A Houston mother who lost her job as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic is receiving an outpouring of support after she received an eviction notice with a smiling emoji appearing to make light of her predicament.
Sonja Lee, who said she was denied unemployment five times, told ABC13 she saw the notice on the door of her The Steeples apartment located close to Kirkwood and Westheimer on August 17.
“Guess who’s moving? You!!!,” the notification read, with a smiling emoji and a waving hand printed on it. It further read: “Pay your outstanding balance, or release your apartment and turn in your keys to the leasing office by 6:00 p.m. today. Eviction will be filed promptly Tuesday morning, 8/18/2020.”
Lee said the notification appeared to antagonize her and was inconsiderate. She revealed that she had earlier reached out to the property managers about her situation after her inability to pay her rent for June and July.
“So y’all think it’s funny to antagonize the person that’s going through financial hardship with putting an emoji stating, ‘Guess who’s moving today?’ There was nothing funny about that,” she said.
She also told People: “I was mad, I ain’t going to lie. I didn’t think it was funny at all. I felt like they were antagonizing the tenants through the situation and it was heartless, especially during a pandemic.”
“A lot of people have lost their jobs. A lot of people aren’t able to get the resources. I was denied unemployment five times.”
Lee said her situation further aggravated after she found out a job she managed to get turned out to be a “scam.”
“I was overwhelmed because, to be honest, I felt like I was in a big hole and I couldn’t get out of it because I was set back so much. So it’s like, I’m a single mother with two boys. I do the best that I can and am a very hard-working woman,” she said, adding she was “scared.”
“I didn’t know what I was going to do after exhausting all of my resources from calling 211, local health assistance, and wasn’t able to get through, I didn’t know what to do.”
Speaking to ABC13, Jon-Ross Trevino, an attorney at Lone Star Legal Aid, however, said the notification was void.
“This notice doesn’t have any power (and) will not hold up in court,” Trevino said. “Just because this notice is on your door, doesn’t mean the landlord is correct in what they’ve done.”
Trevino said eviction notices are supposed to be posted inside a residence as per the law in most cases, adding that tenants are also supposed to be given three days to move out before an eviction is filed.
Responding to the eviction notice, the company managing the apartment complex, said they understand the insensitive nature of the flyer and said the manager behind it was disciplined. The company’s CEO also apologized to Lee.
“Buck stops with me, so yes, I do personally apologize,” Swapnil Agarwal, CEO of Karya Property Management, told ABC13. “I wish I had the time and the resources to reach out personally to every one of them who have dealt with any issues at our properties. But I am apologizing personally in case it was insensitive, and if she was really trying to work out a payment program with the property or that she was in communication with the manager, then I accept it’s truly our fault.”
Agarwal also confirmed Lee is not under eviction. In the aftermath of the incident, Lee set up a GoFundMe to help raise funds to support her and her two sons. She has so far received over $35,000 in donations, surpassing its $3,380 goal.
“It’s been so overwhelming, and I am so grateful. I have never experienced anything like this,” Lee said in response to the support she has received after her story was aired. She revealed someone paid her rent for two months while another woman gave her sons new school supplies.
“Another young lady assisted me, she paid all of my light bill,” she said. She also said she has gotten a new job and she is set to start August 24.
“I have to pay this [the support] forward ten times fold,” Lee said.