The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland provides free legal advice and representation to low-income people for civil matters only  in  five counties in northeast Ohio: Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, and Lorain.

To get help from Legal Aid you can:

  • Browse topics to the left to learn more about legal issues
  • Call the Legal Aid Intake Line at: 888-817-3777 or 216-687-1900
  • Come to a Brief Advice and Referral Clinic near you

Legal Aid does not handle criminal cases or traffic violations.   To get help in a matter Legal Aid does not handle, click here for a list of other agencies.

Legal Aid  will not deny services on the basis of race, color, sex, sexual orientation, creed, national origin, age, religion, political affiliation or belief, or disability.

There are eligibility guidelines — click on the FAQ below “Who does Legal Aid help? Am I eligible?” to learn more.

FAQs

Who does Legal Aid help? Am I eligible? Close

Legal Aid helps low-income people.   People with income less than 125% of the federal poverty guidelines are eligible and  may qualify for assistance. Sometimes people with less than 200% of the federal poverty guidelines can qualify.

Family size: Annual Income (125%) Annual Income (200%)
1 $14,713 $23,540
2 $19,913 $31,860
3 $25,113 $40,180
4 $30,313 $48,500
5 $35,513 $56,820
6 $40,713 $65,140
7 $45,913 $73,460
Each additional person add: $5,200 $8,320

Because of our limited staff , everyone is not able to receive help from Legal Aid.    Contact us to see if your case is one we can handle.

Do the financial guidelines apply for seniors? Close

No. Legal Aid helps seniors who have the greatest need, even if they are above these guidelines.

Does Legal Aid help older adults? Close

Yes.  

Legal Aid represents seniors (60 and over) in all the areas of law we handle, with an emphasis on   homeownership preservation, elder abuse (physical or financial), Medicaid and Medicare   issues, and other public benefits.   There are no financial limitations on eligibility, although we concentrate on helping people who cannot afford to pay for legal representation.

Additionally, Legal Aid provides advice and legal assistance for persons who need help with legal matters such as wills and advanced directives.

What happens when I contact Legal Aid for help? Close

We may ask you to send copies of your relevant paperwork.
If you qualify for our services and we have the resources to assist you, we will either:

  • give you advice or educational information to help you with the next steps in the legal process;
  • refer you to a volunteer attorney; or
  • represent you in your legal matter.

You can also receive legal assistance through community legal education and brief advice and referral clinics that Legal Aid hosts throughout Northeast Ohio. Check for dates and locations.

What areas of law are outside of Legal Aid’s practice? Close

Legal Aid does NOT handle criminal or traffic cases, cases seeking an award of damages, small claims complaints or workers’ compensation claims.

What is the Client Complaint Procedure? Close

  • Legal Aid is committed to providing high-quality legal services and holds itself accountable to those we seek to serve.
  • Any person who feels they were unfairly denied legal assistance or who is unhappy with the assistance provided by Legal Aid may complain by submitting a grievance.
  • You may make a complaint, either orally or in writing, to a Managing Attorney or to the Deputy Director for Advocacy.
  • You may send a written complaint by email to grievance@lasclev.org.
  • Or, use this link for a copy of the Grievance Form and send a completed form to the Managing Attorney for the practice group assisting you or to the Deputy Director at 1223 West Sixth Street, Cleveland OH   44113.
  • If you want to complain orally, you may call the Deputy Director at 216-861-5329.   The Deputy Director will investigate your complaint and will let you know his decision.

When I call Legal Aid, the phone line is busy – how can I get help? Close

Legal Aid’s phone lines can get overloaded at certain times of the day – and it can be difficult to get through on the phone.   Your call is important, so you are encouraged to keep trying.

The phones are especially busy on Mondays and Fridays and first thing in the morning.   Don’t wait until the last minute to call about an emergency!

In addition to calling Legal Aid for help, you can visit a free brief advice clinic.   Click here for a calendar of upcoming clinics in your area.

Is Legal Aid a government agency? Close

No.

