Tomorrow the King County Housing Authority (KCHA) will try to evict an unemployed single mother of four and her children over the noises her toddler makes.
Vanessa Aguilar moved into Gilman Square, an income-restricted apartment complex in Issaquah, in 2019. At the time, she was pregnant with her now two-year-old son, who is often the subject of her neighbor’s recent noise complaints.
Even then, Aguilar anticipated toddler noise would be an issue, since her now five-year-old daughter was a toddler when she moved in. So she requested a ground-floor unit to avoid small stomping feet from disturbing her downstairs neighbors. She said Gilman Square did not accommodate her request because she arrived late to her appointment to finalize her lease and the building had already given the ground-floor unit to someone else.
With limited options, Aguilar moved into a unit on the second floor, hoping that the building manager could move her when a ground-level unit became available. Three years and a new baby later, Aguilar and her family still live on the second floor. She said her family is the only one with young children the building could not accommodate with a ground floor unit.
I called Gilman Square management for comment and I will update if they respond.
On Feb 7 the building served Aguilar, who only speaks Spanish, a notice in English that gave her 10 days to comply with the rules of her rental agreement after three noise complaints from her downstairs neighbor, according to court documents. In those following 10 days, the neighbor sent two more emails complaining about running, screaming, and rumbling speakers.
For the next two months, the neighbor continued to complain in about a dozen emails to the building’s management, ranging in severity from a full week of 7 am foot-noise-wake-up-calls to ten minutes of crying outside of the 10 pm to 8 am quiet hours. Only about half of the emails collected in the court records documented disturbances during the building’s quiet hours.
Because she failed to comply, Gilman Square sent Aguilar an eviction notice, which was also written in English. She went to court without an attorney or an interpreter until King County Housing Justice Project (HJP) eventually intervened.
In a phone interview, Edmund Witter, the managing attorney at HJP, criticized the KCHA for taking complaints from one “Karen” tenant so seriously. He also added that the building’s own records indicate that security did not hear the stereo noises and could not verify the neighbor’s complaint on that issue.
I emailed the neighbor for comment and I will update if they respond.
On the other side, KCHA’s attorney, Randy Redford, said in an email to Aguilar’s attorney, Ariana Headrick, that her request to stop the eviction was “not reasonable.” He continued, “Essentially, you are saying that her household can make as much noise as it wants from the child and the neighbors just have to deal with it.”
I texted Redford for comment and I will update if he responds.
Aguilar said the noises — stomping, crying, even the occasional screaming — come from her two-year-old son, who sometimes acts out in loud ways because of his autism. But also, he is two years old. Sometimes he likes to jump around when he watches cartoons, as two-year-olds do, his mother said.
“They are evicting a family because their toddler is being a toddler,” said Headrick. “Toddlers making noise is just normal. And that's not something that anyone should be able to be evicted for. It’s discrimination.”
Aguilar echoed her attorney’s sentiment. She accused the KCHA of racist, ableist, and anti-family discrimination. Witter said setting such a precedent would make it impossible for anyone who has a toddler to get affordable housing.
I called KCHA for comment and I will update if it responds.
This is not the first time Gilman Square tried to kick Aguilar out. When her building caught wind in 2019 that she was pregnant, the building also tried to evict her because adding another infant tenant would break capacity rules for the unit. At the time, she lived with her three oldest children and their father. The children’s father and her oldest child, who is 19, have since moved out. The building dropped the issue.
But this time, the KCHA is not being so lenient. If the court decides to evict Aguilar and her children at her hearing on Tuesday, May 10, she said she has nowhere else to go.
“It can be really hard to figure out what's next for people who are evicted and have nowhere to go. A prior client of mine ended up living in a car with an infant in December — it was heartbreaking,” Headrick said.
Right now, Aguilar pays about $1,700 a month for her two-bedroom apartment. After a quick search on Apartments.com, there is only one other two-bedroom apartment in Issaquah under $1,800. The building does not include the same amenities her family enjoys at her current building, and it will not be available until July. If she expanded her apartment search from Mill Creek to Federal Way and from Seattle to Gold Bar, she would find only nine two-bedroom apartments under $1,800 available to move into next month.
Just like in 2019, Aguilar said all she wants is for the building to move her to a ground-floor unit so she can stay housed.