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Marissa’s Story: Having Attorney by her Side has Been a Lifeline During COVID-19

Posted December 10, 2020
1:45 pm

Frontline healthcare workers are essential to public safety during a pandemic - but many still lost hours and significant amounts of income when COVID-19 began ravaging the globe earlier this year. Marissa Patawaran is one of those workers.

"When everyone is told to stay home as much as possible, people don't seek out as much medical care," says Marissa, a Certified Nursing Assistant in Cleveland, Ohio. "My hours were reduced in March, and now I am working PRN, or as-needed. It's just not enough."

Marissa is raising her one year-old daughter on her own, and rents an apartment with help from a Section 8 housing voucher. In early September, just weeks before her daughter's first birthday, her landlord filed for eviction. Even though Marissa offered her landlord a late rental payment, he refused to accept it. On top of everything, the roof in one of her apartment's bedrooms fell while in while Marissa and her daughter were out one day. The landlord made no repairs and has not evaluated the rest of the building for safety issues.

"I got a packet from Cleveland Housing Court with information about my hearing date and my rights," says Marissa. The packet included a pamphlet from United Way describing Cleveland's new Right to Counsel law, with the phone number for Legal Aid. "I was hesitant to call at first," says Marissa, "but I'm so glad I did."

"Marissa called Legal Aid on a Friday, and by Monday she had a safe and virtual meeting with Legal Aid attorney Anastasia Elder.

"With Cleveland's Right  to Counsel law, anyone living in the city with an income at or below 100% of the federal poverty limit and children in the household has the right to an attorney in eviction cases," explains Anastasia.

Anastasia prepared Marissa's case for the hearing in Cleveland Housing Court and helped the family serve the landlord with a Declaration under the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Eviction Moratorium. She also counseled Marissa about available rental assistance funds, which she secured.

The landlord, perhaps concerned that Marissa was now represented by an attorney, never appeared for the virtual hearing, and the eviction portion of the case was dismissed. Anastasia continues to work to remedy the home's safety and condition issues.

Safe from eviction, Marissa is currently looking for a new residence for herself and her daughter. Anastasia is advocating for her to be compensated for the trouble of living in a home with unsafe conditions.

"I've loved working with Anastasia," says Marissa. "I can send her a text whenever I need anything. If I hadn't contacted Legal Aid, I wouldn't have known about the rental assistance programs, and I would have lost my case."


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