Mary and her son were doing everything right. Mary had secured a new, full-time position at a hospital and her son was preparing for college.

Mary expected an increase of rent for the public housing apartment. She paid an extra $100 dollars towards rent the month she started her new job, expecting any excess amount to go towards the adjustment.

Shortly thereafter, Mary received a 14-day eviction notice for unpaid rent. Mary was shocked; not only because she had never missed a payment, but also because the balance claiming to be owed was for over $10,000 dollars. On top of that, the alleged outstanding balance was from a period of 2 years prior. Until the eviction notice, Mary’s account statements had always stated she was in good standing.

Convinced that she would be evicted due to an error and lose the stability her son needed as he prepared for college, Mary came to Open Door Legal for help.

Attorney Cathy took Mary’s case and soon discovered that Mary was also facing serious habitability issues that were repeatedly reported and never addressed. Leaks in the roof, shower, and toilet had collectively caused rot and severe mold issues, with mold present all over the walls throughout the apartment. Upstairs leakages seeped into her kitchen ceiling while asbestos came out of the walls. Faulty kitchen plumbing had also forced Mary to keep pots and pans under the sink to catch excess water. In addition, Mary and her son had been dealing with a severe rodent infestation. Rodents infested the crawl spaces under the housing complex and the infestation was so rampant that it became impossible to eradicate with traps.

On March 19th, 2015, Mary and her attorney attended an Informal Grievance Hearing. Mary presented extensive testimony to each habitability issue, as well as chronological documentation of account statements that repeatedly stated she did not owe a past balance on her rent. Also presented was Mary’s entire work order history that proved her requests for repair were ignored or neglected for long periods of time, and that many repair requests were never resolved.

On April 30th, 2015, the hearing officer ruled in Mary’s favor. It was determined that Mary did not owe an outstanding balance and that the habitability of her apartment required abatement of rent. Rent credit and immediate repairs were ordered and Mary’s eviction notice was overturned.

“I never expected anything would come out of this, that I would actually win,” Mary told us, “Cathy was really good.”

Mary is relieved by the outcome and not having to worry about an unfair eviction appearing on her credit history. She’s now focusing on looking for a new home and helping her son prepare for college. During a recent visit with Mary, she shared that her son worked a paid leadership program over the summer teaching eighth graders, and just returned from a college campus tour. “I am very proud of him,” Mary said.


Posted on

August 25, 2015

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.