The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland is a nonprofit organization governed by a board of directors.   Legal Aid is recognized as a 501(c)(3) by the IRS and registered as a charity in the State of Ohio.

Does everyone have a “right” to an attorney at Legal Aid? Close

No.

Everyone is not entitled to representation.   The US Constitution only provides for a right to an attorney in criminal cases.   Legal Aid handles only civil matters.   Before a case is accepted the case must be determined to have legal merit and meet  Legal Aid  priorities. Thousands of people each year are only given advice, or referred to another agency, or informed that their legal problem does not fall within Legal Aid priorities.

What kind of eligibility information is needed for Legal Aid representation? Close

Those applying for Legal Aid’s help are asked about income, property owned, zip code, assets, family size, age, race, citizenship or immigration status.

I plan to represent myself in court, what are some guidelines? Close

Many people go to court without a lawyer, also called appearing “pro se.”  It can be a scary process, but preparing for the court hearing and knowing what to expect can reduce stress and allow you to better present the facts and issues in your case.  If you are representing yourself in court, the following steps will help you prepare.

1)      Know where your courtroom is located.  Once you receive your court date, take a trip and find your courtroom.  This will help you plan travel time, parking or bus routes, plus give you an idea of the layout of the building so that you can easily find your way to court on the day of your hearing.  Always make sure to leave plenty of travel time for unexpected issues.  If you are not in your courtroom at the time your case is called it can be dismissed or move forward without you.

2)      Present yourself as a business person at your hearing.  Although you are not a lawyer, you are representing yourself and you want to look and act the part.  You do not need to buy new clothing, but make sure to dress professionally. Also, make sure all devices, such as cell phones, are turned off.  Court officials may take these items if they ring during a hearing.  In addition, you should only bring into the courtroom people needed for your case.  Others can distract you during the hearing and may cause disruption.  You should address the judge as “Your Honor.”  Although you may disagree with the opposing party, do not interrupt or argue with anyone in court.  You will be given time to speak and present your case.

3)      Prepare the evidence you will use in your case.  Not all evidence is allowed to be used to support your case.  At the hearing, the judge or magistrate may tell you that you cannot present certain evidence.  Don’t get frustrated if you are told this and continue moving forward with your case.  For any papers you plan to use as evidence, make sure to have copies for you, the opposing party and the court.  The court and the opposing party will keep their copies.  You should also talk with your potential witnesses to prepare them and let them know they may have to answer questions from the opposing party or attorney and the judge.  Remind your witnesses to dress appropriately and turn off all devices before entering the courtroom.

Following these steps can help you feel prepared, avoid unexpected surprises the day of your hearing, and present your case clearly to the court.

This article was written by Legal Aid supervising attorneys Lauren Gilbride and Kari White and appeared in The Alert: Volume 30, Issue 2. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

How does the U.S. legal system work? Close

The American legal system is based on federal laws, which cover the entire country, and state laws, which only cover a particular state. Federal and state systems handle both civil and criminal cases.  Federal courts handle civil issues like bankruptcy, while state courts handle civil issues like evictions and divorce.

A civil case typically starts when one person, the plaintiff, claims that another person, the defendant, harmed the plaintiff by doing something against the law or by not doing something they were legally required to do.  Criminal cases begin when a person is accused of a crime, or “indicted.” Unlike in civil cases, the government brings criminal cases through the county prosecutor’s office.  The victim is not a party to the case.

There are many kinds of state courts, including municipal courts and common pleas courts, where cases usually start. Municipal courts hear less serious criminal cases and civil claims for less than $15,000. Common Pleas courts primarily hear felonies and civil cases worth more than $15,000.  If a party loses at trial, she can take her case to the Court of Appeals. The loser on appeal can ask the Ohio Supreme Court to hear the case.   All courts can only hear cases within their jurisdiction, which is generally the geographic area where the court is located (e.g. Cleveland Municipal Court hears cases that occur in Cleveland.)

