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'He screwed the door shut': Louisville man says he was evicted while in the hospital

Suspension of evictions has ended in Kentucky and in most of the country.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Housing experts say since last year, a growing number of people may be at risk of eviction. Many say it’s partly because evictions were halted due to state and federal mandates during the pandemic. 

However, suspension of evictions has ended in our area and in most of the country.  

One man in our area said he has suffered due to eviction.

“Everything (was) outside in the dumpster," said Cortez Simpson, who lives in Louisville. 

To everyone else, Simpson’s lawn is littered with garbage. But to him, they’re memories of the home he and his wife created, reflecting years of hard work.

“One day I was locking down the cooker and a chain broke and a pipe went through my eye," said Simpson.

He lost much of his eyesight that day. But he never lost sight of the light of his life. 

“We’ve been together 36 years," he said, referring to his wife.

Much of that time was at his home in Louisville with his wife. They loved the same music. They bonded over their favorite shows. 

“Just me and her," he said. 

 Everything was together, until now.

“My everything was snatched," said Simpson. 

 He and his wife, both in their 70s, spent weeks at the hospital.

“First she went in the hospital, with pneumonia," he said. 

She’s still recovering. He suffered a heart attack and now confronts a new diagnosis. 

“I’ve been diagnosed with bladder cancer," he said. 

It’s been a series of blows, he said. But the ultimate one came when he returned to the place he and his wife have shared for 12 years.

“He screwed the door shut," said Simpson.

He said his landlord locked him out and tossed his belongings outside. 

“I even called him from the hospital," said Simpson.

“I’m disgusted by it," said David Johnson, Simpson's son-in-law.

His son-in-law said he discovered some items stolen, and others spoiling.

“He didn’t give me no eviction papers," said Simpson, referring to his landlord. 

Simpson showed us a notice he received from his landlord to pay about $1,500 in rent. But the letter came about two weeks after Simpson said he was locked out.

“He should have gave me some kind of heads up," he said. 

So we tracked down his landlord, Yong Huang, a couple of miles away at a restaurant where he works.  

But he avoided our camera, directing us to speak with his lawyer. 

His attorney’s response: No comment. But, the landlord did give us some answers over the phone.

“Why did you dump all of his stuff out on the curb?” asked FOCUS investigative reporter Paula Vasan

“The city is coming, inspection," said Huang. 

He told us he was concerned about fines. City records we obtained show he was fined at least $1,200 during roughly the same month Simpson said he was at the hospital. Inspectors wrote: “Entire property needs to be cleaned…”

The landlord also told us Simpson hadn’t paid rent for three months.

 “He not pay me nothing," Huang sand. 

“I’ve never missed a payment on rent," said Simpson.

But Simpson doesn’t have evidence of those payments. Simpson told us he always paid in cash, and never got receipts from his landlord, who took some action following our demands for answers: Court records show Huang filed an eviction against Simpson on November 1. That's more than three weeks after Simpson said he couldn’t get into his home, and more than one week after our interview request.

“That may have been an illegal eviction," said Cathy Kuhn, executive director at the Metropolitan Housing Coalition.

Kuhn said Simpson's eviction may have been illegal because landlords can't just lock tenants out, even if they’re behind on rent. They must go through the court system’s eviction process, which takes time. But Kuhn said evictions can be avoided. 

“There are millions of dollars, you know, for the first time in, in history," she said.

Housing experts say there are hundreds of millions of dollars in federal money still available to both renters and landlords in Kentucky, struggling amid the pandemic. Problem is, many people don’t know about it. And for those who do, it can take months for the state to process applications. Staff shortages and paperwork often slow down the process of getting money to those who need it most.  

In total, the city of Louisville has about $15 million left in eviction prevention assistance. A city spokesperson said they anticipate receiving another allocation in the near future to help even more people.

“It's not being distributed fast enough," said Kuhn, referring to local, state, and federal resources.

She said it means evictions are happening when they shouldn’t. 

“Oh it hurts," said Simpson.

So far this year, there’ve been more than 9,900 evictions filed through the Jefferson County court system. But experts believe that number doesn’t capture the severity of the problem. 

“I think it's really hard to say," said Kuhn.

Kuhn said many evictions aren’t counted because they’re illegal.

“It's just so wrong," she said.

“It tears me up," said Simpson.

But whether legal or illegal, we do know the problem of evictions are serious. It’s impacting parents, grandparents, and children, worried about how long they’ll have roofs over their heads. Housing experts we interviewed estimate about 2 in 10 renters in Louisville are at risk of eviction. Our sources include Louisville Metro Government, the Louisville Legal Aid Society, and the Metropolitan Housing Coalition.

“People who have disabilities are affected more, people of color are affected more," said Rep. Nima Kulkarni, a democratic Kentucky state representative.

“What's your reaction to what this family is now going through?” asked Vasan, referring to Simpson and his wife. 

“I think, unfortunately, it's not an isolated incident. And it's something that kind of falls through the cracks," said Kulkarni. 

They’re cracks she wants to eliminate. If passed, her legislation would prohibit landlords from discarding their tenant’s belongings without giving at least two weeks notice. She hopes it would allow renters to recover their possessions. Kentucky currently has no such protection. 

“It’s a very urgent and desperate situation for a lot of families," she said.

She also wants to enforce limits on how long an eviction can stay on someone’s record. Right now in Kentucky, if you have an eviction on your record, it’s there forever, even if the case was dismissed. 

“And you have to kind of start over," she said. 

It can lead to a lifetime of housing insecurity, and homelessness. 

“It’s terrifying," said Kulkarni. 

“It is," said Simpson.

Simpson has no hope of recovering his belongings.

“My winter stuff is in there. All her stuff is over there," he said. 

He said he didn’t just lose a home, but a piece of himself. 

“It feels like a part of me is gone," he said. 

If you’re having trouble paying your rent, or if you’re a landlord missing payments from tenants, there are resources to avoid eviction. One resource is stopmyeviction.org. You can also call the Legal Aid Society at 502-584-1254. 

Tips for those facing eviction, according to the Kentucky Housing Corporation:

  • Apply for assistance online
  • Speak with your landlord and ask for additional time in your home while your application is processed
  • Attend your eviction hearing
  • Ask the judge for additional time in your home while your application is processed
  • Consult Legal Aid
  • If you are evicted, the relief programs may be able to help you relocate

RESOURCES

RELATED: Kentucky has disbursed $65M in eviction, utility relief

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