LEBANON — Lisa James still doesn’t know where she’ll be living next week, but she’s feeling a whole lot better about her prospects after an outpouring of holiday-season community support.
James has until Wednesday to be out of her rental house at 141 E. Milton St. in Lebanon. That’s the deadline set by her landlord, Kip Schoning, in a 60-day no-cause eviction notice he delivered on Oct. 1 — a day after James complained that a number of repairs she had requested on the rundown unit had not been completed.
Money is in short supply for James, who is on medical leave from her job and is an important source of financial support for her three grown children — two of whom have serious medical issues of heir own — and she still hasn’t found a new rental for the family.
But after a story on her situation appeared in last Sunday’s editions of the Corvallis Gazette-Times and Albany Democrat-Herald, a number of individuals and organizations have come forward with offers of help.
“I had a lady and gentleman come over after church. She handed me a tissue paper (package) with $100 in it,” James said, adding that the woman gave her another $20 before she left.
“It made me really emotional,” James said. “Nobody’s ever done anything like that for me before.”
James also got a letter in the mail from an Albany woman with a $10 check inside.
On Monday, a North Albany resident named Shirley Ayers called the Gazette-Times office with an offer of $500 to help James and her family with relocation expenses.
“I’ve also been a landlord, and as a landlord you have to respond — you have to make your homes livable,” Ayers said. “It just tore my heartstrings, especially this time of year, that anyone should be tossed out in the street.”
Mike Stoltz, a retired Oregon State University Extension Service agent who has five rental properties in the Eugene area, had a similar response to the situation.
“Being a landlord, I kind of took personal affront to a landlord doing this to a tenant,” he said in a phone call to the newspaper.
“I’ve had problem tenants — I guess everyone has — and sometimes a 60-day notice is a wonderful thing,” he added. “But this guy just seems to abuse everything.”
On Wednesday, Stoltz opened a charitable account at Oregon State Credit Union to accept contributions for the James family. To get the ball rolling, he made an initial deposit of $1,200.
When James learned of Stoltz’s generosity, she broke into tears.
“It’s really overwhelming how generous people can be,” she said. “I just want everybody to know I’m really, really grateful.”
The family’s not out of the woods yet. They still have to find a house or apartment that will accept their three dogs, and the rent is liable to be higher than the $850 a month they’re paying now. But thanks to the kindness of strangers, they’re in a better financial position than they were just a week ago.
There have been other kinds of support as well.
Community Services Consortium, a nonprofit social services agency, said it might be able to help James get government housing assistance. The local office of Legal Aid Services of Oregon, which had previously told James it couldn’t help her, called to say it would take another look at her eviction case. A private attorney from Sweet Home who has tangled with Schoning in court before said he would look into the matter as well.
And Jerry Duerksen, a retired Corvallis property manager who leads a local industry group, said his organization will push state agencies to discipline Schoning for a pattern of behavior he believes hurts responsible landlords as well as tenants.
"It's long overdue," Duerksen said. "We're not going to give up."
Schoning’s Corvallis-based property management company, Rising Realty (formerly known as Bula Enterprises), has a long track record of foot-dragging on repair requests and going to court to boot out troublesome tenants, with more than 800 evictions to its credit.
James has lived in the Milton Street house since May 2013 and has always paid her rent on time, with one exception: She was one day late in July of that year, when she paid on the fifth. In that case, Schoning hit her with a $100 late fee and a 144-hour eviction notice, which came with its own $50 fee.
That eviction threat was dropped after she paid her rent and the $150 in fees. (The fee tied to the 144-hour notice appears to have been illegal. The Legislature banned such charges in 2009, one of several reforms to the state’s Landlord-Tenant Act prompted in part by a series of articles in the Gazette-Times and Democrat-Herald that documented some of Schoning’s unsavory business practices.)
James has requested numerous repairs since moving into the Lebanon house, which is nearly a century old. On a recent tour of the property, James pointed out some of the ongoing problems.
Cold air seeps in through big gaps in the weatherstripping around the front door. The frame around the front window has dry rot, causing it to bow inward and leak during rainstorms.
There have been problems with the home’s antiquated electrical system, James said, as well as gas leaks from the kitchen stove.
The ceiling of one of the upstairs bedrooms is beginning to buckle, thanks to water damage from a leaky roof.
There’s mold in the upstairs bathroom, and the caulking around the tub has failed, allowing water to seep into the floor. Downstairs there are pans on the floor to catch the drips from the upstairs bathroom. Water leaks from the refrigerator onto the floor, and the kitchen sink won’t drain properly.
The ceiling in the downstairs bathroom also leaks, and on Nov. 23 a chunk of it collapsed into the shower stall. James said she reported the problem the same day, but the hole in the ceiling remained unrepaired as recently as Wednesday.
A maintenance worker from Rising Realty came to look at the problem but declined to give his name or discuss the situation with a reporter. Asked why it had taken 10 days for the company to send someone to inspect the damage, the man said, “We go when they tell us to go.”