Keith King

Keith King

Keith King, who had spent almost a decade of his life experiencing homeless, found himself once again facing the prospect being without housing when he came home to an eviction notice on his door. He was told he had nine days to leave his apartment. Mr. King’s landlord sued him for nonpayment of rent but never notified him of the eviction lawsuit. Further, the allegedly owed rent at the heart of the matter should have been paid by Mr. King’s subsidy provider, which had apparently and unjustifiably stopped making payments.

“If it wasn’t for her, I would have been homeless again.”

That’s when Legal Aid Housing Law Unit Staff Attorney Eleni Christidis stepped in. Eleni argued and won a motion to vacate the default judgment that had been entered against Mr. King, thereby stopping the eviction.

At the same time, Legal Aid advocated for Mr. King with the DC Department of Human Services to switch his subsidy provider and to help him find him a new apartment. Today Mr. King is in a stable situation, living in the same neighborhood where he grew up – blocks away from his old elementary school – surrounded by friends and family.

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Gloria Alston

Ward 8 resident Gloria Alston received disability benefits and food stamps when she came to Legal Aid for help. She also had a voucher that covered a portion of her rent, but the DC Housing Authority had recently terminated its contract with her landlord because the apartment repeatedly failed inspection.

There had been multiple sewage floods in the apartment, mold and mildew growing in the carpet, and a bedbug infestation. Due to the landlord’s negligence and failure to fix these problems, Ms. Alston was paying the price.

“They made me feel like family.”

“The bedbugs would crawl all over me, and the mice would crawl in the room, and there was a big hole in my wall in my bedroom where the mice would come out,” Ms. Alston said.

When Ms. Alston came to Legal Aid’s Southeast office at the Big Chair in Anacostia she was connected to Kirkland & Ellis litigation associates Pat Brown and Paul Suitter. Through a unique partnership with Legal Aid, Kirkland & Ellis not only financially supports our Anacostia office but also has its attorneys conduct initial intake interviews with prospective Legal Aid clients and provide extended pro bono representation.

Once Pat did some investigation into the conditions in Ms. Alston’s apartment, they decided to file a civil action for negligence against Ms. Alston’s landlord – a potentially time-consuming and resource-intensive action. In the end, the team’s zealous advocacy resulted in a favorable settlement for Ms. Alston, enabling her to move into a new apartment free of bedbugs and mold.

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Mani Philip

Mani Philip has lived in his Adams Morgan cooperative since 1999. A 70-year-old immigrant from India, Mr. Philip recently asked the cooperative for assistance in moving his furniture when he reported seeing bed bugs in his unit. They agreed to help Mr. Philip get his apartment ready for extermination, yet subsequently alleged that he did not properly prepare the unit for treatment.

You, Legal Aid Society did not brush me aside
Like many other similar offices did
When I came to you begging for help, for real justice

– From a poem written by Mr. Philip about his experience

These allegations turned into threats of eviction. Mr. Philip believed the cooperative’s attempts to evict him were to finish clearing out the long-term residents whose carrying charges fell below market rents for the area.

In an attempt to rectify the situation, Mr. Philip paid thousands of dollars of his own money for multiple exterminations, sleeping on the floor rather than his bed in between exterminations. But the cooperative pushed forward and terminated his membership.

Fortunately, Mr. Philip had Maggie Donahue, a Legal Aid Housing Law Unit attorney, by his side. With Legal Aid’s help, Mr. Philip was able to settle his case with an agreement that the cooperative would pay for a high-quality bedbug inspector to conduct regular inspections of the unit (and treatments, if necessary) for four months. Not only is Mr. Philip no longer living in fear of a bed bug infestation, he was also able to restore his nearly-20-year cooperative membership.

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Luz Clara Gonzalez

Luz Clara Gonzalez, a transgender rights activist from El Salvador, was trying to get on her feet. With no credit and chronic medical issues that landed her in and out of the hospital, she struggled to find stable housing and was living on the streets. However, with the help of her sister as co-signer, an apartment complex accepted Ms. Gonzalez as a tenant. One day, the apartment’s management company changed, and the building (which sits in the heart of gentrifying Petworth) was marketed for sale. Many tenants were being evicted for what appeared to be invalid reasons. The landlord soon attempted to do the same to Ms. Gonzalez.

“I would have been in the streets if it weren’t for my lawyer.”

Legal Aid Housing Law Unit attorney Maggie Donahue took on the case, filing multiple briefs about the landlord’s failed obligations and beginning a days-long evidentiary hearing. In the middle of the evidentiary hearing, the landlord agreed to dismiss the case, move Ms. Gonzalez to a new unit in the building, make her an “official” tenant with her own lease, and waive the rent they had refused to accept after the case began. Ms. Gonzalez, who could have been homeless, now has stable housing as she rebuilds her life.

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Alesia Mainasara

Alesia Mainasara’s apartment, where she lived with her two children, was in a chronic state of disrepair. Her heater was broken all winter, and her air conditioner was broken all summer. Mold had been growing on her leaky walls, and the apartment was infested with insects and even geckos. Fed up with her landlord’s refusal to remedy the problems, Ms. Mainasara began withholding rent. Rather than simply fixing the problems in the unit, as required by law, her landlord sued to evict the family.

Legal Aid referred the case to Stephen DeGenaro and Joe Cardosi of Jones Day, one of 14 law firms currently participating in the citywide Housing Right to Counsel Project.

