The lack of knowledge about how systems work can led a family to become homeless overnight
Updated: Apr 16
Wichita Kansas | April 15, 2023
By Claudia Amaro
Rocio Ortiz Cienfuegos, an immigrant from El Salvador who arrived at Wichita in 2012, rented an apartment in January 2022 at the complex known as Huntington Place, located at 3915 S. Seneca in Wichita Kansas.
Ortiz says that when she moved into that apartment she received polite treatment from the then manager, of whom she does not remember her name, despite not speaking English well, both found a way to communicate. "Sometimes I paid my rent late," Ortiz says "it is difficult for me as a single mother to cover all the expenses, but I talked to the manager and she would write me down in a book and would give me the final amount I had to pay with late fees, I never stopped paying my rent." She showed Planeta Venus a payment history report and we verified that she paid her rent month by month.
In December 2022, when it was time to renew her contract, she contacted the manager and told her that she did not plan to renew her contract because she did not know if she would move to another state or look for a house for her and her son. She says the manager told her there would be no problem and that she would only have to pay a little more month to month for not having a contract, Ortiz agreed.
In January 2023 the apartment complex changed administration. The new manager, named Jennifer Reef, asked her again if she would renew her lease to which Ortiz replied that she would not. Ortiz says she feels like that conversation changed the new manager's treatment of her. According to Ortiz, in February she received hostile treatment from Reef when she went to pay her rent.
Ortiz said that she went to the office on March 6th to talk to Reef, just as she used to do when she needed to pay her rent late, to advise that she would pay the rent until March 17, “will you pay late again?” asked Reef according to Ortiz. The manager wrote it down again in the book. Language seems to have been a barrier so Ortiz told us, "On March 10 I went to the office after 4 pm to ask her how much my total rent would be including the late charges and she angrily took me out of the office." On March 14, Ortiz sent a $500 money order, but it was rejected by Reef, instead she told her that she would have to leave the apartment that same day and sent her a summons for an eviction hearing dated March 22. Ortiz refused to leave that same day and decided to wait for her court day.
During the interview for Planeta Venus, it was noted that Ortiz can tell what has happened in broad strokes, but not the details which she does not understand because of the limitation of English language and lack of knowledge on how the system works. Ortiz says she does not know what happened on March 22, but she was given another court date for the 27, which she attended and as she waited her turn to speak with the judge, an attorney from the firm Kurt A. Holmes P.A. who, according to the document that Ortiz showed us, represents Huntington Place, took her to another room and did not allow another bilingual person to enter with her, because according to what she understood that person did not appear in the rental lease. Mrs. Ortiz said she felt intimidated and felt pressured to sign a document she did not understand. Apparently, it was an agreement where she agreed to leave the apartment, but the document she showed us does not stipulate times or details of such an agreement.
On March 27, the judge issued a writ of restitution, which mentions an agreement between both parties to leave the apartment, according to Ortiz she understood that she would have until the end of the month to leave. The judge's document shows non-payment as the sole reason for the eviction but does not stipulate any dates or other details.
On March 28, around 1:30 p.m., while Ortiz was packing her things to move out, Jennifer Reef arrived at her apartment with a person who did not want to identify himself, but on his uniform read "Court Ordered Officer Process Service" and who according to Ortiz treated her aggressively, even snatching her cell phone when she tried to record what she considered an injustice.
“They woke up my five-year-old son and violently removed us from the apartment, he pulled me out by my hair.” Ortiz said, “At that moment they changed the lock on the door and pushed us out as if we were animals.”
That day Ortiz and her son became homeless without a place to go. They lost all their personal belongings: their clothes, television, furniture, immigration documents and other important documents. Desperate, that same day she found a person who is now temporarily renting her a room. She had to cash the money order that had bought for her rent that month.
Planeta Venus spoke to the manager, Jennifer Reef, who confirmed that Ortiz was evicted on March 28 from her apartment. She told us that the only way Ortiz could get her personal belongings back, would be by paying $525 in cash and stressed that Ortiz cannot get close to the apartment complex, so she suggested she hire a moving company. When asked if they had tried to communicate with Ortiz in her language or at least make sure she understood the eviction process, Reef said she was not sure. We also asked her if she had a copy of the written agreement that Ortiz signed for the eviction and which was presented to the judge, she told us that we would have to contact her lawyer.
We called Kurt A. Holmes' office, at first, he did not remember working on that case, but he found it the moment we gave him the case number. We asked him if at the time of Ortiz signing the document he was aware that she did not understand everything she was signing and if there was any copy of the agreement that was presented to the judge to issue the writ of restitution, he told us he did not remember the details of the case and that he would have to talk to Jennifer Reef and contact us later. We have not heard from him.
Ortiz was hospitalized a few days after the incident and has been diagnosed with depression and post-traumatic stress. She is now seeking treatment that she can afford.
"No matter how badly they treat us, we can't give up. God is always the best justice," Ortiz concluded the interview.
If you would like to support this family with clothing donations for her or her 5-year-old son (5T-6T) or with cash so that she can retrieve her personal belongings, you can call Mrs. Rocio Ortiz directly at 316-304-1829 or deposit via CashApp: $RocioWise