Lindsey Toomer

(Colorado Newsline) The president of a nonpartisan corporate watchdog urged Colorado authorities Monday to investigate whether five companies colluded to artificially inflate rent prices. The companies manage thousands of properties across the Front Range.

Caroline Ciccone, president of Accountable.US, said in a letter to Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser that his office should look into the companies that were included in a lawsuit from District of Columbia Attorney General Brian Schwalb, which alleges the companies illegally raised rent for residents by working together and sharing data with property management software company RealPage.

In the D.C. case, RealPage is accused of using an algorithm to artificially raise prices for more than 50,000 units managed by a set of corporate landlords, which shared their data with the software company. The companies working together to fix rent prices would be a violation of D.C.’s antitrust laws.

Mid-America Apartments, AvalonBay Communities, Equity Residential, Camden Property Trust, and UDR are the companies named in the lawsuit that also operate rentals in Colorado. According to Ciccone’s letter, as of the end of March, Mid-America Apartments operated 1,202 units in Denver, AvalonBay Communities 1,539 units, Camden Property Trust 2,873 units, Equity Residential has 2,505, and UDR 218 units.

Accountable.US did not offer direct evidence showing collusion is occurring between the companies in Colorado. Its suspicions are based on investigations in other locations.

“Your office has the ability to determine whether these companies also stooped to illegal price-fixing and collusion in Colorado to further pad their profits, as they allegedly have elsewhere — and power to hold them accountable if they did,” Ciccone said in her letter.

A spokesperson for Weiser’s office said the attorney general “cannot confirm or otherwise comment on investigations.”

An AvalonBay representative told Newsline that the company has been dismissed from the D.C. case and is not a party to any other lawsuits related to the Accountable allegations.

Newsline contacted each of the five landlord companies for comment but had not received a reply from others by the time of publication.

Bill targeted algorithmic rent pricing

The push from Accountable.US comes after a report from the organization that found the six largest publicly traded apartment companies reported nearly $300 million in increased profits in the first quarter of 2024. The five companies Ciccone mentioned in her letter to Weiser are included in that group.

Zach Neumann, executive director of the Community Economic Defense Project, said Denver set a June record for the most evictions reported in the city. He said algorithmic pricing programs are used to set vacancy rates and market prices, which leads to higher prices for housing than they would have had otherwise.

Neumann’s organization is based in Denver and works to build economic and racial equity through partnerships with low-income and working people. It started in April 2020 to prevent evictions and displacement throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said it’s “deeply harmful and problematic” that corporate landlords can use algorithmic pricing “to drive up prices when so many people are suffering and paying more than they can afford in rent and are being pushed out of their homes.” He said it’s time for Weiser’s office to take action against the practice.

With algorithmic pricing, Neumann said landlords are able to push prices higher by holding a certain number of units off the market.

bill introduced in the Colorado Legislature this year intended to make algorithmic rent pricing illegal under the Colorado Consumer Protection Act. While the bill passed the House, it failed in the Senate. Neumann said the Legislature should take the bill back up, because the state’s housing policy “is so tilted against tenants.”

“We could be living in a world right now where this is no longer an issue, and where we had a legislative fix,” Neumann said. “From the perspective of a tenant advocate who represents people in court, it’s really frustrating to see the state Senate not take action.”

After that bill failed, the Federal Bureau of Investigations raided a corporate landlord in Atlanta accused of artificially inflating rent prices through its use of RealPage. Attorneys general in North Carolina and Arizona have pursued legal action against RealPage for allegedly helping landlords inflate rent prices.

Ciccone wrote similar letters to attorneys general in California, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York. Including Colorado, each of the states she addressed have some of the highest average monthly rent prices in the country.

“We know that your office is committed to doing its part to help Colorado residents struggling through no fault of their own to deal with high housing costs — costs fueled in many cases by big landlords that would rather price-gouge tenants and put profits over people,” Ciccone’s letter reads.