Legal Aid Success Stories - Housing
Legal aid received a call from two community partners about the same problem: a housing complex where the tenants were suffering because the apartments were unsanitary and unsafe. Legal aid met the clients at their homes, and found that there were 8 units in this complex that all had similar problems suggesting that the landlord had not kept up on repairs: extensive mold around exterior walls of most rooms; water damage from leaking toilets; rusted heaters and ovens; leaking fridges; filthy old carpets; and extensive cockroach and spider infestation. The families did not ask for help or complain to their landlord because they didn’t know that they had a right to live in a safe home with a basic standard of livable repair. They were all refugees – an ethnic minority that was persecuted in their own country that fled to the United States for safety. For most of these clients, their only experience with anything like a landlord-tenant relationship was being in a refugee camp. Some feared that they would be attacked or killed if they complained to the landlord, and none felt they could afford to live anywhere else. Legal aid tried to work with the landlord. However, the landlord’s disregard for the tenants seemed deliberate – they did not step up and do the right thing, even when they were advised of their responsibilities. Legal aid then filed suit against the landlord and reached a settlement prior to court. The families immediately got some relief from these unacceptable conditions. There is still a long road ahead for them to acclimate and to feel safe, but positive steps have started – with legal aid’s help, their voices were heard and their rights respected.
"Santa Wayne" is an Eastern Oregon disabled veteran who plays the part of Santa when he serves as a daily holiday bell ringer at a store in Walla Walla. Wayne found himself on the verge of losing his home when he received an eviction notice. He wasn’t able to meet the mobile home park’s regulations and he couldn't afford to move his single-wide trailer to a different park. Pendleton legal aid lawyer Arron Guevara stepped in to help. Arron and the park’s lawyer were able to work out a settlement that allows Wayne to stay in the park and also creates a process for the parties to work together to resolve any future issues. According to Arron, “Wayne not only looks the part of Santa with wavy white hair and beard, but he embodies the spirit as well. He’s truly a jolly ol' soul. We’re happy that he gets to stay in his home.“
When new owners took control of the 36 unit apartment building where “Steve” lived, they completely shut off the boiler which supplied heat to the entire building. Tenant requests for repairs went unanswered and the heat remained off for eight months. Space heaters were not an option, as they would blow the breakers in the building and cut off electricity for everyone. Steve finally contacted legal aid. After additional attempts to work with the landlord failed, legal aid filed a lawsuit on Steve’s behalf. The litigation was successful, Steve was awarded modest money damages, and the heat remains on for all of the tenants in the building. After the lawsuit, several elderly tenants in the building thanked Steve, saying that they were too afraid of the landlords to challenge them, but that they appreciated what he and legal aid did for everyone.
Doug and Cathy Jory live on a tight budget consisting of $1,000 social security disability every month. After Doug had two major surgeries, life became more chaotic than ever. When their mortgage was transferred to another company, they began getting an extra $100 per month charge they could not afford. The Jorys did not know where to turn, and then a friend referred them to legal aid. Legal aid helped the Jorys recover all the fees that had been illegally charged and also saved their home from being at risk of foreclosure. Cathy said, “I could not have handled this alone. I didn’t have anyone listening to what I was saying until I went to legal aid. Having someone who knows the law…it was a lot of help.”
Flora LittleDove and her husband Joe have owned a 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom home for over 35 years. Their two children grew up there and Flora, who is now in her late sixties, expects to live out the rest of her life in “her own space on this earth.” Flora is battling cancer. To cover surgeries, they made the tough choice to refinance their home. Unfortunately, a few weeks later, Joe was laid off from his job. When the couple was unable to cover the higher mortgage, the bank began foreclosure proceedings. Flora had little energy to face the stress of losing her home. At the last moment, Flora turned to legal aid for help. “One of the best things was that I did not feel alone. When I could not get answers, legal aid did. They helped me carry the burden and stress.” Because of legal aid’s help, Flora and Joe have manageable payments and are able to stay in their home.
