*The properties displayed in the picture above do not represent the house discussed in the case.

Nancy had been living in her apartment with her 7-year-old daughter for six years when her landlord asked her to move out. Initially, it had been an oral notice as her newlywed landlord had told Nancy his in-laws were moving into the unit by the end of the year. Nancy however, could only foresee the pain of looking for a vacant apartment in Bayview that would take her Section 8 voucher. The prospects were dismal.

Nancy’s landlord gave her the option of moving into the downstairs unit, where six other people were already living. Not only did her Section 8 voucher not allow the change, but also the thought of raising her daughter in a house with six strangers seemed dreary.

Once she refused the landlord’s proposition, he threatened to issue a 60-Day Notice. Concerned, Nancy decided to seek legal help. She came to our office, where she met with David Smith, one of our staff attorneys. After reviewing her Section 8 voucher and housing documents, David realized that Nancy had been required to pay a higher rent than the amount outlined in her lease. On top of that, the San Francisco Housing Authority (SFHA) had been giving Nancy’s landlord a lower subsidy then the amount disclosed in her Section 8 voucher.

While David worked on adjusting the rent discrepancies, Nancy received a 3-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit, in which the landlord claimed more back rent than he was legally due. The notice, however, has not been copied to SFHA as instructed by federal law. Based on the rent discrepancy and the deficient 3-Day Notice, David started negotiating a move-out agreement with Nancy’s landlord. After some tough negotiations, a settlement was reached: Nancy received a significant monetary settlement and a rent and utility waiver until the move-out date.

Nancy is relieved by the outcome of her negotiations with her landlord, and she has several good prospects for new housing.


Posted on

July 7, 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.