Maria’s Story

After getting evicted, Maria and her family of 14 thought they’d end up on the streets. Now, they’re first-time homeowners.

Maria and her close-knit family of 14 have been together living together for over a decade. One day, after complaining to their landlord about a lack of repairs, they received an eviction notice. The landlord said it was because they had too many people in the unit, even though he knew the size of their family moved it. It felt unfair, but they didn’t know what to do. Luckily, they found Open Door Legal, and now they’re homeowners. 

Meet Maria. She lives with her close-knit family of 14. Three generations have been living together under one roof for over a decade. The Grandma makes dinner, the kids help. They eat together, work together, and love spending time together. The younger kids pester the older ones to play with them. Grandma tries to keep them reigned in. Life is full when the whole family all under one roof.

Everything was great until their building started falling apart. There was mold, water leaking, lost electricity, and carpet that had to be replaced.

Maria started asking for repairs, but the landlord ignored her requests. So, they banded together and made the repairs themselves, painting their own walls, replacing the carpet, and fixing the leaks.

“Of course it was very important to live as a family. We all help each other. Which is the main purpose of living together.”

Things got worse when the landlord decided to evict them, bogusly citing the number of people living in the unit as the reason. Maria and her family felt frustrated and confused. It was the middle of the year and they didn’t want to make their kids switch schools. They needed more time.

Why was this happening now? The landlord had always known how many lived in the house. There were also other tenants who were overcrowded — why weren’t they being evicted too?

Thankfully, Maria knew her rights and started asking for help. Eventually, she and her family were referred to Open Door Legal. They were so close that all eight adults showed up at every meeting together. Thea, a volunteer, helped interview them about their story and take photos of the property and their attorney, Zoe, researched the situation.

Eventually, they discovered they were being discriminated against because they had children. So Open Door Legal filed a discrimination complaint with HUD.

“The first time we woke up in our new house, it was when the Warriors won, so it was a good sign.”

Once their landlord realized they were filing for discrimination, he made an offer to settle the case. 

Maria and her family got five months to find a new place, meaning their kids could finish the school year. They also received $26k in cash to subsidize their move, $7k in back rent waived, plus their security deposit with interest. In total, Maria and her family received over $42k in awards, which they used to put a downpayment on a new home. 

Since moving, they still spend most of their time together. The kids play soccer and practice karate in their front yard and the parents cook and watch the children together. Most importantly, they got to celebrate their first Thanksgiving as homeowners. 

“I’m very thankful for Open Door Legal to keep our family together.”

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.