A Victory on the Landlord/Tenant Front – But Still a Long Way to Go

Posted on Aug 13, 2010 in Client Victories, Clients, People | 0 comments

By Andy Silver, Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless Staff Attorney Imagine that you have lived in the same apartment for 12 years. One day you go to the rental office to ask if you can pay your rent a few days late because you get one check at the beginning of the month and one check in the middle. You have asked for this favor several times before and it has always been granted, but this time the new property manager says she just needs to check to see if you are current in rent before she can say yes. You have no reason to think this would be a problem, because in the 12 years you have lived there you have always paid your rent and the property management has never mentioned anything to you about owing money. Today, however, is not your day. The property manager tells you the computer system shows that you owe almost five thousand dollars in back rent, the property has initiated a lawsuit in Landlord and Tenant Court asking a judge to evict you, and you should be expecting a court summons any day. Although this would be a potentially devastating situation for anyone to have to deal with, for the Legal Clinic’s client, Ms. A, devastation escalated to life-threatening. You see, Ms. A, suffers from bi-polar disorder. The normal anxiety one might experience going to court and facing the possibility of losing one’s home was magnified for Ms. A because of her illness. She could barely function whenever her thoughts turned to her housing situation; on more than one occasion, she contemplated ending her life rather than dealing with her landlord and tenant case. But despite the toll this was having on her, Ms. A found the courage to fight, and she sought representation from the Legal Clinic in the eviction suit she was forced to defend. Ms. A explained that she’d heard rumors that the former property manager had been fired for stealing money and wondered whether that might be why the landlord thought she owed all that back rent. She was able to find money order receipts for three of the months that property management claimed she didn’t pay, which became part of her defense to the allegation of non-payment. She reported that property management hadn’t always made repairs to her apartment in a timely manner, which allowed her to counter-sue for housing code violations and seek a rent abatement for those months when the landlord failed to respond to her repair requests. But Ms. A’s ultimate goal was to end the litigation as quickly as possible, even if it meant she didn’t achieve the best legal result...

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Can you help a family with no safe place to sleep tonight?

Posted on Jul 29, 2010 in Housing, Shelter | 0 comments

By Amber Harding, Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless Staff Attorney A mother walks the city in 100 degree heat with her 10 year old son and 2 year old daughter, desperately searching for help to get her family off the streets.  They have spent the last five weeks repeating this pattern since losing their housing; told daily that there is no room for them in shelter.  This mother lives in fear that she will lose custody of her children because she cannot provide a safe place for them to rest their heads. After being evicted from their home in mid-July, a single father and his two sons, ages 2 and 4, knock on the doors of former neighbors and strangers, desperate to stay out of the heat and off the streets.  The family spends each day calling the central intake site for families only to be told the same thing– the shelters are full and they will have to wait their turn on the list. For the first time in at least ten years, the District is not providing emergency shelter or housing to even the most vulnerable, highest priority families—those who are sleeping with their children on the street, in abusive settings, in cars, at bus stops, or in other dangerous settings.  We have been inundated with calls from families in truly desperate situations, and we have been unable to help most of them—there are more than two dozen families with no safe place to sleep on any given day.  Because there is no legal right to shelter in DC unless it is below 32 degrees outside, all WLCH has been able to do is plead for help for each individual family, and plead with the District government to come up with additional resources quickly to serve the families in greatest need. Since 2008, when the recession first hit, family homelessness has skyrocketed by 36.3% in the District.  Housing and shelter resources have not kept up with this increase.  Family emergency shelters were horribly overcrowded last winter, there was a brief respite from March to May due to some new housing resources, and then the shelters have been almost or completely full since May.  The city’s centralized intake center has been overwhelmed with applications for shelter, and families are turned away daily.  As of July 18, there were 543 families on the waiting list for emergency shelter. From what we’ve heard from officials at the Department of Human Services (DHS), they are trying their hardest to come up with a plan to meet this pressing need.  Currently, their plan (while not yet final or public) is to provide affordable housing to some families in the shelter system...

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