Claudia’s Story

Claudia’s* landlord responded to her pleas for repairs with an eviction notice


When Claudia first visited Open Door Legal, her in-law, section eight housing unit appeared to have leapt straight out of a horror novel: no heat, mold in the bathroom, a perennially clogged toilet, a malfunctioning refrigerator, and, of course, an unresponsive landlord.


It is safe to say that this was an unsuitable environment for a mother and her five children. Time and time again the landlord was notified, both verbally and in writing, of these issues with the unit, and time and time again Claudia’s pleas for help were ignored. The landlord even went so far as to disregard a citation by the city’s Department of Building Inspection.

The landlord was first notified of the building’s unsatisfactory condition approximately two years ago, both by Claudia and by the city of San Francisco. In fact, the landlord’s decision to ignore the city’s request to repair the handrails along the staircases resulted in Claudia’s injury and a subsequent need for x-rays. The landlord was also mandated to fix the leaking refrigerator, stove- top, and water damage on the front entryway in Claudia’s unit. All of these issues aside from the handrails were unresolved. Furthermore, Claudia’s family was provided with inconsistent access to hot water simply because the noise caused by the heating unit disturbed the landlord.

 “Claudia’s family was provided with inconsistent access to hot water simply because the noise caused by the heating unit disturbed the landlord”

Claudia’s mail, which stated her expected portion of the rent, was also seized by her landlord and used a means to overcharge. After summing her overcharges, Claudia is owed almost $10,000 by her landlord, an incredible amount given that it only covers two years worth of rent. To put a cap on this negligence, Claudia received an invalid eviction notice from her landlord for which he then failed to provide evidence of misconduct.

Claudia’s immaculate ability to keep records of the transactions at hand and the diligent work of Alissa de Vogel, a housing attorney here at Open Door Legal, resulted in a phenomenal win for Claudia and her children. The eviction notices against Claudia were dropped due to insufficient evidence. Claudia and her children are currently looking to relocate, a feat that would not have been possible without the help of Open Door Legal.

This story was written by volunteer Jasmine Ayala, April 2016.


*The name and photos have been changed to protect the client’s identity.

Ever since childhood, our co-founder Adrian has been dedicated to reducing poverty.

He studied systemic poverty in college and went to work in the field for a few years. Eventually, he had a thesis that legal aid was the most cost-effective way to address poverty in America. He wrote up a business plan and used it to apply to law school. 

The idea was to create the country’s first system of universal access to civil legal representation that ensures everyone can obtain timely, competent legal help for any legal issue, regardless of ability to pay. That had never been done before in the history of the United States.

In law school, he met Virginia, our Programs Director. Together, they co-founded the organization, two weeks after Adrian passed the bar.

When we opened we put a sign in the window, and with just that marketing and almost no other outreach we were overwhelmed with requests for help from people with good cases who had been turned away everywhere else.

Our first year we had revenue of $35,000. We would hand shred documents because a shredder was too expensive. Despite the financial challenges, we were able to work on over 280 cases in everything from housing law to family law to consumer law in the first year alone.

The hours were extreme, the pay was low, and the learning curve was steep. Still, we persisted. We knew that almost everyone we helped was not able to receive services anywhere else. Eventually, we attracted the interest of funders. We tripled our revenue for several years in a row. In 2015, we won the Bay Area Google Impact Challenge, which enabled us to expand even more. In 2019, we secured additional funding from the city that allowed us to open two new centers in the Excelsior and Western Addition.

As of 2020, our staff has grown to 27 full-time employees. We’ve shown that universal access is possible. Now, we plan to scale city-wide, make San Francisco the first city in the country’s history to have universal access to legal help, and become a model for national replication.