Thursday, August 11, 2011

08/11/11 Thur. Landlord/Tenant session BHC

I went for my 4th or 5th Attorney of the Day this morning.  The  usual scene: a long line of tenants called for various kinds of hearings.  I got there pretty early this time around 8:45 and it took all of about 10 mins. for someone to come up with what turned out to be more or less standard case.  Client was a Black female in her early/mid 30s with a 12-13 y/o son.  She was relatively articulate, but seem to be very confused about the nature of summary process proceedings.  I had to explain relatively simple procedural steps to her multiple times ("yes, after you request mediation, come back here and....")

I was shown a summons and complaint for this client who had previously received Section 8 vouchers but, as it was later revealed, had tried to have her payments transferred to Minnesota, which she did, only to decide to move back to MA after about 3 weeks.  Her landlord had served her w/ a summons and complaint, which was her reason for being at the court this morning.  After returning, she took up residence in her old apartment, but because she had transferred her S. 8 payments/status to MN, she was being charged for the months rent following the time of transfer.  The client expressed a desire only to get more time in her current apt. in order to arrange for a new apartment.

The client claimed she had never received notice to quit.  More critically, as I learned after speaking w/ one of the more seasoned VLP staffers there today, it was likely the landlord had failed to serve the Housing Authority w/ a copy of the complaint as is required for summary process involving Sec. 8 housing.

After speaking with her in more detail about the circumstances leading up to the complaint, the conditions of the apartment and discussing it w/ some of the other AODs there, we advised her (de rigeur) to request mediation at the roll call.  I didn't have a chance to check w/ her whether her landlord and his attorney were present.  She didn't seem to look like she noticed anyone there. 

The client had not filed a timely answer (bye-bye discovery) so I sat with her prior to roll call and helped her fill out a Motion to File a Late Answer and went over the boilerplate VLP Answer w/ her also.  There seemed to be good defenses since she alleged the landlord had turned the heat off during the winter which led to her calling Inspection Services, who then issues the landlord a citation.  There were complaints also of rodent infestation, though the landlord apparently had multiple extermination companies out, but w/o any ultimate success.  These, together with the possible insufficient notice and likely service errors on the summons means she probably won't be getting evicted anytime soon.  This would have sufficient to buy her the 1-2 mos. she claimed she needed to arrange for a new place.

Short end of this story: client is directed to appropriate courtroom for roll call and disappears before I have chance to speak with her again.  I don't even know if she went in for that.  I did have to leave early for a drs. appt., but my suspicion is either landlord didn't show/defaulted or she got frustrated/felt overwhelmed with the process and took off.

The professional take away from this is what every decent lawyer knows: choose your clients carefully (maybe this even applies to legal services setting).  I noticed the attys who had been around longer, even the legal services ones, didn't jump at the first people to come to the table, but gravitated toward those that had more interesting or better evidenced cases, or looked more put together generally, not to mention those that have potential fee value (as one atty recently reported getting).  Obviously if everyone did this it would kind of defeat the purpose of having pro bono services in the first place, and on the other hand it probably makes sense that having more background they should get the more demanding cases, but it was a lesson nonetheless.

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