Allen and his wife Penny are both 63, with four grown daughters. After working for a large company for almost 20 years, Allen was suddenly “downsized.” He received unemployment benefits while he looked for a job, but after more than a year of searching, it became clear that they would soon be living off of Social Security. Since that wouldn’t be enough to pay the mortgage, he decided to cash out his pension and pay off the balance on their home. He reported the pension distribution to the state. Then they got some bad news: the Employment Department said he’d have to pay back all the unemployment benefits. Worse, Penny had just been diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. That’s when Allen called legal aid. Legal aid successfully challenged the case on the basis that Allen was a dislocated worker and this is an exception to retirement distributions. Today, the mortgage is paid off, and Penny is in remission. Allen said “We are just very thankful that legal aid existed, so we could get help in an area that we had no expertise in. [Representing myself] would have been like trying to cure myself of cancer without the help of physicians and surgeons.”
Tomas is two years old and he has three brothers. His mother, Marisol, is a child care worker. Faced with low wages and a tight rental market, the best apartment she could afford was in poor condition. It had roaches and rats, and the stove sparked, so she was afraid to cook. She asked the landlord to fix the problems, and he responded with an eviction notice. Marisol knew that wasn’t right, but she couldn’t get the landlord to listen to her. Then a co-worker suggested calling legal aid. Legal aid negotiated an agreement with her landlord, including cleanup and repairs. The landlord followed through, and now Tomas, Marisol, and the rest of the family have a clean, safe place to live.
Thirty-three year old Carrie is a single mother of Mike. Carrie worked hard to maintain her family home that was given to her when her mother passed away. When Carrie became disabled after an assault at work, she understood that her mortgage insurance was covering her house payments while she recovered. After a few months, Carrie found out her house was in foreclosure when her brother saw her home listed in a foreclosure sale notice! It turned out that the bank had incorrectly filed Carrie’s paperwork regarding the insurance payments. Legal aid acted quickly to stop the foreclosure. Now secure in her home, Carrie is on the road to stabilizing her life. She is in job training to get a steady job to support her family. Carrie says, “My legal aid lawyer was a blessing to me.”
Gloria lives in a small town and has six grandchildren. She and her husband, Sam, a military veteran, took out a mortgage on their home for roof and window repairs. Then Sam passed away. Gloria’s arthritis was so bad she couldn’t work, and her social security and VA benefits weren’t enough to pay both the mortgage and the heating bill. She decided to pay for heat, got behind in her payments, and the bank began foreclosure proceedings. Fearing homelessness, Gloria called legal aid. Legal aid gave her advice and support so she could seek a loan modification on her own. After many letters and phone calls, the bank granted her request—the day before the foreclosure sale. Today, she has an affordable mortgage, heat, and a secure home. Gloria said, “[Legal aid was] very helpful, kind, and understanding. I appreciated so much not being treated like some old senile grandmother who doesn’t know what she’s talking about. It made a difference.”
Twenty years ago, the Mims family were threatened with foreclosure by lenders. Legal aid worked with the family and the loan servicing company to find solutions and save the property, keeping it in the Mims family's hands. The historic homes are the oldest continuously black-owned homes in Eugene: they were originally purchased in the late 40s when C.B. Mims’ sympathetic employer, a local hotel proprietor, helped the family circumvent the laws that forbade African-Americans from owning property within Eugene’s city limits. Over the years, the homes were a place of refuge for countless African-American residents and travelers—including celebrated performers like Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong—who were unable to procure lodging due to Eugene’s exclusionary practices. Earlier this year, a monument honoring the Mims family was erected on the property, which can be viewed at 330 and 334/336 High Street.
The Martin Family has owned their home since 2003. A dishonest mortgage broker convinced them he could provide a fixed rate mortgage at 1.5%. In reality, their new mortgage was an “adjustable negative amortization loan,” a type of loan now barred by HUD. The family’s rate increased dramatically after only two weeks and a stiff prepayment penalty made refinancing out of the question. Legal aid helped the Martins save their home from foreclosure. They now have a sustainable mortgage and a stable home for their family.
Charles, a developmentally delayed senior, almost lost his childhood home, the only place he had ever lived. When his parents passed away, Charles couldn’t afford the property taxes or the liens left by his parents’ medical bills. Legal aid was able to help. They filed a small estate affidavit, secured quitclaim deeds from his siblings, and negotiated with the estate’s creditors. The creditors withdrew their claims. With the house now in his name, Charles is able to qualify for a tax deferral.