Eviction sets off tragedy

A resident of the Shorewood Heights apartments took his own life the day before Thanksgiving, just moments before a sheriff’s detective was going to evict him.

The man, 61, lived alone in a one-bedroom apartment. According to court and police documents, he was being evicted from the 646-unit apartment complex for not paying his rent last October. According to the medical examiner’s office and Mercer Island police report, the death was ruled a suicide by a gun shot to the head.

Some neighbors said they did not know the man but had heard the gun shot. Neighbors also wonder why the apartment complex has not told them what had happened after all the activity that took place afterward.

Two residents told the Reporter they heard the shot that morning, Nov. 21.

“I heard a gun shot. It was 8:15 a.m. I knew it was a gunshot,” said a neighbor who lives in the unit below the man.“We want to know what is going on — why won’t Shorewood tell us?”

The same neighbor, who said she has lived in the building for about a year, saw the police come and a Servicemaster truck, which comes to clean up crime scenes. Yet she didn’t hear anything from the building managers and none of her other neighbors knew anything either.

“None of us [the neighbors] knew him,” she continued. “And I find it totally amazing that no one would know that a man living right next to you was going to do that. It’s so sad.”

Another neighbor, who also lives on the floor below, said she heard the shot too. She said she thought it may have been a toy or something fell or had been dropped. She said she did not know who it was and had wondered what had happened as well.

The police report of the incident stated nobody heard the gun shot. According to Public Information Officer, Cmdr. Leslie Burns, if somebody had come forward and told the police they heard the shot, it would have been in the report. Neighbors interviewed at the scene the day of the incident must not have heard it, she said.

The Reporter was unable to reach any family members.

Shorewood Heights began the eviction process with the tenant with a three-day “pay rent or vacate premises” notice issued on Oct. 13, according to court documents. The man owed $1,025 for rent, $25 in a monthly pet fee and $75 as a late payment fee. After granting Shorewood the right to proceed with the eviction, the county court ordered the tenant to pay $400 in attorney fees for the apartments and $273 in court fees. Plus, he was ordered to pay the pro-rated cost of rent at $34.17 for each day he continued to live in the apartment after Oct. 31.

The court issued its ruling on Nov. 8, and a sheriff’s detective made a call the night of Nov. 20 to warn the man he would be evicted the following morning. When the detective arrived the next day, no one answered the door. According to the police report, the detective used a key provided from a building manager to enter the apartment around 8:40 a.m. after he knocked on the door and did not get a response.

The officer found the man seated in a chair with an apparent self-inflicted gun shot wound to the head.

The police report also included part of a conversation the man had with the sheriff’s deputy the evening before. The tenant told the detective he wouldn’t have to worry about evicting him because he wouldn’t be there in the morning.

The police report stated suicide notes were found indicating the man was going to commit the act. Two notes apologized to those who knew him and another indicated who could be contacted to take care of the two cats.

Suicides that occur with eviction are rare but not unheard of.

John Urquhart, the spokesman for the King County Sheriff’s department, the agency that enforces court-ordered evictions, said that eviction officers encounter a suicide from time to time.

According to the records, 14 eviction cases have been forwarded to the King County courts for the Shorewood Heights apartments since May 2006. The complex is made up of 40 buildings and has 646 apartments. The complex was remodeled recently and plans to add new condos to the area.

Laura Gruits, a bookkeeper for the Shorewood Heights apartments, said the company has an eviction policy in its lease agreements that is consistent with state law.

According to Gruits, rent is due on the first of the month and there is a grace period that allows tenants to pay as late as the fifth without a late fee. After that there is a one-time $75 fee and an additional $5 fee for each day late thereafter. On the sixth day, the company has the right to issue a three-day “pay or vacate the premises order.” That allows the tenant to leave without paying within three days or pay to prevent the eviction process that ensues.

“We have a policy that is pretty lenient about coming to us if there are financial problems,” Gruits said. “With a physical eviction, we call the tenant to make sure everything is OK if they don’t want to move.”

Gruits also said the company provides tenants being evicted with information about resources available to them if they need help, even though it is not required in the policy or by law.

“We know of MIYFS [Mercer Island Youth and Family Services], and while it is not our official policy, I personally call to make sure tenants know there are places to go. We don’t want to throw anybody out on the street, so we give them the [phone] numbers and resources that are available to them,” she explained.

“We don’t make the contact for them though. It’s the tenants’ right to request those services.”

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