“We didn’t have heat for months at a time. Sometimes the lights in the house didn’t even work.”
Staying housed is essential to overcoming poverty. Yet poor people live in the least safe and worst kept housing and disproportionately face evictions. Without legal aid, residents would be powerless to prevent illegal evictions, force repairs, or sometimes – even obtain new housing.
Featured Story: Mary Banks
Despite paying her rent on time every month, Mary was hit with a bill for $10,000 in claimed back rent and an eviction notice. Her unit also had severe problems: leaks in the roof, shower, and toilet were reported and never addressed, and had caused severe rot and mold.
Understanding the Issue
The vast majority of evictions in San Francisco occur because landlords harass/intimidate their tenants into leaving (often with bogus oral notices), or because they stop maintaining the premises and it becomes uninhabitable. Comparatively few evictions occur because a tenant lost a formal eviction lawsuit, and of those many occur because the tenant simply lost on procedural grounds. If lawyers were available to all tenants in San Francisco, we could dramatically reduce the number of evictions occurring. One study found that in eviction cases, only 14% of unrepresented tenants retained possession, while 55% of represented tenants did.1
Landlords renting to low-income San Franciscans frequently ignore rights guaranteeing everyone the right to safe, habitable housing. We’ve seen mold infestations so bad that children wake up every morning with nose bleeds, or plumbing problems that cause raw sewage to back up into a bathtub for months on end. Many people don’t realize how common these problems are; in almost every housing case we have ever handled, the unit in question contains similar habitability violations.
By expunging criminal records, restricting past evictions, and eliminating fraudulent accounts from their credit report, we’re able to ensure that low-income households can qualify for housing they’d otherwise have been denied for. Denials are also sometimes wrongful – disability discrimination is especially common – and when this happens we step in and ensure fair treatment.
- Jessica Steinberg, “In Pursuit of Justice? Case Outcomes and the Delivery of Unbundled Legal Services,” Georgetown Journal of Poverty Law and Policy, 18 no. 3 (2011).