PALM SPRINGS, CALIF. - A frail-but-feisty great-grandmother with a long white ponytail was evicted from her apartment Friday, in part for being too loud.
Evelyn Heller of Palm Desert, Calif., was ordered to pay $616 in prorated rent and more than $800 in court and lawyer's fees.
“I’m 100 years old!” Heller shouted at the judge before turning her attention to a lawyer on the other side of the courtroom. “And I don’t understand what they are talking about.”
Despite reluctance voiced by both the judge and the plaintiff’s lawyer, Heller was ordered out of her home after a brief trial. She now has about two weeks to leave her apartment and said she does not know where she will go.
“I have four grandsons, but I don’t want to be dependent on them,” Heller told the judge. “I can’t be a burden to my family. They don’t have room for me. That happens in life.”
Officials for Heller’s landlord, Deep Canyon Desert LLC, said they wanted her evicted because her apartment was kept in “deplorable conditions” and that Heller often had loud, disruptive arguments with her daughter. The company had threatened to evict her twice before but nothing improved, so representatives followed through this time.
The apartment complex manager, Melody Morrison, told the judge that Heller kept the apartment in "deplorable conditions." A Desert Sun reporter who visited the apartment Friday afternoon found the carpet dirty and the living room cluttered with boxes and stacks of magazines but far from the point of hoarding.
After court, Morrison declined to comment then walked briskly away from a reporter to avoid questions. The company’s lawyer, eviction specialist William Windham, said his client did not want to evict Heller but felt it was a reality of the business.
Windham said he felt conflicted, too.
“I’ve evicted people off of their death beds and regretted every second of the trial,” Windham said. “But my job is unfortunately to set my feeling aside and do what my clients ask me to do.
“It would be same if this was a lady who was 30 years old and had five children or a little old man with cancer,” he said. “If you have a commotion being caused on the property, and the people won’t stop, you have no choice but to take action.”
In this case, that action came in the form of an “unlawful detainer,” which is a mundane court filing in which a landlord asks a judge to force a tenant from a property. Cases like these are rarely worthy of media attention, but the trial Friday was a strange one.
Heller defended herself despite the fact that she could barely see or hear. After she took an oath to tell the truth, she kept her hand raised and did a brief hula dance then laughed under her breath.
Her eyesight was too poor to read court documents until someone volunteered a pair of eye glasses from the courtroom audience.
And finally, when it came time for arguments, Heller refused to stay at the defendant’s table and instead hovered on the edge of the judge’s bench, unwilling to sit. For most defendants, this would result in a firm response from the bailiffs — including possible arrest — but as Heller pleaded with the judge, barely out of arm’s reach, deputies stood back and watched, uncertain how to react.
This leniency appeared to be a sign of sympathy, but in the end it didn’t matter. Riverside County Judge Charles Haines ruled against Heller without any deliberation.
He issued his judgment in a low, hushed tone that she couldn’t hear.
Outside the courtroom, a deputy had to explain to her that she had lost.
“What? What kind of ridiculous thing is that?” she snapped, as the reality of the ruling set in. “But I don’t have any money.”
Follow Brett Kelman on Twitter: @TDSbrettkelman