Tales from the Housing Front

A sampling of some of the more interesting work stories I’ve been saving up, vague-ified for the blogosphere.

A woman with a learning disability who receives Section 8 was given a five-day notice to vacate the apartment by her landlord because they did not like her having her boyfriend over.  The contract with Section 8 requires a full rental period’s notice (30+ days) to terminate a tenancy.  The landlord threatened the tenant stating that if she does not move in five days, they will take her to court and charge $100 “out of her pocket,” and she will lose her Section 8.  When the tenant called me, she had already begun to move her belongings to a friend’s house on her own, with a heart condition, with a shopping cart she took from a local grocery store.  She told me she planned to go to a homeless shelter the next day.
A man rented a furnished room from a woman and paid her two months’ rent in advance in anticipation of needing a place to recuperate from an upcoming knee surgery.  He paid her the rent and obtained the key, and five days later when he and the tenant she had rented another room to attempted to move in, the woman was gone and so was all of the furniture.  Our client filed a police report and furnished the apartment himself.  Now he is being taken to court for an eviction because the woman who rented him the apartment never gave the rent to the owner of the property: she appears to have sublet her apartment, pocketed the money, and vanished.
At city court, I met a married couple with several children who were being evicted for several months’ nonpayment of rent.  They had a young child with cancer, and a special cancer grant was willing to pay all of their rent arrears for them.  The landlord was too impatient to wait for the grant money to come through and preferred to evict the family.  We were able to convince him to wait for the grant money given that the judge would likely side with the tenants.
A 20-year-old woman with untreated mental health issues came to us for help with some housing conditions such as mold on the walls and a lack of hot water, as well as a dispute regarding the amount of rent paid.  Over the several months that we worked with her, she proudly began a fast-food job and quickly lost it due to anger management issues.  She was friendly and exuberant with a good (if sometimes inappropriate) sense of humor and an explosive temper that continually undermined her efforts to improve her situation.  Eventually her landlord brought her to court for an eviction and we were able to negotiate for additional time for her to move.  Unfortunately she has already spent a lot of time in and out of homeless shelters and various housing situations, and few landlords are willing to accept her as a tenant for very long.
At city court in February, I met an elderly woman who used a walker and lived in my neighborhood.  She stated that her apartment was infested with bed bugs and that she had not had heat all winter.  She had not paid rent in several months and told us that it would be too difficult for her to move any time in the near future.  We were able to negotiate a settlement with the landlord’s attorney—who seemed remarkably unconcerned with the condition of the apartment—in which the Department of Social Services would pay for the tenant’s rent arrears and she would be allowed to stay in the apartment.  The following day, both I and her mental health caseworker followed up with the landlord, and heat was restored to the apartment just in time for the coldest weekend of the winter.
A 30-year-old woman who had lived in her mobile home for over ten years was being evicted for nonpayment of lot rent.  She legally owned the mobile home as it had been willed to her by a relative.  The mobile home park was granted a warrant of eviction in September and she was served with a 90-day notice to vacate.  When we first spoke, she lived with her partner and their young child.  In January, her partner became abusive and moved out when she filed an order of protection against him.  Her daughter was placed in the custody of another relative, and my client went through a series of depression and anxiety medication adjustments that left her unable to take the steps she needed to pack and move out.
At the beginning of the winter, I received a call from a Spanish-speaking family who receives Section 8 and has one parent with a learning disability.  They moved into an apartment and brought their washer and dryer only to discover that the landlord had hooked up a coin-op washer and dryer in the basement.  They unplugged those machines to plug in their own.  The landlord attempted to evict them for this but failed.  The family called back because the landlord was trying to charge them extra rent on the side, beyond what they had agreed to charge per their contract with Section 8.  This is illegal, and the landlord agreed to accept the contract rent.  Finally, Section 8 did its annual inspection of the premises and gave the landlord a list of conditions he must correct in order to continue receiving Section 8 payments.  He corrected them, then turned around and sued the tenants for $5,000 (the maximum amount allowable) in Small Claims Court, claiming that they caused the property damage (such as nails sticking out of floorboards and wiring hanging out of walls).
A local attorney and real estate developer who regularly appears at court to evict tenants used to be a city court judge himself in the seventies and eighties.  In the early nineties he became a family court judge, and it came to light that while he was at city court he sexually harassed and molested several of his young female clerks and secretaries.  He was removed from office (well, technically resigned at the threat of removal) based on the allegations, but apparently that doesn’t stop him from practicing law or my colleagues and I from having to deal with a total creepazoid in the course of our work.
I received a call from a former police officer who had suffered a traumatic brain injury in the line of duty and was left with no short-term memory or ability to write.  Five years ago, he loaned a local tavern $100,000 (presumably the settlement from his injury).  The tavern owner did not repay him when he said he would, and our client consequently could not make his mortgage payments and lost his home to foreclosure.  The tavern owner decided to remedy this situation by “letting” our client rent a run-down house owned by the tavern for free.  After five years of living in squalid conditions, our client was informed by the tavern owner that he must move out or start paying rent because the debt was now repaid.  Our client moved out, and the property was condemned.  $100,000 divided by 60 months = $1,667/month rent they must have been charging for the debt to be repaid in this amount of time.  For comparison, my apartment in this area actually passed inspection and costs $450/month.