Watchdog calls for probe into rental company accused of illegal price-fixing

by Dana DiFilippo, New Jersey Monitor

A government watchdog group is urging New Jersey Attorney General Matt Platkin to investigate a rental company that manages more than 5,000 apartments in New Jersey after it got sued for illegal price-fixing in Washington, D.C., this week.

Accountable.US, a D.C.-based nonprofit, sent a letter Wednesday alerting Platkin that AvalonBay Communities, Inc., was among 14 rental companies D.C. Attorney General Brian Schwalb sued for allegedly colluding with a property management software company to raise rents for more than 50,000 units there.

AvalonBay has 24 locations in the Garden State, from Princeton and West Windsor in Central Jersey to Bloomingdale and Edgewater in North Jersey, according to its website.

“The question is: If these companies were willing to allegedly engage in rent fixing surrounded by federal and local regulators in the nation’s capital, why not in New Jersey as well?” Accountable.US’s president, Caroline Ciccone, wrote in the letter. “In our view, it is worth looking into whether New Jersey tenants dealing with these same companies are not also victims of illegal practices that further drive housing costs through the roof.”

Ciccone’s group, which released a report in April exposing the price-gouging scheme, sent similar letters this week to attorneys general in eight other states where the accused companies rent out apartments.

The companies’ rent hikes “were based on greed, not need” and fueled giant jumps in company profits and “generous rewards” for company executives, Ciccone wrote. Such profits helped AvalonBay spend $536 million to acquire more than 1,300 rental units last year, she wrote.

“It is critical that enforcers of consumer protection and antitrust laws like yourself stand up for consumers instead of corporations that profit from rising prices,” Ciccone told Platkin in her letter.

Spokespeople for Platkin and AvalonBay didn’t respond to requests for comment.

New Jersey remains one of the least affordable states for renters, who represent about 36% of residents, according to affordable housing advocates.

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