Sabrina lived in unbearable conditions and her landlord kept refusing to make repairs to her unit. The home was infested with rats, cockroaches, and mold; and there were numerous problems with the plumbing and electricity. ”We didn’t have heat for months at a time,” she recalls. “Sometimes the lights in the house didn’t even work.”

Sabrina contacted the SF Housing Authority to conduct inspections, which the landlord failed. As a result, the landlord lost his rent subsidy from the Housing Authority. Defeated and furious, the landlord tried to persecute Sabrina, attempting to have her government housing benefits taken away. When this did not happen, he attempted to evict Sabrina and her children from their home for physical damage that Sabrina had nothing to do with.

At this point, she decided to seek legal advice. She was first referred to the Housing Rights Committee, who helped get her hearings with the City and County of San Francisco. As a result of the hearings, the landlord was legally obligated to make the repairs and pass inspections, or else face fines. However, at the time of inspection, the landlord would “patch up” or make temporary repairs, and in the meantime continued to try to evict Sabrina. Terrified of losing her government housing benefits, she was compelled to move out of her apartment but continued to seek justice for her cause.

She found out about Open Door Legal through a Salvation Army program, which shares space with our legal services office. Her case was soon taken on by one of our volunteer attorneys, Julia Quinn. Julia secured $20,000 in damages, partly for the possessions Sabrina had to throw away when she moved because she could not afford a moving truck.

“The only thing I got to take were my kids’ clothes, because that’s all that fit in the car,” she recounts. After years of facing eviction, living in appalling conditions, and losing most of her possessions, Sabrina was relieved to finally receive justice and begin to rebuild her life. Although Open Door Legal did help her win the case, Sabrina says legal support wasn’t the only thing that they offered.

“The people who helped me really were compassionate, understanding about my issues, and gave me support more than just doing the paperwork. There were times when I was stressed and crying, and they just helped me through everything. They rock.” She walked away with more than just money in her pocket; she also had the reassurance that “[the landlord] can no longer do that to me or anybody else.”


Posted on

May 5, 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.