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Elderly couple must leave home

By ERICA JAHN

Staff writer

Thirty years ago, Herb Warder and Newell Wilcox shook hands over a home.

They agreed that Warder, now 82, and his wife, Frances, now 75, would live as long as they wanted in the single-story house next door, which the Wilcoxes owned.

But Wilcox died in March 1999 and his wife, Rosalind, wants to move on. On June 22, she told the Warders they have to move.

“I missed the boat by not getting it in writing,” Herb said of his agreement with Newell Wilcox. “When her husband was alive, he said, ‘Herb, you can live there as long as you live.’”

“He said it was our house,” Frances said. “And he told us we could live here as long as we wanted to. It was our house.”

The Warders have been good tenants over the years, but since she’s now alone, Rosalind Wilcox doesn’t want the “responsibility of owning either my own house or the rental house,” she said in a written statement.

“Although Herb remembers my husband’s telling them that they could live there as long as they wanted, time and circumstances change things,” she said.

Sale of property does not automatically end a lease or month-to-month agreement, but a landlord may evict tenants for “no cause,” meaning the tenants didn’t do anything wrong; the landlord simply doesn’t want them to live there any more.

The landlord must provide a 20-day notice in such a case. Wilcox provided more than four times the legal requirement by giving the Warders 90 days to leave.

The state of Washington does recognize oral agreements as binding, as long as they aren’t prohibited under RCW 64.04.010, known as the statute of frauds.

Under that statute, any conveyance of interest or ownership in real estate must be put in writing. If a real estate agreement is not put in writing, it is not binding.

Herb said he and Frances have paid about twice what the house is worth over the past 30 years, but they never put anything in writing.

Besides, renters don’t get any equity out of the properties in which they live, nor do they get a cut of rising property values.

The 1,040-square-foot house, built in 1956, is valued at $129,000, according to city records. The home sits on a .2-acre lot along a neighborhood street.

Herb said he’s kept the three bedrooms, one bathroom, kitchen and living room coated in fresh paint. He added or replaced carpets and sealed the concrete surrounding the enclosed backyard patio he built.

The house doesn’t boast a view, but Frances said they used to watch their grandchildren play in the backyard from the window in the dining area.

Today, a similar house would rent for between $920 and $1,000 a month, according to recent rental listings. The Warders paid Wilcox $500 every month to live in the home —a sum Wilcox noted is less than she could get renting it on the current market.

“I do have faith the Warders’ need of low-income housing is about to be met,” she said. “In fact, I hereby invite one of them to buy from me the house in which the Warders live and continue to rent below the market to them.”

The sudden prospect of having to move is daunting for the Warders. They live on $926 in Social Security and food stamps. They lost their supplemental Social Security benefits July 1 when the state affected budget cuts.

The state raised the food stamp allowance when it eliminated supplemental Social Security income, but the difference still equates to a loss in monthly income, Frances said.

“The state did away with SSI to lower the budget, but what about the people who are barely getting by?” she said.

“You can’t pay your bills with food stamps,” said Tamar Linn, a live-in caretaker who helps care for Frances.

Frances has diabetes, she suffered two strokes during the past year and she has a congenital defect that causes her veins to be malformed. She’s wheelchair-bound and on oxygen 24 hours a day.

She takes seven pills in the morning and five more at dinner. “She’s helpless,” Herb said.

State Department of Social and Health Services coupons pay for Frances’ medication and for Linn’s services.

Herb said they’re having a hard time finding a place they can afford.

“We don’t have nothing,” he said. “There’s nothing we can afford right now. No one ever told me to get a government job so I could get a retirement.”

Linn has helped the Warders call senior housing complexes and state assistance agencies, including Willamette Courts and Sunset Gardens senior housing, the King County Housing Authority for Section 8 (government-subsidized) assistance, Auburn and Kent public housing, HopeLink, Home Community Services and the DSHS Aging and Adult Services.

“None of these have anything available,” Frances said. “I put my name on the waiting list. It’s the only thing I could do.”

Frances said the apartment complexes she’s called so far want their lessors to make three times the monthly rent. Any apartment they move into will have to be wheelchair-accessible and must have a room for Linn. The $300 deposit and $35 credit check fee is a formidable obstacle on their limited income, Frances said.

She and Linn tried to sign up for Section 8 housing, but they missed the application deadline by a few days.

Frances would like to stay in the same community so she can continue seeing the same doctors.

But the 90 days are ticking away.

Herb said he stopped working on the back porch — he was about to install insulation and screened Plexiglas windows — when he got the eviction notice from Rosalind Wilcox.

“It made me a little mad,” he said. “She watched me do all this and then said, ‘You got this done. Now move out.’ She could have told me a long time ago she was going to sell the house.”

Wilcox defended her right to take back her property and said others could learn from the situation.

“The lesson to be learned from this is that, if one embarks on rendering a service, as charging below-market price for housing, one should establish initial parameters and regularly review the agreement,” Wilcox said. “Understandably, the beneficiary will always remember and expect the original sweet deal indefinitely.”

Staff writer Erica Jahn can be reached at 925-5565 and ejahn@fedwaymirror.com

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