Margaret and Barbara's Story

NLS clients often face dire civil justice problems. Combined with the challenges of COVID-19, these problems can become grim ... and even life-threatening.

Take two elderly sisters, Margaret*, 83, and Barbara*, 78. When Margaret was too ill to live in her apartment alone, Barbara did what she always did: She took care of things. Instead of putting Margaret in assisted living, Barbara simply moved in to share expenses.

Their quiet life went on ... until they received an eviction notice. Almost nothing is more frightening to people their age during a health crisis than the thought of losing their home.

They were scared ... and dumbfounded. They had paid their rent and utility bills every month.Their lease wasn’t up yet. How could this be happening? And how would they safely find another place to live during the pandemic?

They needed to fight the eviction but couldn’t afford an attorney on their small incomes. Barbara thought she could represent them in court ... after all, they hadn’t done anything wrong. But they soon discovered what so many low-income Americans learn:

The civil justice system isn’t made for people like them. Barbara lost the case.

Months earlier, a new landlord had changed the requirements for paying utilities ... and the sisters hadn’t realized it. As far as the judge was concerned, they were many months behind. He let the eviction order stand and made them responsible for months of outstanding bills, accrued late penalties and the landlord’s legal fees.

Very soon, they’d have nowhere to live. Margaret’s health issues made the prospect intolerable. A civil legal aid attorney with NLS stepped up for Margaret and Barbara, recovering some of their money, getting late fees dismissed and court fees reduced, and extending their move-out date. The sisters are now safe and secure in a new apartment.

*Names have been changed to protect clients' safety and privacy.

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