Stephen and Joe fought zealously for Ms. Mainasara, engaging opposing counsel on a weekly basis and thoroughly documenting both the substandard conditions of her home and the inadequacy of her landlord’s belated repair attempts. As a result, Ms. Mainasara was victorious on all fronts. She and her children kept their home and housing subsidy, and her landlord made the comprehensive repairs they needed. On top of that, the landlord waived more than $2,000 in alleged outstanding rent and late fees.

“They fought and fought and fought and fought until the got a good agreement.”

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Arthur Lloyd

Arthur Lloyd’s adult son faced significant challenges from mental health conditions, and had spent time hospitalized as a result. One day, Mr. Lloyd found his son sleeping at Fort Totten Metro Station. He barely recognized him with his thick beard, but Mr. Lloyd wanted to re-establish his relationship with his son and help him get off the streets.

Mr. Lloyd filed the proper paperwork to add his son to his lease, but his son’s stuttering and other symptoms made the property manager uncomfortable. The property manager not only rejected Mr. Lloyd’s request to add his son to the lease, but “barred” his son from the building and began calling the police whenever he visited, alleging that he was trespassing.

Mr. Lloyd simply wanted his son to be able to visit him again. Mr. Lloyd also feared that the ongoing dispute might put him at risk of eviction. He began working with Legal Aid housing law attorney Maggie Donahue, who filed a lawsuit against the landlord for discrimination and breach of the tenant’s right to “quiet enjoyment” of the property.

“Maggie was good,” Mr. Lloyd said. “She kept your spirits up, and she never promised me anything, that we were going to be able to get something out of this case. She just said we’re going to keep going, and we’re going to keep fighting for you Mr. Lloyd. So I felt good about that.”

After Legal Aid threatened to file a Motion for Preliminary Injunction, the landlord finally agreed to a confidential financial settlement and to “lift the bar” on Mr. Lloyd’s son.

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Mariana and Antonio Garcia

Mariana Garcia’s* now three-year-old son, Antonio*, was born six weeks premature. He has developmental delays and a chronic respiratory illness that requires nearly monthly hospitalizations. Ms. Garcia, a native Spanish-speaker who was working two jobs before Antonio was born, had to cut back her hours to care for her son, even as she faced significant medical bills.

Despite Antonio’s serious medical conditions, the Social Security Administration (SSA) denied his disability benefits application. Legal Aid public benefits attorney Hannah Weinberger-Beder represented Ms. Garcia and her son at an administrative hearing and established that Antonio’s condition was severe enough to qualify him for benefits. Then, after Antonio was approved, Hannah discovered that SSA had underpaid Ms. Garcia because it had miscalculated her income. With Legal Aid’s help, Antonio was awarded the amount of benefits to which he is legally entitled.

“It was the worst three years ever.”

At the same time, with so much going on in her life, Ms. Garcia missed a single month’s rent payment shortly after Antonio’s premature birth. Instead of working with Ms. Garcia, her landlord tried to evict her. Fortunately, Legal Aid was there. Housing attorney Elena Bowers investigated, ultimately filing a counterclaim based on a severe bedbug infestation in Ms. Garcia’s apartment that was particularly dangerous given Antonio’s health condition. Ms. Garcia’s landlord agreed to a fair payment plan and to remedy the bedbug infestation.

With their benefits and home secured, Ms. Garcia has time to work, care for Antonio, and study for her nursing degree. Ms. Garcia said, “It’s a relief, and I was so happy, because we didn’t give up.”

*Names have been changed to protect the clients’ identities.

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Stevon Mathis

Mathis v. D.C. Housing Authority (D.C.H.A.) was a pathbreaking case from this past year. It had important procedural significance: for years, Legal Aid had argued that D.C.H.A. termination decisions should be directly appealable to the D.C. Court of Appeals. The Mathis case settled this issue once and for all, ensuring that all members of our client community will have access to the appellate courts for these types of cases. But Mathis v. D.C.H.A. was arguably even more important for D.C. resident Stevon Mathis.

As Mr. Mathis memorably put it, he became “extremely homeless” after he lost his housing voucher. The Court of Appeals ruling that he had wrongfully been terminated from the voucher program ended years of homelessness for Mr. Mathis. The ruling not only dramatically reformed the procedures for judicial review of D.C.H.A. decisions, but in a very concrete way, put a roof over Mr. Mathis’s head.

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Sherman Ave. Tenants

A group of eleven tenants—most of whom are monolingual Amharic speakers—came to Legal Aid when their landlord sued them for eviction. The tenants were confused since the landlord first refused to accept their rent, then sued them for nonpayment. Once we looked into the matter, we found that our clients had been living—most of them for years—with serious and life-threatening Housing Code violations. The building lacked a heating
system, had not had smoke detectors for over a decade, and had serious, untreated pest infestations. Ultimately, our clients prevailed in a consolidated bench trial, with the judge finding that the landlord owed each client money for the months during which rent was paid in full but they were living with serious Housing Code violations, and that the landlord needed to make repairs. Thanks to Legal Aid’s representation, these eleven tenants were able to remain, more safely, in their affordable apartments.

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Carrolton Apartments

Long-time Northeast D.C. residents Anthony Compton, Virginia Patterson, William Jenkins, and Robert Marzet Graham nearly lost their apartments when a new landlord tried to double their rent. Legal Aid’s multi-year efforts on behalf of the Carrolton Apartments Tenant Association resulted not only in long-overdue repairs but also in protection from significant rent increases, ensuring their apartments will remain affordable as long as the association members live there.

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