Friday, August 19, 2011

08/19 AOD Report

There seemed to be far fewer volunteers today than in any of the previous weeks I'd gone for the Attorney of the Day during the summer.  A lot of this can be explained by law schools starting up again soon, which means summer assoc.s have gone home, as have many of the various interns who were regulars throughout the summer.  None of the regular attorneys I'm used to seeing showed up either, yet the check in line was as long as always and I weighed in on probably around 5-6 different matters.  2 of these that I got more involved in I'll record here. 

The first involved a female client who was living at a charitable boarding house, that was in court yesterday seeking to have her sign an agreement to address some alleged behavioural issues (the boarding house maintains what seemed to me strict and detailed guidelines for its residents, but there were allegations of verbally violent behaviour, etc.) and to recover some back rent.  The client was claiming the boarding house had a serious bed bug infestation.  ISD was called and confirmed the infestation, along with some other minor code violations.  According to the boarding house representative that was in court that day, they had been informed of the bed bug problem and hired an extermination service to determine how severe the problem was.  Well, the service brought in trained dogs to sniff for bed bugs and claimed that every unit in the house was infested.  The boarding house sought a second opinion from a different extermination firm that limited the findings of infestation to only several units and fumigated (or whatever they do) accordingly.  The clients unit was not one of those the second firm suspected of being infested and was not treated.  The client subsequently incurred costs trying to eliminate the problem on her own and therefore had decent grounds for claiming breach of warranty of habitability allowing her w/hold rent (which was in the form of some sort of Sec. 8 funding).

The initial plan here since the client had not filed an answer to was do the motion for late answer + answer with the bed bug defense.  The boarding house was represented (pro bono I take it) by a large local firm that had drafted a proposed agreement to be signed with the client upwards of 20 pages.  I had to convince the client at least 3 times NOT to just sign the agreement and instead go ahead with the litigation, which eventually she assented to. 

Apparently this woman had recently been assigned a case worker from a local housing assistance program who was on site and offered to cover half of the back rent alleged.  By the time I had a chance to talk to this guy, the parties were already waiting for mediation, so we began preliminary negotiations to try to get them to abate the back rent by half in exchange for the infusion from the housing assistance program.  There was some concern from the client about the reasonableness of some of the behavioral terms included in the proposed agreement, but the offer of half the back rent from a 3d party + the abatement of the other half by the house made her willing to agree.  After revising the lengthy proposed agreement, they signed, got the mediator's and judge's approval. 

There was some concern on my part that the client might not be able to abide by the behavioral terms, but since she had expressed an interested in looking for a new place (probably unrealistically), I assumed that at least the agreement would give her additional time to do that.   The down side was that if she breached the agreement, the boarding house would probably be able to evict her more easily and quickly.  Given the financial incentives for her though, it seemed that signing the agreement was more advisable than not.  If there are future problem they can be dealt with at that time I guess.  Anyway, this is the closest I've gotten to actually handling a mediation so far.

The second case worth noting came to me as I thought I was pretty much done for that session.  I was approached by a Black male, early-mid 20s with a severe stutter.  He explained he had been issued a 48 hour notice of eviction for the following day.  This followed an earlier court sanctioned agreement in which he had agreed to vacate the premises voluntarily by an date prior to when the execution had issued.  I don't think he was represented for the earlier agreement. 

The landlord was alleging he had stolen some property, which he explained were actually some janitorial supplies he had agreed with maintenance personnel to borrow.  There had been other outlandish allegation by the landlord previously as well (claiming he was carrying firearms on the premises that turned out to be a water pistol, etc.).  I thought some of recent claims might be retaliatory in nature.  This client was also working with some transitional assistance service to deal with notable mental health issues (anxiety, PTSD, int. al.).  He defaulted on the hearing to issue execution.  But given the health concerns is likely (based on the info I had) to get a few extra months while trying to locate new housing.

My first reaction (again, per above as it turned out, wrong) was to file a motion to stay execution, with longer term plans to have him get in touch with some legal services to work with him on possibly filing an appeal from the initial judgment/agreement.  I learned though that once the execution issues, the matter becomes a civil concern (not summary process anymore) and therefore requires a restraining order to prevent the constable from carrying the execution order.  (this confusion on my part seemed to be shared by some of the housing court clerks who entered into a lively little debate about the proper procedures in such cases).  Short story here: filed the restraining order + affidavit of indigency and last I heard the clerk was waiting to for a phone call to learn whether the TRO hearing would be that day or the following morning. 

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