A local tenant at the Ventana student housing complex in Orem is facing eviction after voicing suicidal thoughts to her roommates.
According to a note posted to her door and supplied to multiple Salt Lake City media outlets, the young woman received the notice of eviction on Tuesday with a move out date set for Monday.
“We have been made aware that you have vocalized suicidal tendencies which has caused undo stress and alarm to your roommates and violated part E and F of #7 in your lease,” the note reads. “At this time we are choosing to terminate your contract, as explained above.”
The parts of the lease mentioned in the note refer to a breach of the quiet enjoyment of the premises by tenants or guests and the reckless endangerment of human life.
Taryn Hiatt, the Utah and Nevada area director of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said she had never heard of such a thing and compared it to having a stroke and being evicted.
“I was livid,” Hiatt said of her initial thoughts. “I immediately called the apartment complex and got no answer. I said in my message, ‘Please help me understand and let me offer training, let me come and help you guys know what resources are available.’ I honestly did not even contemplate that this could be an issue. I have never even heard such a thing. We’re going to move forward and make sure that there is some kind of legislative safety net around this.”
Hiatt immediately questioned the legality of the eviction and called Utah House State Representative Steve Eliason from District 45, which includes areas of Midvale and Sandy.
Eliason is a landlord and added that the broad language in the lease allowed Ventana management to find some way to justify an eviction.
“I’m a landlord myself, and I work both policy wise and in my own personal life with people who struggle with mental illness,” Eliason said. “I had a tenant attempt suicide in one of my rental units, but the thought of evicting her for that never crossed my mind. I don’t know all of the factors why this landlord issued an eviction notice, but from the letter, they cited her suicidality as a reason for her eviction. It’s so sad that that would be cited as a reason for terminating somebody’s housing.”
Eliason and Hiatt both described the eviction as a violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act as well as the Fair Housing Act.
Repeated calls to Ventana went unanswered and a message requesting comment from management was unreturned.
Hiatt said she reached out and opened up her house to the young woman facing eviction. She added that incidents like this show that people are uninformed on how to help people dealing with mental illnesses.
“Now, not only was she punished for speaking up, which is what we encourage, but now people are not going to speak up,” Hiatt said. “It just perpetuates the stigma we have been fighting for so long. It just sets us back, now people are not going to say anything and that is not what we want.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a major increase in depression and stress due to increases in risk factors for suicide, according to Hiatt. These factors include job loss, isolation and changes in finance, things that are all being seen during the COVID-19 pandemic.
With all of these factors already affecting mental health problems across the country, an eviction could further add to it.
As for her roommates, who reportedly went to the housing complex with their concerns of suicidal thoughts, Hiatt said they were ignorant and uninformed.
“Now is the time — get educated, learn about this condition, learn about suicide and learn about depression so that you can be helpful to somebody in that situation,” Hiatt said. “You don’t have to fix what’s going on, but you listen, you encourage, you guide and you connect them to resources. We’ve got to educate our communities.”
According to Hiatt, the evicted tenant’s roommates could have arranged help for her, and they could have pointed her to a hotline and crisis counselor. Hiatt said she was reminded of how many people don’t know the signs and resources for those battling mental health issues.
The next steps for the young woman should include focusing on her well-being so she can get engaged in a healthy and productive life again, according to Hiatt.
“I think for her it is getting the health and support she needs right now,” Hiatt said. “See a physician. If you’re struggling with depression and anxiety, let’s see if we could help you with either medication, therapy or both. What do we need to do to help you first? Right now she is overwhelmed, she can’t take on a legal battle and has said as much, but we’re happy to take it on for you.”
Hiatt added that the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention will continue to pursue legal recourse or at least verbiage in state code that will not allow this to happen to somebody else.
If you or someone you know is struggling or is in crisis, reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK. For those struggling but not in crisis, reach out to the Statewide Warm Line at 1-833-SPEAKUT. Other resources can be found at liveonutah.org.