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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