The Clerk of Courts is the person who keeps the records for the court.  The Clerk receives documents for filing and collects court fees.  People who have to go to court and cannot afford to pay filing fees can often file a “poverty affidavit.”  A “poverty affidavit” is a sworn statement that you have a low income and cannot afford the fees. Once you file the affidavit and a judge approves it, your filing fees will be reduced or waived in that case.  See http://lasclev.org/selfhelp-povertyaffidavit/ for more information. 

Some problems must be addressed through an administrative proceeding before going to court.  Benefits provided by the state, such as Unemployment Compensation, food stamps, and Medicaid, are part of the administrative law system. When an agency like the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services makes a negative decision about a person’s benefits, the person must be notified and given an opportunity to request a hearing by a certain deadline.  At the hearing, a person is allowed to bring an attorney or other representative to help explain why the agency’s decision was wrong.  After all available administrative proceedings have been used unsuccessfully, a person can take their issue to court.

This article was written by Legal Aid Summer Associate Jacob Whiten and appeared in The Alert: Volume 30, Issue 2. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

What are some common legal terms I should know? Close

Answer: A document filed by the defendant with the court responding to the plaintiff’s complaint.[1]

Civil Action: A lawsuit filed with a court to demand a legal solution to a private dispute.[2]

Complaint: The first document filed by the plaintiff in a case. It describes what the plaintiff claims the defendant did wrong that caused the plaintiff some harm.

Court Docket: An official court record of what has happened in a legal case.  The docket is a public record and can often be viewed online from the court’s website.[3]

Default Judgment: A judgment granted by the court for failure to file a pleading by a specific deadline or a failure to appear in court when required.[4]

Defendant: The person being sued in the lawsuit and who the plaintiff claims did something wrong.

Magistrate: A court official appointed by a judge with authority to administer and enforce the law in a case.[5]

Motion: A written request asking the court to take some form of action (for example, to dismiss a complaint).[6]

Plaintiff: The person or company who files the lawsuit with the court.

Pleadings: Written documents filed by the plaintiff or defendant that give information to the court about the dispute.[7]

Poverty Affidavit: A written, sworn statement that you have a low income and do not have enough money to pay court filing fees.[8]

Pro Se: A person who does not have an attorney representing them in their case and who appears in court by himself or herself.[9]

Summons: A court order requiring a person to appear or respond in writing to the complaint. Failure to appear in a civil case can result in a default judgment; failure to appear in a criminal case can result in being arrested.[10]



[1] http://www.acba.org/Public/For-Media/Legal-definitions.asp at page 1.

[2] http://www.acba.org/Public/For-Media/Legal-definitions.asp at page 3.

[3] http://www.acba.org/Public/For-Media/Legal-definitions.asp at page 7.

[5] http://clevelandmunicipalcourt.org/judicial-services/magistrates

[7] http://www.acba.org/Public/For-Media/Legal-definitions.asp at page 18.

[8] http://lasclev.org/selfhelp-povertyaffidavit/

[9] “Pro Se.” West’s Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. 2008. The Gale Group 22 Jul. 2014 http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Pro+Se

This article was written by Legal Aid Paralegal Kristen Simpson and appeared in The Alert: Volume 30, Issue 2. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

What are some tips for preparing for a housing case on my own? Close

What is Housing Court?  In Ohio, three courts have divisions that specialize in housing-related issues:  Cleveland, Toledo, and Franklin County.  These courts were created to allow judges to develop expertise in these areas of law and use a problem-solving approach to cases.  In other cities, the municipal court typically hears cases related to housing issues.

What types of cases are heard in Housing Court?  The courts hear civil and criminal cases related to real property.  The civil cases include landlord tenant matters, like evictions, rent deposits, and actions to compel repairs.  The criminal cases involve the failure to maintain property, and include building, housing, health, fire and zoning code violations.

What should you know about going to Housing Court on your own?

You are not required to have an attorney to appear in Housing Court (unless you are appearing on behalf of a company you own).  If you are in Court on a criminal case you may be entitled to a court-appointed attorney.  Ask the Judge about your right to counsel when you appear for a criminal case.

