20% of Renters Face Eviction by September; One Salinan’s Experience

According to The Washington Post, over 10 million Americans live in rental housing and 20% of them are “at risk of eviction by September 30th”.  These figures were compiled by the Covid 19 Eviction Defense Project, headquartered in Colorado.

Painfully, I’ve been evicted here in Salina, two weeks ago, for non-payment of rent.  It is one of the most shameful experiences of my life, and I’m about to broadcast what I’ve learned, in the hopes it can help others avoid some of my painful mistakes.

I was out of “cash reserves” in mid-November.  For over a year, I’ve had a booth at Junk in the Trunk, which also sells items on e-Bay.  Between JitT and pawn shops, I paid November, December, January and February’s rent.  By March, there was very little foot traffic at JitT, as “staying at home” was encouraged.

In early April, UMB notified me by mail that they had closed my checking account, because the balance was not sufficient for the $20/month bank fees.  I owe $<30 to UMB’s collection agent.

I’ve not seen my Trump stimulus check.  If it was electronically deposited, it may have gone to a closed account and back to the IRS.  Or, the collection agency snagged it.  If it came by mail, perhaps my check was removed from my mail box (a butter knife turns the lock and I’ve found the mailbox door swinging open on occasion).

In early June, Congressman Roger Marshall–in an interview on KSAL–encouraged constituents who had not received their stimulus check to contact his office.  Promptly, I received written confirmation that the IRS had received the request and would reply by July 30th.  When I e-mailed a staffer that I’d been evicted, she e-mailed back that my request was being expedited.  My ability to inquire about the status of that check on my own has been hampered by the closing of the public library (it has only been open four days from mid-March to current).  Other social agency staff used the IRS’ website to trace my check but received messages about “insufficient information”.   I suggest using Congressman Marshall’s office because they generate documentation that an inquiry has been made.

Governor Laura Kelly stayed evictions until about mid-June.  The State’s orders have been allowed to expire.  The Federal CARES Act stays evictions for those who live in rental properties that receive Federal monies (ie Section 8 housing or Federally backed loans) until July 24; after that, tenants are to be given 30 days notice of evictions.  I thought I was protected under the Federal CARES Act as my landlord accepts some Section 8 vouchers, but I got evicted on July 10th.

In June, I called Salina Housing Authority on my own and told them of my situation.  I asked specifically if they had anything for the homeless and soon-to-be evicted.  The staffer said “in all her years there, she knew of no way to hasten” what is now an 8-10 month long waiting list.  Here at Ashby House, I’ve completed paperwork from both the Salina Housing Authority and HUD (Federal Housing and Urban Development) that include separate boxes to mark for assistance prior to eviction.  I don’t know enough to better advise those in my predicament, but do ask about services to prevent evictions.

Many websites urge tenants to “talk to their landlords”.  My landlord began requiring calling ahead and scheduling appointments in mid-March.  My apartment door was “decorated” with four “3 Day Quit / 24 Hour Entry notices” detailing four separate “inspections” to take place at specific times in April and May.  I made it a point to be readily available in my apartment at those times, but there were no “knocks on the door”.  When one doesn’t know anything new about the status of a stimulus check or one’s monthly sales, does a tenant really want to antagonize their landlord with a message that “I still don’t know anything more since we last spoke”?

I offered my landlord a $400+ vintage sterling charm bracelet, a small opal and a small sapphire “to hold” “in earnest” that I would pay rent when I began receiving cash.  The pawn shop offered me $10 as the value of the base metal of the opal.  I told my landlord’s legal assistant about the value discrepancy; “Lisa” urged me to “do what I have to do” and sell that opal for $10.  I’ve priced these items at Junk in the Trunk for $420.  I hope to do better than the pawn shop offer.

I’ve learned “eviction” involves going to court at least twice.  In later June, the landlord’s attorney filed a motion for an “Order of Immediate Possession”.  I was scheduled to appear on June 29th at 3:00 PM; I went to the courtroom 20 minutes prior to the hearing.  At the elevator, I was told by a Sheriff Office’s deputy that the hearing would be conducted by phone.  I quickly caught CityGo’s green and yellow buses and scurried the 200 steps to my apartment.  My phone was there because cell phones aren’t allowed on the third floor.  I called in at 3:10, just as the Court was calling me.  Judge Paul Hickman permitted me to remain in my apartment through July 10, changing the landlord’s attorney’s eviction date from July 3.  I’ll need to reappear on July 27 when final amounts of rent / security deposits / damages will be discussed.

Diligently, I’ve been working (for years) to reduce my hoard of possessions.  I’ve gone from a two bedroom unit along with four storage units to one overstuffed bedroom unit.  For a year, a Central Kansas Mental Health Center caseworker came to the apartment to help me make progress.  Yet, I easily have 300+ tubs of books, paperwork and treasures.  On July 10th, I left 99% behind.  In the past few months, I’ve succeeded in shredding over ten tubs of confidential work papers.  Ashby House only allows guests to bring 7-10 changes of clothes, basic toiletries and medications, and important papers.  I came with two giant totes of important personal papers.

A “Notice from the Saline County Sheriff’s Office” states “any personal property left or abandoned on the property will become under the control of the landlord / property manager”.  (The three times the word “property” is used in this sentence makes this sentence confusing.)  Since something like this sentence isn’t in the landlord’s attorney’s motion or my lease, I don’t know if this notice carries the same “force of law” as the Judge’s orders.

On the day of the eviction, Sheriff Deputy Kaylen Smith was exceptionally professional.  I was expected to be “out the door” within two minutes of the appointed time.  Maintenance staff immediately changed the lock.  Deputy Smith gave me a ride to the Ashby House, on a sweltering day (above 95 degrees), which I preferred to taking the bus.  He was able to do this because there was another eviction in the same building scheduled 15 minutes later and between both of these, he had the time to give me a ride.  He barely had room for a catalog case and my five large totes.  He said that at the main process server, he averaged six evictions a week, but prior to the Governor’s stay, he was doing 10-11 evictions a week.

In the last two weeks, I’ve received many blessings and offers to help when I’ve told others of my predicament.  What I need is full-time employment and long-term housing.  What I have is a roof overhead, plenty of good food, companionship, and professional case management.

I have yet to hear any discussions about the possibility of increased evictions discussed during the taped portions of county and city commission meetings.  There is only so much space in the shelters.  I was told my alternative was to “live under a bridge”.  Will outdoor spaces be filled with those staying in tents, while apartments and foreclosed homes are empty?  This seems like a new disaster looming on our horizon.

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opinion piece submitted by Karen Shade