Client’s Home of 36 Years Saved
ALRP client JT has been living in downtown San Francisco on the same street, in the same building, and in the same apartment since escaping from a war-torn Vietnam in 1979. As is unfortunately the case for many of our clients, JT’s home of 36 years is far from perfect. Mold and pests are recurring issues, and the plumbing is unreliable. The elevator frequently breaks, and this is particularly difficult when the arthritis in his knees flares up. Because JT has a Section 8 voucher (a federal housing subsidy), he has been somewhat protected from the unprecedented rent increases driving out many long-term San Francisco residents. A tenant with a Section 8 voucher can, however, become a target for landlords and property managers who would prefer to have the unit occupied by a tenant paying market-rate rent. JT recently experienced this pressure to vacate when he received a 3-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit. “I was so scared that I couldn’t sleep,” he said, adding that his building manager once told him that he “complains too much for someone on Section 8.” It wasn’t the first time his tenancy in this building had been threatened, but ALRP is hoping it will be the last.
An interruption in housing can be deadly to someone living with HIV/AIDS, so JT has his rent automatically transferred from his bank account to the building’s account each month, with a portion of the rent paid by the agency that administers his Section 8 subsidy, the San Francisco Housing Authority (SFHA). Despite his steps to ensure timely rent payments, his landlord claimed that he owed nearly five thousand dollars in back-rent. In addition to HIV, JT survived squamous-cell carcinoma and lives on about $800 a month from SSI; it would have been nearly impossible for him to cover such a large bill. Beyond being impossible, it also would have been simply wrong. The missing rent was not a result of JT’s negligence, but rather, it seems, a direct deposit error within SFHA – an error that occurred several times before. JT’s very limited English proficiency makes it difficult for him to communicate his defense, so his friends Mark and Thomas often serve as points of contact. “I tried several times to tell the manager about the situation,” explained Thomas, “but we weren’t hearing back.” When JT, Mark, and Thomas learned that JT’s landlord had procured a lawyer, they knew it was time for JT to do the same.
JT’s case was handled by ALRP Housing Attorney Kim Shindel. “After confirming that JT did not want to move,” said Kim, “I began building a case and served discovery to opposing counsel.” While working on the case Kim also learned that building management was attempting to enter JT’s apartment to take photos, unlawful behavior that she quickly put a stop to. “I don’t think the manager likes me very much,” shared JT. “He is trying to find any way to get rid of me.” This sentiment is not uncommon among housing clients, and highlights why it is so important to ALRP that our clients feel welcome, respected, and heard – even if it’s just inside our office.
Fortunately for JT, his property manager admitted that the missing rent was SFHA’s share and not JT’s. Kim then contacted SFHA to ensure their share of the rent would be given to JT’s landlord as soon as possible. She filed a motion to end the case in JT’s favor, and almost immediately after received a request from the building’s attorney to settle the case. Following negotiations between the building’s attorney and ALRP, a settlement agreement was reached: JT will remain a tenant, the habitability issues in his apartment will be remedied, and his property manager will no longer conflate delayed SFHA payments with JT’s nonpayment of rent.
Being a vigilant tenant, particularly in San Francisco for 36 years, is a challenging job – one JT isn’t confident he would be successful at without the support of Mark, Thomas, Kim, and ALRP. “Kim was a godsend,” said JT, “and ALRP was very sensitive to my needs.” JT’s housing situation isn’t completely without issue; some of his habitability problems have been addressed, others await future repairs. Still, for JT it’s home – and in the City’s housing crisis that’s certainly something worth holding on to.