Legal Aid Success Stories - Housing

Keely

Keely rented a duplex with her father and her three children for several years. The home was old and needed repair. When she discovered mold in it this past February, she notified the landlord immediately. Keely has several health conditions that leave her extremely vulnerable to mold-induced illness and other respiratory infections, so it was imperative that the mold be removed from their home.

The landlord agreed to make repairs, and insisted that the family move out temporarily so that the repairs could be completed more quickly. They agreed and stayed with other family members during this time. Once the repairs were underway, however, the landlord realized the unit would require more work than he anticipated. He told Keely that he wanted them to move out, and gave her a 60-day written, no-cause termination notice. Keely tried to get back into her home two weeks later, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, because her health conditions made her especially vulnerable to the virus. However, when she and her family tried to return to their home before the 60 days were up, they found that the landlord had locked them out.

Keely knew that lockouts were unlawful, so she contacted legal aid for assistance. Legal aid stepped in and helped the family get a motel voucher from a local social services agency to relieve the overcrowding in her family members’ home. Legal aid then negotiated a settlement with the landlord, who agreed to pay them the two months’ rent penalty for lockouts. Within just a few weeks, they were able to use that money to rent a safe, healthy, and clean home in their community. Keely, her father, and children are thriving in their new home and making new friends. Keely said, “if it wasn’t for legal aid, we would be out on the street right now. Legal aid went above and beyond to help us, and made it possible for me and my family to move into a safe, new place we can call home.”

Sophia

Sophia is a native Spanish speaker and mother of five. She and her children had been tenants for several years in a single-family home when she received a no-cause eviction notice. She called legal aid, and they connected her to a local pro bono attorney. He told Sophia that a law went into effect in 2019 that protects renters from most no-cause evictions as well as large rent increases; Sophia’s eviction notice was unlawful. He then communicated with her landlord, who was not aware of the new law and agreed to rescind the eviction notice. Sophia was greatly relieved. In an email to her attorney, she said: “This has been the worst two months of sleeplessness while having no luck finding a new house for my kids. I will never forget what you did to help my family.”

Thomas

Thomas suffers from many health issues, including bipolar disorder. The manager of his apartment complex served him with an unwarranted eviction notice after false rumors began circulating about him in the complex. Thomas had nowhere else to live and didn’t know what to do. Thomas’ housing advocate referred him to legal aid, and a legal aid attorney represented him at the eviction hearing. His attorney explained that the rumors were not true and that, given Thomas’ medical situation, it would be discriminatory to evict him. The judge ruled in his favor and he was able to stay in his home. Thomas said, “I would have been out on the streets if I didn’t have the help of legal aid. With all of my health issues there’s no way I could have survived.”

Jim

Jim was a homeless veteran diagnosed with chronic depression, panic disorder, and agoraphobia. Jim was living in his van and had been prescribed a companion animal by his doctor. His companion animal is a gentle American Staffordshire Terrier named Zeus. Jim applied for housing at an apartment complex after he learned he was eligible for $339 per month in Rural Development housing subsidies. While applying, he was informed that Zeus would not be able to stay at the house due to breed restrictions. Unable to function without Zeus, Jim reached out to legal aid. He continued living in his van while legal aid drafted reasonable accommodation request (RAR) paperwork, which Jim presented to his prospective landlord. The landlord claimed that the breed restrictions were due to insurance reasons and out of their control. Legal aid continued to negotiate with the landlord and also sent a RAR to the insurance company, at which point Jim's landlord reversed course, approved his housing application, and asked him to come in and sign a companion animal agreement. Jim and Zeus now live happily together in quality housing that Jim can afford. Jim said, “if legal aid wasn’t there, I would be living in my car. Anyone who can’t afford an attorney and not sure if they qualify for assistance, should call a local legal aid office and find out.”

Sharon

Sharon and Bill are in their sixties and disabled. They live in a small community and were able to qualify for reduced-cost housing, which allows them to make ends meet with Social Security benefits. However, their landlord didn’t maintain the apartment. For almost two years, Sharon and Bill tried to get him to fix sparks coming from their stove and a leaking pipe that was causing rot and mold. The final straw was the day Bill got an electrical shock from the stove. He wasn’t seriously hurt, but the couple was shaken. They knew they needed help, so they called legal aid. Legal aid contacted the landlord, informed him of his duties under the law, and within two weeks the repairs were completed.

Nancy

Nancy lives with her husband and disabled child in a low-income housing complex. Three months after she signed a one-year lease, her landlord raised the rent. Nancy pointed out a clause in the lease that stated rent could not be raised for the duration of the lease. Her landlord claimed that she could do anything she wanted, so Nancy felt she had to pay or risk being evicted. She later reached out to the local legal aid office for help. Her lawyer contacted the landlord, who eventually relented and refunded not only Nancy’s overpayment, but the additional rent she had wrongly charged other residents who lived in the complex. With the overpayment refunded, Nancy could afford to pay other bills she was struggling with. She stated, “I don’t think I could have done it without my legal aid lawyer.”

Martin Family

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

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.

Mims Family

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.

Gloria

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.”

Carrie

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.”

Tomas

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.

Flora LittleDove

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.

Doug & Cathy

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.”

Steve

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.

Santa Wayne

"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.“

A Vulnerable Community

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.
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