An unemployed mother of two was left distraught when her property manager posted a heartlessly conceived eviction notice on the door of her rented apartment. After local news outlets picked up the story, the mom received an apology and an outpouring of support.
The local community was outraged and showed up in full force to ensure that the worried mom and her two kids would continue to have a roof over their heads.
Sonja Lee, 33, lost her job at Jack in the Box at the outset of the pandemic lockdown and struggled for weeks to secure a new one. Lee, who lives at The Steeples apartment complex in Houston, Texas, was so desperate that she even fell victim to a hiring scam, she told People, losing three months’ rent in the process.
In addition, Lee says she was denied unemployment benefits five times. The eviction notice pinned to her door on the afternoon of Aug. 17 then became the straw that broke the camel’s back.
“Guess who’s moving?” the printed note began, with a waving, smiling, clip-art emoji underneath. “You!!! Pay your outstanding balance, or release your apartment and turn in your keys to the leasing office by 6:00 p.m. today.”
The note added: “Eviction will be filed promptly Tuesday morning, 8/18/2020,” the note signed off.
Lee explained that the message left her feeling scared and overwhelmed for both herself and her children, 12-year-old Patrick and 2-year-old Sean.
“I felt like I was in a big hole and I couldn’t get out of it because I was set back so much,” she said. “I’m a single mother with two boys. I do the best that I can and am a very hardworking woman.”
Lee claimed she had been open with her property managers about her situation and felt the tone of the note was unnecessary. “I didn’t think it was funny at all,” she explained, “it was heartless, especially during a pandemic.”
Unbeknown to Lee at the time, her property manager’s note would not have stood up in court. “This notice doesn’t have any power,” Jon-Ross Trevino of Lone Star Legal Aid explained to ABC-7. “Just because this notice is on your door, doesn’t mean the landlord is correct in what they’ve done.”
An eviction notice, said Trevino, should be posted on the inside of a residence and should give the tenant at least three days to move out.
Reprieve for the struggling mom came quickly, however, from over her property manager’s head. When CEO Swapnil Agarwal of Karya Property Management, the company that oversees The Steeples, heard what had happened, he issued a formal apology to Lee.
“Buck stops with me,” he admitted to KTRK, “so yes, I do personally apologize. I wish I had the time and the resources to reach out personally to every one of [the tenants] who have dealt with any issues at our properties.”
The CEO revoked Lee’s eviction and assured her that the property manager, who wrote and posted the eviction notice without corporate approval, had been reprimanded “in case it was insensitive.”
Lee accepted the apology wholeheartedly.
Members of the public, touched by Lee’s plight, also reached out to help in several meaningful ways. One person who heard the news called The Steeples and paid two months’ rent on Lee’s behalf, another woman donated school supplies for Lee’s eldest son, while one donor paid off the mom’s outstanding light bill.
In addition to the help she received, Lee started a GoFundMe page to raise enough money to move her kids into a bigger, more comfortable home. At the time of writing, Lee’s fund had raised almost $40,000, far surpassing her original $3,380 goal.
“[N]ever give up,” Lee told People. “[I]f you have faith, keep your faith, stay strong, and just stay positive because blessings are real and miracles do happen within a blink of an eye.”
Perhaps the best news of all to come out of the struggling mom’s ordeal is that Lee was hired for a new job. She started on Aug. 24.
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