  • Read your court papers carefully!  They will tell you when and where you are to appear, and whether you need to file anything in writing with the Court.
  • Look at the Court’s website.  Most websites post basic information, including local rules, and have a list of “frequently asked questions.”
  • Read the rules.  A court’s local rules tell you how individual courts handle cases.  Also, all parties must follow the Ohio Rules of Civil Procedure, whether they are represented by an attorney or not.
  • Evictions are summary proceedings.  This means that cases move quickly, and usually are heard and decided at the first hearing.  In Cleveland, if you are ordered to move, you may have as few as seven days to do so!  If you have special circumstances you would like the Court to consider, bring related paperwork to the hearing.
  • Consider mediation.  The Cleveland Housing Court now offers community mediation, in which court staff  meet with landlords and tenants in their neighborhoods to try and resolve problems and avoid future lawsuits.  For more information, please contact the Court at 216-664-4295.  In other communities, check with the municipal court to find out if mediation is available.
  • Questions?  Many organizations offer help to tenants.  Call 2-1-1 for resources in your community.  In Cleveland, see a Housing Specialist for information about court procedure and landlord-tenant law, Monday through Friday, from 8:00AM – 3:30PM, on the 13th floor of the Justice Center.  The Specialists are not attorneys, and cannot represent you, but can answer general questions.

 

This article was written by Cleveland Housing Court Senior Staff Attorney Jessica M. Weymouth and appeared in The Alert: Volume 30, Issue 2. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

What are some self-help tools I can use in my legal case? Close

The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland recently created a self-help section on its website to begin providing tools to people who must go to court on their own without the help of an attorney.  The tools currently available can help people with the following:

Keep checking the Cleveland Legal Aid website for more self-help tools in the coming months.   If you have questions, attend one of Legal Aid’s free brief advice clinics.  You can find a list of upcoming clinic dates and locations here: http://lasclev.org/events/category/brief-advice-clinics/

This article appeared in The Alert: Volume 30, Issue 2. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

When do I have the right to an attorney? Close

Most people end up in court because they have to go, not because they want to be there; either they are being charged with a crime or they cannot resolve a dispute. When going to court, the assistance of a good lawyer makes a big difference.  Unfortunately, many people cannot afford to hire a lawyer.  In certain types of cases, you have the right to ask the court to “appoint” or assign a lawyer to represent you who you do not have to pay.

CRIMINAL CASES

In criminal cases, you have a right to a lawyer whenever you might receive any amount of jail or prison time.  This generally means you have a right to a lawyer in every felony case and most misdemeanor cases, including traffic offenses, with the exception of minor misdemeanors.  You will not usually have a lawyer appointed until the first time you appear before the judge; but, you do not have to speak to police without a lawyer present.  You also generally have a right to a lawyer on your first appeal or at a hearing where you may be sent to jail for violating your probation or parole.

JUVENILE COURT CASES

Both parents and children have the right to lawyers in juvenile court proceedings.  When a child is charged with committing a crime, he or she has a right to a lawyer.  When Children and Family Services removes or attempts to take custody of children, the parents have the right to a lawyer and the children may also have a right to their own lawyer (in addition to a guardian ad litem).

CHILD SUPPORT CASES

A parent who may go to jail for failing to pay child support has a right to counsel at the “show cause” or “contempt” hearing.   A parent is not, however, entitled to a lawyer when determining the amount of the child support payments.

OTHER CIVIL CASES

In a few other circumstances—generally where your liberty is at stake, you also have a right to a lawyer.  If you are the subject of a guardianship, a civil commitment, or certain immigration proceedings (such as removal or asylum), you likely have a right to appointed counsel.

In most other civil cases, such as evictions or if you are sued by a creditor, you do not have a right to a court appointed lawyer.  You can hire a lawyer to represent you, or apply for free legal assistance through the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, which may be able to help in some cases.  Call 1-888-817-3777 to apply for assistance.

 

 

This article was written by Cuyahoga County Public Defender Cullen Sweeney and appeared in The Alert: Volume 30, Issue 2. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

What is mediation? Close

Mediation is a way for people to solve a legal problem without going to trial. Mediation usually occurs after a court case is filed. But, it can also happen before a court case begins.

