A Forest Grove renter filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against his landlord for allegedly using the Internal Revenue Service website to determine whether he had received his federal stimulus check.
Austin Goodrich, 22, is accusing his property manager, TLC Bookkeeping and Tax Prep Inc., and property owner, 2275 W Burnside LLC, of invading his privacy by illegally using the IRS website to track the status of his stimulus check in an attempt to collect unpaid rent.
Goodrich confirmed that TLC Bookkeeping and Tax Prep is run by his grandmother, but said he does not associate with her outside of their tenant-landlord relationship.
Goodrich, who lost his job as a security guard due to the COVID-19 crisis, is one of nearly 300,000 Oregonians who were laid off or furloughed in the first weeks of the coronavirus outbreak. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown issued a temporary eviction moratorium on March 22 to protect renters dealing with the fallout from the crisis.
Hours after receiving his stimulus check from the federal government on April 15, Goodrich received a text from his landlord and grandmother asking whether he planned to use the money to pay his April rent. She explained she had used his Social Security number and the numbers of several other tenants to see whether their stimulus checks had arrived, according to a text message thread that Goodrich posted on social media.
The IRS “Get My Payment” website allows users to track the status of stimulus checks by entering a Social Security number, date of birth and address. A message on the website says “unauthorized use of this system is prohibited and subject to criminal and civil penalties.”
“I initially remained anonymous on the issue for awhile but decided to use this opportunity to speak out on behalf of tenants that suffer abuses from their landlords/property managers that this is the time to put your foot down and demand fair treatment of your rights,” said Goodrich in an email exchange with The Oregonian/OregonLive earlier this week. “I also wanted to bring attention to the IRS’ vulnerabilities that would allow anyone with access to Social Security numbers to gain illegal access to their computer systems.”
Goodrich is being represented by Portland lawyers Michael Fuller, Alan Kessler, and Kelly Jones.
“One of the reasons we filed this is to send a message that tenants and vulnerable people are not going to be bullied during this crisis,” Fuller said. “That appears to be what happened here. Not only do I hope that the jury allows fair compensation for my client, but I hope that sends a strong message to other landlords and debt collectors that tenants are not going to be bullied.”
A representative for 2275 W Burnside LLC did not immediately respond to a call from The Oregonian/OregonLive Wednesday afternoon. The owner of TLC Bookkeeping and Tax Prep Inc. said she would not be commenting, based on advice from her lawyer. She declined to give her name, but referred to herself as Goodrich’s grandmother, tax preparer and property manager. The lawsuit does not name her as an individual defendant.
Goodrich said he signed a lease at the property managed by his grandmother’s company after moving back to Oregon from California. He had hoped to work only with her business partner. When her business partner left, his grandmother became his landlord.
“This is an issue between a tenant and property management company,” Goodrich said.
Goodrich said he tried to resolve the issue with his landlord before filing the lawsuit. He asked her to waive all rent due until the end of his lease on June 30, waive all due and past-due amounts, return his security deposit and give him an excellent rental reference.
When his landlord did not respond, he said he determined that his request was not being taken seriously and decided to file the lawsuit.
This article was originally published by The Oregonian/OregonLive, one of more than a dozen news organizations throughout the state sharing their coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak to help inform Oregonians about this evolving health issue.