By Melissa Schlicht
Local mom, Courtney Sustrick, lives in constant fear of homelessness due to her “noisy” son with autism. She has received two lease violations for noise, a third could result in eviction from her family home at Whispering Winds Apartment Complex.
If evicted Courtney says she “doesn’t have anywhere to go. My biggest fear is having to live in my vehicle again. I’ve done that twice now. Now it’s more important because I have two kids to look after. Landin would have to go live with his dad….and I can’t take care of Emmett if I don’t have any place to live.”
Courtney Sustrick, first started worrying about her 3 year old son Emmett’s behavior in July of 2013. He had been pulling at his ears and putting his hands over both ears and screaming. His vocabulary wasn’t developing as quickly as it had with her older son Landin. She had noticed some repetitive behaviors and other unusual patterns with Emmett’s behavior. She thought that an ear infection could be causing the problems. So, she took him in to see her family doctor.
Emmett did not have an ear infection. After several tests it was determined that Emmett had an Autistic Disorder. According to his mother “he has his good days and his bad days. On his bad days he can yell or scream for long periods of time, stomp and throw himself on the floor, slip out the front door and take off down the hall and throw chairs into the walls.”
It is Emmett’s bad days that have raised an issue at Courtney’s apartment complex. Courtney is a single mom raising her two sons on her own. It is not easy. According to Courtney every day activities like going to the grocery store can be quite a chore with two kids. It’s even harder for her because she’s by herself and one of her children is a special needs child.
Courtney works as a waitress at the Doherty Hotel in Clare and lives on a limited income. She fears what will happen to them if she is evicted. She worries; “once you have an eviction under your belt getting into another apartment is nearly impossible.”
Emmett gets in home therapy three times a week for a total of twenty hours a week. His speech and behavior have improved somewhat with this therapy time. Courtney says, “There will be improvement but it will be slow and probably take years. It’s going to take a while it’s not going to be something that’s quick.” She fears it won’t be enough improvement that her neighbors won’t complain about the noise.
She does the best she can to control Emmett’s noise level. She says that “it depends on what mood he’s in, if he’s angry there is no consoling him and no way to calm him down or keep him quiet. If he is sad or hurt I can console him by coddling him and talk him down.”
Courtney’s small family lives on the second floor of Whispering Winds which is run by GLD management Company. They have received two lease violations from GLD management Company to date. The violations state:
“It has been reported to our office that there has been excessive noise coming from your apartment home and it has been reported there is running up and down the hallways at all times of the day and night. You must respect the peaceful enjoyment of other residents and quiet down your activities on the premises.”
The lease violations both warn that if Courtney did not correct the violations within 10 days of the receipt of the notice management “may seek to terminate the lease agreement by bringing forth judicial action.” Each time Courtney has responded in writing to GLD Management Company explaining Emmett’s autism and how his behavior is erratic and not something that she can control. Each time she has received a notice back from GLD Management stating that the lease violations were resolved. Her most recent lease violation stated:
This is your second written notice of lease violations, upon the third notice of any lease violation management may seek to terminate your tenancy.
When contacted regarding the lease violations, a spokesperson of GLD management confirmed that if Courtney received a third lease violation her lease with them could be terminated, regardless of Emmett’s condition.
When asked how that correlated with the fair housing act they said “due to the fair housing act each person has to be held up to the same standards.” Then they gave an example of a tenant who had a loud party, received a lease violation and then went to speak with management. They explained that the lease violation would be resolved but not taken off the record. So if they had a second loud party they would receive a second lease violation. Again, they would have to go to management within 10 days to have it resolved. And if they had a third party they could have their lease terminated.
How is choosing to have a loud party and having a son whose behavior is loud due to a disability even comparable? Not sure. Courtney did not choose for Emmett to have this disability.
GLD management said that “sometimes apartment style living isn’t best for autistic children.” So how does that fit in with “fair” housing? Where are families with children with special needs supposed to go?
When questioned about what, if anything, they could do to accommodate this family GLD didn’t really have any answers.
When further prompted with the suggestion that perhaps Courtney could be moved to a first floor apartment or moved to an area of the buildings that had more families GLD confirmed they could accommodate the family. If Courtney could prove “there was a medical need, and a request for Reasonable Accommodation modification form was completed by her physician”.
Would this alleviate the fear of eviction? Not really. GLD confirmed that even if she were moved to a first floor apartment “she could still have her lease terminated if she received a third lease violation for noise.” So, the family would still be faced with the same problem. One more noise complaint and Courtney’s worst fear could come true. Courtney said “I feel like I’m not even welcome in the area because of Emmett’s disability.”