confirming how much back rent a landlord is actually owed.

How many landlords are being overpaid in California? Is anyone confirming the total amount of back rent before cutting the rent relief checks? Those are among the many questions state and local rent relief agencies have been unable or unwillingly to answer.

According to the state dashboard, nearly half of the Californians who applied for rent relief have not yet been paid. Though, the state says it’s paid out more than $3 billion, so far.

The state says its accounting doesn’t include the millions in state and federal rent relief that is also being distributed through local agencies, like the Sacramento Emergency Rental Assistance (SERA) program, which reports paying out another $100 million, so far.

Steven McFall is one of nearly 13-thousand families that have received assistance through the SERA program.

“I was pleased and shocked at the same time,” McFall said after learning his back rent had peen paid. Pleased that they had finally processed his application, but shocked that they overpaid his landlord by roughly 30%.

“I was shocked, actually, that they paid so much without communicating with me when there are so many other people that need assistance,” he said.

McFall said when he applied for rent relief in mid-January, he had already paid half the month.

“I only owed $300,” he said.

Two months later, McFall moved out at the end of March.

“I tried to contact them through email, no response. Tried to contact them through the phone and it goes straight to voicemail. Nobody’s ever called back,” he said.

McFall said there was no way to update his rent relief application, but he assumed they would confirm the total amount of rent needed before cutting a check.

Instead, when they finally processed the application in April, records reveal they overpaid his landlord by a third.

McFall’s only notification was an email from a no-reply email address stating, “This payment represents payment to the landlord for 100% of the rental arrears owed for the following periods: January 2022, February 2022, March 2022, April 2022.

He only owed rent from the end of January through March.

“I can’t imagine how many other people may have overpayments and how much money’s just kind of floating out there without, you know, verification,” McFall said.

McFall’s rent relief was processed by the Sacramento Emergency Rental Assistance program — one of the many local programs administering state rent relief funds.

He says when he finally reached someone there to notify them of the overpayment, “she seemed a little off-put like she was upset or something, actually, that I was telling her that there was an overpayment,” he said.

McFall said the SHRA representative asked him to prove that he moved out.

Then, after sending in the proof, McFall said she stopped responding. So he reached out to CBS13.

We reached out to both the state and local rent relief programs asking, among other things:

Is anyone tracking rent relief overpayments?
How much has been overpaid so far?
And why aren’t they confirming the total amount of rent relief needed before paying landlords?

A representative for the state told CBS13, “(Local) jurisdictions should be following a procedure to determine the appropriate amount of assistance prior to issuing a payment.”

However, the representative would not acknowledge our follow up questions asking if there is any state oversight of those local procedures or if the state was tracking overpayments.

“How many more people need assistance that aren’t going to get it now because of that?” McFall asked.

Several days after CBS13 began asking questions, SHRA finally responded to Steven saying, “We have confirmed with your landlord that April was not owed and have requested that the payment for that month be returned.”

However, representatives for SHRA have yet to answer any of our questions about the frequency, magnitude and oversight of these overpayments, and why they aren’t confirming the total amount of back rent needed before issuing checks.

We will keep working to get answers.