Legal Aid volunteer helps secure home for grieving Cleveland resident
In 2002, Mr. Kevin Jenkins* returned to his Cleveland home to care for his ailing mother and her home of 20 years. Only three months after his mother’s death in 2009, Mr. Jenkins, an unemployed music teacher, had fallen behind on the mortgage. He knew he would face foreclosure if this went on much longer, so he contacted the bank in order to work on a solution.
Unfortunately, the bank informed Mr. Jenkins that they could not discuss the matter with him, because his name was not on the loan. After repeated unsuccessful attempts to prove that his mother had passed and his name was on the deed, Mr. Jenkins felt there was no hope of saving his home. When he went to the courts to ask for advice, he heard about The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland and called immediately.
Legal Aid managing attorney Julie Robie was the first to review Mr. Jenkins’ case. After researching the situation, Ms. Robie determined Mr. Jenkins was an owner in the house but did not sign the note or mortgage. Therefore, the mortgage was not enforceable against him personally. Furthermore, case law suggested that the mortgage might not be enforceable against the house, but additional legal analysis was needed. Ms. Robie felt that Mr. Jenkins potentially had a good case, but she determined that it was “the right opportunity to draw upon the expertise of a volunteer attorney with specialized knowledge of real property law.”
Legal Aid referred the case to volunteer attorney Karl Kammer, who has won two awards of recognition during his 30 years of service to Legal Aid. Mr. Kammer worked diligently on the case, recognizing at once that it was “an injustice and winnable.”
Mr. Kammer believed that because Mr. Jenkins’ name was on the deed to the house, but not on the mortgage, the bank only had rights to half of the house. “They couldn’t foreclose on half of a house, so the bank had no clear solution,” Mr. Kammer said. He wrote to the bank on at least two occasions, explaining his legal reasoning. However, the bank chose to litigate the case, a process that took two years and required more than 30 hours of work by Mr. Kammer.
Mr. Jenkins recalled that his volunteer attorney was “consistent. He was very good at follow-up and I learned a lot by going through the process with him. I was honored that he would give his time and put so much energy into helping me.”
In the end, the bank “finally saw there was nothing they could get from him,” said Mr. Kammer. The bank cancelled the mortgage, essentially giving Mr. Jenkins his house for free, other than a small amount of back taxes, which Mr. Jenkins paid off within 30 days.
A month after the case was closed Mr. Kammer received a letter from Mr. Jenkins. Mr. Kammer said he was “surprised” at the letter, and never expected such praise from a client. In the letter, Mr. Jenkins thanked Mr. Kammer repeatedly, stating, “Without your assistance, I am sure this winter holiday season would have found me homeless,” and, “You have dispelled the myth that justice can never be on the side of the poor.”
* name changed to protect privacy.