Rekiba Festerman spent time in jail, temporarily lost custody of her children, and eventually got evicted — all for a crime she did not commit.
After the El Paso County District Attorney’s Office dropped child abuse and neglect charges against Festerman, the El Paso County Department of Human Services tried to make the situation right, but inadvertently made things worse.
After Festerman spent more than a week in jail in December 2016, DHS promised to cover her apartment rent for January. Unfortunately, the payment came 20 days too late, and by then she and her family were being evicted.
“Before DHS paid the rent late, I was never late,” Rekiba Festerman said. “It was just that one time and you hear people say they don’t evict you because of that one time, but they do.”
Festerman’s troubles began in mid-December after her son burned himself with hot water and noodles.
“I went to Walgreens and got Alocane which helps with burns,” Festerman said. “His sores never got infected. His scars were healing. They weren’t getting worse. I saw signs of improvement so I didn’t feel the need to take him to the doctor.”
When her son’s teacher noticed the burns, DHS and police were called. If a teacher or school administrator notices injuries they believe are suspicious, they are required to report them. DHS interviewed the 8-year-old child who admitted to getting burned after accidentally spilling noodles on himself.
“All I did was try to take care of him when he got burned,” Festerman said.
Colorado Springs Police made a judgment call and ended up arresting Festerman for child abuse after going to her apartment and taking a report. After putting Festerman in handcuffs, DHS had no choice but to place her five children and one grandchild into foster care.
Festerman spent 10 days in jail before the 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office determined they did not have a criminal case to pursue and dropped the charge. She was released from jail on December 23 and her children were returned a day later, just in time for Christmas.
DHS also promised to cover rent for the month of January to help Festerman get back on her feet, but the rent payment was not made until January 20th. By then, Festerman’s apartment complex charged her hundreds of dollars in late fees that resulted in her eviction.
“I didn’t deserve this aspect of it because it’s hard to rent from people when you have to pay double what you owe on the eviction for a down payment somewhere else,” Festerman said.
Karen Logan, Economic and Administrative Services Coordinator for the El Paso County Department of Human Services, says it’s unfortunate Festerman’s apartment complex evicted the family, especially since DHS communicated with staff at the Cedar Creek Club Apartments about the rent payment they promised to make.
“Sometimes we don’t know when the payment goes out that that’s going to be the inevitability,” Logan said.
DHS does not pay rent for every family in their system, but will offer assistance when it can if the family they are supervising is in danger of becoming homeless.
“Our agreement with the rental company or landlord is that DHS will pay ‘x’ number of dollars and you’ll allow this family to remain in the home,” Logan said. “Sometimes landlords make their own decisions and that’s unfortunate.”
Cedar Creek Club Apartments is owned by landlord Terry Ragan. Ragan’s properties are operated under the name “Resident Management Systems Inc.” News 5 tried calling the corporate office number Thursday, but the phone kept ringing and we were unable to leave a voice message.
DHS records indicate case workers were in contact with apartment staff in December and January. DHS advised property management the rent payment was on its way, but that it would take a while to be processed.
“It usually takes about 10 days,” Logan said. “The case worker will pick up the check and hand deliver it to the landlord or rental company.”
Management at Cedar Creek Club Apartments got their rent payment, but Festerman still got the boot. And with an eviction on her record, Festerman and her children were forced to stay in a one-bedroom motel for $1,600 a month — twice what she was paying at Cedar Creek.
The stress eventually took a toll on Festerman’s health.
“I had a heart attack and went into a coma on March 7 with the stress of trying to find a house and getting turned down,” Festerman said. “I don’t know what to do. I went from taking no pills to 15 pills a day.”
Festerman says every home and apartment she applied for was either denied, or required her to pay a massive deposit.
“Some landlords just don’t want to deal with you because you have an eviction,” Festerman said.
DHS did offer a list of places for Festerman to apply at, but Festerman claims those places all required deposits of more than $1,000.
“We are not generally able to help people with down payments on a place,” Logan added. “We can help with rent but we won’t necessarily be able to help with deposits.”
Festerman says DHS was making good-faith efforts to assist with rent and even paid for temporary housing in a motel. However, living in a one-bedroom motel is not a permanent fix, and after exhausting all options, Festerman called News 5 for help.
After placing a half dozen phone calls to different apartment complexes and management companies, News 5 Investigates found an apartment complex willing to overlook Festerman’s eviction. Crestview Apartments on the city’s south side of town also offered to waive application and administrative fees.
News 5 Investigates was there as Festerman was handed the keys to her new apartment last week.
“You were able to help us out a lot sir,” Festerman told News 5 Lead Investigative Reporter Eric Ross. “It was because of you that we got this apartment and I thank you so much because without your help and listening, I was just one person crying out for help.”
In her newly renovated 3-bedroom apartment with a “city view,” Festerman can now start a new chapter in her life.
The El Paso County Department of Human Services also helped Festerman pay for groceries during the first quarter of 2017 during her housing transition.
Understanding rental assistance from DHS:
- Once a family is approved for rental assistance, DHS is required to fill out paperwork and request a check from their finance office.
- The apartment complex or landlord is also required to submit a W-9 form before a check can be processed.
- Once a check is written, a DHS case worker will pick it up and hand deliver it to office staff or the landlord during normal business hours.
- Festerman’s rent for January was due on the 1st.
- On December 28, 2016, DHS notified apartment staff that they would be assisting with rent and needed the complex to fill out a W-9 form.
- DHS received the W-9 form on January 5, 2017.
- However, Cedar Creek Apartments started charging late fees on January 4, 2017.
- On January 17, Festerman received an eviction notice on her door.
- A rent payment of $795 was made and processed by the complex on January 20, 2017.
- On January 23, official court paperwork was filed to evict Festerman. Even though the rent payment was made, the complex now was going after an eviction for unpaid late fees and attorney’s fees.
- The eviction was finalized in February 2017.
- News 5 Investigates found an apartment complex in mid-April that was willing to accept Festerman and her family.
- The Festerman family moved into their new unit in late April.
- Festerman contacted News 5 alerting us the El Paso County Department of Human Services agreed to make one final rent payment for the month of May.
- The family thanks DHS for their assistance after the eviction and extends their gratitude to numerous churches including Trinity Baptist Church, Southern Colorado Baptist Council and St. Patrick’s Church.
- The Apartment Association of Southern Colorado also helped KOAA News 5 by providing a list of apartment management companies that would potentially accept people with evictions.