Teresita’s Story

Teresita’s husband’s dream was to get a house. After he died, a bank illegally foreclosed on it.

“I remember when my husband was in the hospital, he told me, “this will be your place.” And he was right. This house is how I remember my husband. It is our place. And I will do everything I can to keep it ours.”

When Teresita and her husband first bought their home in 1994, Teresita remembers a neighbor telling her “Welcome to Bayview!” and fell in love with this house and their neighborhood. They saved every penny to buy it. There is a yard that Teresita can have a garden in and Artess, their daughter, could play in. Her favorite place is the living room because she can sit and look out the window. Teresita likes to watch the bridge and watch the street and listen to the neighbors walking by.

Just a few months after the family moved into their new house, Teresita’s husband fell ill with lung cancer. It happened so fast. Teresita’s husband told her before he passed away to make sure that she kept the house. “It was the only thing he left us”. And it was the only house they could afford. For the family, it was so important for them to keep it.

When her husband passed away, Teresita fell into financial hardship.  She missed her first mortgage payment. Within months, her bank started foreclosure proceedings. During that time, Teresita never heard from any staff from the bank. She had no idea that her home was in jeopardy. No one from the bank ever spoke with her in person, and never even attempted to find out whether she had a working phone number.

Oh, the dream still continues! The gift my husband gave to me and my daughter was this house. After this time, I can’t believe what ODL helped me to get back our house.

When Adolfo, Teresita’s neighbor, found out that this was a foreclosure, he called a friend who was also a real estate agent. That day, the two found out the house was already sold. Teresita’s home was sold without her even knowing.

Teresita found out about Open Door Legal through a community senior center. She was referred to us and we took her case.

I had peace of mind because I knew I left Teresita in good hands

-Adolfo, Teresita’s neighbor 


We sued Teresita’s bank for wrongful foreclosure and elder financial abuse to reverse the foreclosure. We were able to successfully return the home to Teresita and we also got her loan forgiven and got her a damage settlement of almost $100,000. We made sure the house is placed in a trust so it will go to her daughter, and not to a bank in the future.


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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.