Category Archives: landlord-tenant

Tipping the scales in housing court

From an op-ed in The New York Times: It’s easy to tell who’s going to win in eviction court. On one side of the room sit the tenants: men in work uniforms, mothers with children in secondhand coats, confused and crowded together on hard benches. On the other side, often in a set-aside space, are not the landlords but their lawyers: dark suits doing crossword puzzles and joking with the bailiff as they casually wait for their cases to be called.

Millions of Americans face eviction every year. But legal aid to the poor, steadily starved since the Reagan years, has been decimated during the recession. The result? In many housing courts around the country, 90 percent of landlords are represented by attorneys and 90 percent of tenants are not. This imbalance of power is as unfair as the solution is clear.

To read the entire op-ed, click here.

Pro bono solo donates his fee award

Towson solo attorney Danial V. Schmitt donated $3,000 to three civil legal programs–money from attorney fees he’d received in the settlement of a landlord/tenant dispute he’d handled pro bono.

Ann Lembo, chief attorney in Maryland Legal Aid’s Baltimore County office, said this was the first time a lawyer donated attorneys’ fees back to the organization in a pro bono case,” the Daily Record reported today. The other organizations getting donations are the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service and the Maryland Disability Law Center.

“This is the first [donation back], and we are very happy,” Lembo said. “We are just really surprised Dan did that and donated the funds to us as well as a couple other legal organizations. And he got a great result for the client, too.”

Schmitt represented a woman in a case against her landlord, the article continued. A sewage backup in the house she was renting damaged her clothing, personal possessions and electronics. She filed suit initially on her own, seeking $5,800 for property damage and failure to return her security deposit.

“It was just such an outrageous situation,” Lembo said. “We thought she needed help, and we would have loved to be able to help her, but we are just swamped with calls.”

“Dan always does a great job for his clients,” Lembo added. “He always treats them with the utmost respect. In this case, he really went above and beyond for a pro bono client. We are really happy to have his help.”

To read the article (behind a pay wall), click here.

More seek Legal Aid in hard times

From yesterday’s Washington Post: As Maryland Legal Aid celebrates its centennial this year, the national housing crisis, which has hit suburban Washington hard, is making the work it does even more vital.

At the same time, the agency, like similar organizations across the country, is grappling with funding cuts that make it harder to help the increasing number of people in need of assistance in civil cases.

For example, Prince George’s, the second-most-populous jurisdiction in the state, has endured more foreclosures than any other in Maryland. And the economic downturn has brought Legal Aid prospective clients that the organization would not have seen 10 years ago.

“I review a lot of the intakes, and we’re getting people from Potomac calling us,” [said Legal Aid supervising attorney Teresa Cooke]. “But these individuals are now actually financially eligible for our services.”

To read the article, click here.

Social workers team up with Legal Aid lawyers

When clients come to Maryland Legal Aid, they’re often desperate. In addition to a pressing legal problem, they’re grappling with other issues that drive their lives into a crisis — no money, no housing or no medical care. Sometimes all of the above.

You could say they need a social worker almost as badly as a lawyer.

And you’d be right.

That’s why Legal Aid and the University of Maryland School of Social Work created a program that integrates first-year graduate social work students into the nonprofit law firm’s practice in downtown Baltimore.

“Clients come to us with a host of problems — the presenting legal problem, plus community-based needs,” said Cornelia Bright Gordon, chief attorney of Legal Aid’s administrative law and intake units. “For example, many people have barriers, such as mental health issues, that may interfere with the success of the legal problem. They need access to services to make the legal work stick.

“Since Legal Aid is the law firm of last resort, our clients are in true crisis,” Bright Gordon said. “They come in with threats of immediate eviction, no money or food in the house, and some are desperately ill, with no access to medical services and no insurance.”

The three-year-old project helps stabilize clients and bring their lives back to a state of equilibrium. “It’s a collaborative process between a lawyer and a trained social worker with hands-on, clinical therapeutic experience who is supervising four interns,” she said.

To read the entire Daily Record column, click here.

Woman homeless after Section 8 wants her to move into condemned house

Vanessa Davis had to sleep in a park for a few nights while waiting for repairs to an apartment that Baltimore City’s Section 8 had not approved for occupancy. Meanwhile, the housing department made rental payments to the landlord for a year on the unoccupied Reservoir Hill apartment, WBAL-TV reported last week.

Davis, who is disabled and is staying with relatives, had been dropped by Section 8 after it discovered she hadn’t moved in to the condemned house, but was reinstated last week after investigative reporter Barry Simms called.

“Someone dropped the ball,” Maryland Legal Aid staff attorney Kay Harding told Simms. “Someone approved this house without verifying the use and occupancy permit was there. This property should never have been rented, but they were trying to penalize my client because she didn’t move in.”

To see the report, click here.

City revokes license of Madison Park North Apartments

Baltimore’s housing department revoked the license of the publicly subsidized Madison Park North Apartments in Reservoir Hill, a move that could force out residents of 200 units.

And those residents haven’t been told what will happen next, the Baltimore Sun reported earlier this week.

“We need the Baltimore City housing department to sit down with us and tell us how this is going to work,” said Legal Aid staff attorney Tabinda Riaz, who represents the tenants’ association.

To read the article, click here.

Vulnerable get hurt when uprooted from public housing

Maryland Legal Aid housing expert Greg Countess was quoted in a Sept. 30 Baltimore Sun article about Madison Park North Apartments, “City plan to take down troubled housing complex a familiar tactic.”

Baltimore City plans to revoke the complex’s multifamily dwelling license because of rampant crime. Residents are afraid they’ll be uprooted during the middle of the school year and won’t be able to find new housing.

“It’s usually the most vulnerable who wind up getting hurt,” Countess said. “Those who are disabled, thost who are elderly, those with large families. Already some Madison Park residents have been calling around to landlords and have been told ‘We’re not taking anyone from Madison Park’ because of the complex’s reputation for violence.”

To read the article, click here.