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Pro Bono Attorneys Keep Family Housed

"Getting to see the immediate impact of our advocacy in preventing a pretextual eviction and securing monetary relief for the Smith family to find new housing, after being subjected to such deplorable housing conditions, was incredibly rewarding."

During National Volunteer Month, LAFLA recognizes the importance of volunteering and honoring the significant contributions volunteers make by donating their time and talents to support the communities LAFLA serves. LAFLA staff have fought throughout the pandemic for low-income tenants, providing representation, education, and advocacy along with our partners and pro bono volunteers. LAFLA is so grateful for our volunteers who have stepped up during these challenging times.

In a recent case, some amazing pro bono attorneys from Morrison & Foerster LLP were able to fight against an unlawful conditions case: Associate Mia Akers and Partner Ben Fox [pictured above]. They worked with LAFLA Eviction Defense Center Attorney Richard Maher, to keep a family of nine in their home after intimidation from a negligent landlord.

We spoke to them about their experiences:

What were the services you provided while volunteering for LAFLA?
Our team successfully represented a low-income family in Carson, California facing a wrongful eviction. The “Smith” family [not their actual last name], who have seven young children, had a wrongful eviction based on false claims that they failed to promptly report a water leak in their kitchen. The landlord had been harassing them in an attempt to get them to leave so they could lease the property to another tenant at a higher rent and the repairman left gaping holes throughout the home after he attempted to fix the leak. The landlord told the Smiths that they had “too many children,” and threatened to refer them to Child Protective Services. 

LAFLA and our team stepped in to dismiss the eviction. We also retained an independent home inspector who found several structural defects in the property’s water supply and hazardous levels of mold and lead. Significantly, we filed an affirmative case against the landlord for nine causes of action, including torts, breach of the warranty of habitability, and violations of the Health and Safety Code. As a result, we not only prevented the Smith family from being evicted, but also settled the affirmative case favorably for them.  

What are some highlights from your volunteer service?
Filing the affirmative action against the landlords was a turning point in the case. Coming off the unlawful detainer action [eviction] win and realizing the landlords’ gross negligence in maintaining a safe environment for the Smith family to live in, the affirmative case helped ensure that the family would obtain the necessary relief to leave their uninhabitable home and secure safe housing for all nine family members. The judge ruled tentatively in our favor on all but one cause of action regarding the landlords’ motion to dismiss, just before we informed the court that we reached a settlement. The Smith family likely would not have been able to afford legal representation to seek this relief otherwise and we could not have asked for a better family to work with as a client.

How has volunteering for LAFLA impacted you?
Volunteering with LAFLA and representing the family was a career-defining experience. Getting to see the immediate impact of our advocacy in preventing a pretextual eviction and securing monetary relief for the Smith family to find new housing, after being subjected to such deplorable housing conditions, was incredibly rewarding. Knowing that our work made a tangible difference in the Smith family’s lives makes us hopeful and confident to represent more clients in unlawful detainer actions and housing cases more broadly.   

Anything else you want to add? 
Richard Maher and the LAFLA team were invaluable in providing day-to-day support, insight, and guidance on the unlawful detainer action and our affirmative case. We learned a tremendous amount about housing and landlord/tenant law, meaningful client engagement, and case strategy in a short amount of time from the LAFLA team.

Thank you to Mia, Benjamin, and the hundreds of other pro bono volunteers for your wonderful service on behalf of clients at LAFLA. “Ben Fox and Mia Akers’ quick intervention and dedicated pro bono services resulted in the safety and stability for the Smith family and averted the likelihood of them becoming homeless, which would have had life-altering consequences, especially for the young children,” noted LAFLA Pro Bono Director Phong Wong.

“Unfortunately, with the pandemic safety nets ending, legal aid housing attorneys like Richard Maher are confronted with countless eviction cases from families like the Smiths but do not have the capacity to help everyone. We need the generous commitment of additional pro bono attorneys to help families navigate the eviction process and give them a better chance at remaining securely housed in our communities. We welcome volunteers to join us in fighting to protect families from eviction and at the same time learn valuable litigation skills.”

Watch the video below to learn about pro bono service in eviction defense. To connect with our pro bono team and volunteer, please email probono@lafla.org.