The Housing Advocacy Clinic at John F. Kennedy University recently took on a case that brought its students far out of their textbooks and deep into the twists and turns of a real world case where they were able to successfully help their client stand up against an abuse of power steeped in racism.
The HAC’s client had been renting an apartment in Antioch, but last July got behind on his rent. After receiving a three-day notice, he worked out an agreement with his landlord whereby he caught up on all unpaid rent, utilities, and fees, and also paid an additional $676 for the landlord’s attorney fees, in exchange for the landlord agreeing to cancel the eviction. Despite this understanding, and much to the client’s surprise, the landlord proceeded to move the eviction process forward by filing an unlawful detainer action with the court.
At first, the client disregarded service of the legal papers, because he thought he’d had a deal. He even contacted the property management company to confirm this. Because he did not file a timely response to the summons and complaint, he was evicted by the sheriff in late August. When he contacted the landlord to try to figure out how this could possibly have happened, somebody in the management office spoke in a derogatory manner about “you people,” which the client understood to have racial connotations. At that point he contacted the HAC for assistance.
At first, the HAC offered to help the client cancel the eviction and be restored to his home, but given what had happened he no longer wanted to live in the unit and have to deal with that company. So the clinic instead assisted the client in getting access to the property to reclaim his personal belongings. Upon returning to the property the client learned that a thief had taken advantage of the vacancy and broken in through a window, taking many of his belongings.
With their client homeless, holding a marred housing record, and, on top of it all, robbed, the HAC leapt into further action. After writing a carefully researched and detailed demand letter and engaging in follow-up negotiations, the clinic achieved an incredible outcome by reaching the following settlement for the client:
1. The eviction action was dismissed and wiped from the client’s record.
2. The landlord issued an apology.
3. The client received payment of $8,217.50 – calculated as: compensation for 1) the 3 days of August rent the client had missed out on when he was evicted on the 27th; 2) the $626 he paid for attorneys fees to settle the case; 3) his property lost in the break-in valued at $1,900, 4) a full refund of his security deposit and 5) $5,000 in damages for his emotional distress and wrongful eviction.
“It was a very beneficial experience to see that you can apply what you’re learning in class to advocate for an actual person and to establish a victory for them out of a negative situation,” says Andrew Gramajo, a JD student at JFKU and the main student to work on this case. “This victory lets the community know that they have a place they can go and that they can rely on even if they feel they are unable to afford the services they need.” Providing these types of services to actual people in need gives him something to look forward to when he graduates, says Andrew.