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Wichita apartment owner backs off eviction warning after new Kelly coronavirus order

The management of a Wichita apartment complex is backing away from a letter sent to residents warning them they could be evicted for not paying next month’s rent despite an executive order by Gov. Laura Kelly banning foreclosure and eviction proceedings until May because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Residents of the Horizons East apartments at 505 N. Rock Road have received a letter sent last week by their apartment managers telling them they could face eviction if they failed to pay April rent.

That letter was based on the rental company’s interpretation that it wasn’t covered by the original order signed by Kelly on March 17, said Clark Lindstrom of The Peterson Companies, which owns and manages Horizons East.

He said the company now will comply with an order the governor filed on Monday that clarifies that the temporary ban on foreclosures and evictions applies to all mortgage lenders and landlords.

“This letter that we sent to the residents last Thursday or Friday was before the (new) executive order, Lindstrom said. “We’ll follow the (new) executive order of our governor and of the state.”

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Assuming the order ends at its scheduled sunset date, May 1, tenants who didn’t pay in April will owe two months rent, he said.

The question of evictions during the pandemic has caused some confusion for landlords and renters, and came up during a question and answer session hosted Thursday by Wichita City Council member Brandon Johnson.

“Can Wichita apartment complexes evict tenants for non-payment of rent?” asked Blanche Garrigues Parker.

Answered Johnson: “Wichita apartment complexes cannot evict right now. The governor made an order that stopped all of that for I believe it was 30 days. ... No evictions at this time.”

Kelly’s original executive order had a potential loophole in its language that landlords might have been able to use as a work-around to avoid the order and evict tenants in April.

The original order read: “I hereby direct and order all financial institutions operating in Kansas to temporarily suspend the initiation of any mortgage foreclosure efforts or judicial proceedings and any commercial or residential eviction efforts or judicial proceedings until May 1, 2020.”

Some landlords, including The Peterson Companies, interpreted that to mean the eviction ban didn’t apply to them.

“We are interpreting this Order as directed to financial institutions,” the letter to Horizons East tenants read. “This apartment complex is not a financial institution.”

“Just as importantly, the companies that provide financing for this apartment complex have not granted us any waivers or extensions based upon coronavirus,” the letter continued. “Our lenders require us to maintain a high percentage of paying tenants. Our lenders require us to evict residents that are not paying . . . We will continue to collect rent and and enforce our leases as allowed by law.”

Kelly’s new order supersedes the earlier version and explicitly states that rental landlords are covered by the eviction ban.

“We actually did do a revised E.O. (executive order) on the evictions and foreclosures so that there were fewer questions about how that really would operate,” the governor said.

The new order states: “No landlords — whether individuals, companies, banks, financial lending entities, nursing homes, long-term care facilities, or other entities — shall evict a residential tenant when all defaults or violations of the rental agreement are substantially caused by a financial hardship resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Lindstrom said Horizons East has made arrangements to accept credit card payments or electronic transfers so residents can pay their rent from their unit.

If they just can’t pay, “they can contact the leasing office and provide us, preferably in writing, the reasons for them anticipating or being late on their rent,” Lindstrom said.

To comply with the terms of the governor’s order and be eligible for eviction relief, “They need to clearly state that their hardship is related to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Lindstrom said.

Examples of acceptable reasons to defer rent would include being furloughed or a reduction in work hours due to Sedgwick County’s ongoing stay-at-home order, or the need to take off work to care for children following Kelly’s order closing all schools for the rest of the school year, Lindstrom said.

Contributing: Chance Swaim and Jonathan Shorman of The Eagle

Senior Journalist Dion Lefler has been providing award-winning coverage of local government, politics and business in Wichita for 20 years. Dion hails from Los Angeles, where he worked for the LA Daily News, the Pasadena Star-News and other papers. He’s a father of twins, director of lay servant ministries in the United Methodist Church and plays second base for the Old Cowtown vintage baseball team.
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