Tuesday, June 18 2013, 10:14 AM MDT
Get Gephardt: Man Labors to Return Overpayment to Taxpayer Funded Agency
By Matt Gephardt
Produced by Michelle Poe
Edited by Jay Hancock
Photography by Mike Sadowski and Brian Morris
(KUTV) As a landlord, Steve Regan has rented to dozens of people including a man a few years ago who was on government housing assistance. A portion of that man’s rent was paid by the Housing Authority of Salt Lake City.
In October of 2011, Steve's tenant moved out yet, for two months, the Housing Authority continued to send Steve payments adding up to $1056.
“It's not my money. It's taxpayer money," Steve said.
Steve says he called the Housing Authority multiple times to tell them about their mistake and try to repay the money. When calls didn’t get anyone’s attention, he decided to send a certified letter asking that they correct the over payment. Still, Steve says nothing happened.
So, nearly a year after received the overpayment, Steve drove down to the Housing Authority of Salt Lake City office in person. Steve was told he didn’t owe any money back because the debt had been written off.
Get Gephardt began investigating and found that the money Steve owed the Housing Authority is far from the only debt the group has written off. In 2010, the Housing Authority budgeted to write off $99,300 but they actually wrote off nearly double that amount, $182,401. The following year, the Housing Authority raised their estimates and budgeted to write off $112,110 but when all was said and done, they wrote off $227,859 as uncollectable, bad-debt. Included in that quarter-of-a-million dollars is the $1056 that Steve had been desperately trying to repay.
The Housing Authority of Salt Lake City is governed by a board of directors and it is that board which must approve writing off debt. According to the minutes Get Gephardt obtained from several past meetings, the increasing amount of uncollected debt does seem to be concerning to the members. Still, time and time again, the board unanimously voted to write off thousands of dollars.
In an email, Housing Authority Executive Director Bill Nighswonger said they "have made it a practice not to send our landlord debts to a collection agency." That decision is contrary to the Housing Authority’s mandates and federal law which clearly say they must try to collect from overpaid landlords, specifically mentioning using a collection agency.
As for over-paid landlord Steve, Nighswonger said, they "are very sorry,” adding, “Sometimes mistakes are made."
Steve has now repaid the money that didn't belong to him.
The Housing Authority of Salt Lake City gets much of its funding from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. Making this story even a little more timely, H.U.D. stands to lose well over a million dollars if congress doesn't act to avoid the so-called sequester by Friday.
(Copyright 2013 Sinclair Broadcast Group)