At mediation, the parties have an opportunity to tell their side of the story. The mediator helps reach an agreement that is acceptable to both parties. A settlement agreement states what each party will do in order to resolve their dispute.

Both parties must attend the mediation. Parties do not need a lawyer to go to mediation.  If an agreement is reached, the terms are put in writing and both parties sign it.  The parties are required to follow the agreement. When a court case is already filed, if any party violates the settlement agreement, the other party may request a hearing from the court.

When preparing for mediation, parties should collect and bring to the mediation any papers related to their dispute.  What each party says during mediation is confidential and cannot be used in court against each other. However, the mediator may be required to report issues of child abuse, elder abuse and the admission of a crime.

If the parties cannot reach an agreement at mediation, the case can be filed in court or if already filed, it will be sent back to the court for a trial where a judge or jury decides the outcome.

The Cleveland Housing Court offers mediation for the benefit of both landlords and tenants.  Most commonly in eviction cases, the parties agree on a date for the tenant to voluntarily move out.  Landlords benefit by knowing a tenant will move and tenants avoid having an eviction judgment.  To schedule mediation at Cleveland Housing Court, contact the mediation coordinator at 216-664-4926 or see a Housing Court Specialist on the 13th floor of the Justice Center.

Mediation can also be an option to resolve disagreements about child custody.  See Legal Aid’s brochure, Custody Mediation: What You Should Know In Advance, available at  http://lasclev.org/custodymediationbrochure/.

Mediation is available to help resolve other types of problems through the Cleveland Mediation Center.  See http://clevelandmediation.org/programs/community-disputes/ for more information.

 

This article was written by Legal Aid Senior Attorney Abigail Staudt & Staff Attorney Hazel Remesch and appeared in The Alert: Volume 30, Issue 2. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

What are some tips for representing myself in a family matter? Close

It is always best to have an attorney help you in court, but if you find you must represent yourself, here are some suggestions.  Two courts handle family law issues, Juvenile and Domestic Relations.  Start by reading the court’s website.  Some courts post forms and instructions.    For example, the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, Domestic Relations Division, has a complete packet with instructions and forms on how to file a divorce and your divorce decree.   See, www.domestic.cuyahogacounty.us/en-us/forms.  If you visit the clerk’s office, remember that clerks are not permitted to give legal advice.

If you seek a specific outcome, start by filing a complaint or motion.  The other party must receive a copy of the documents that you file with a court.  This is called “service.”  You can ask the clerk of courts to “serve” the other party by completing a “service instruction” form.  You will need a complete address for the other party.  Failure to provide an accurate address for the other party will postpone your hearing.  The clerk will send you notice of the date, time, and location for your hearing.  Remember to notify the scheduler of any changes to your address or phone number.  Mark your calendar for deadlines and hearings in your case.

The court expects you to be ready for your hearing.  Keep your papers organized with paper clips or folders.  Bring to court whatever proof you have that supports your case.   For example, to prove your income for child support, you should have recent paystubs, w-2s and tax returns.  Include three (3) copies of all documents that you plan to present to the court:  one copy for the judge, another for the other party, and the third copy for yourself.   Also, have copies of any documents that were filed by you and the other side.  You can refer back to these papers as necessary.  Invite witnesses that can help you prove your case.  The court will expect you to present testimony by asking questions during the hearing.   Make sure you know what your witnesses will say when deciding who should testify.

When a case concerns children, courts will not permit your children to come into the court room, so it will be important to plan for child care ahead of time.

When it is time to present your case, stand and follow the directions of the judge or magistrate.  Make sure to dress appropriately.  Explain what you would like the court to do for you and your family.  Most importantly, point out why this action is needed and how it will serve you or the best interest of your children.

 

This article was written by Legal Aid Managing Attorneys Davida Dodson and Tonya Whitsett and appeared in The Alert: Volume 30, Issue 2. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

What should I know for dealing with administrative agencies? Close

Many different administrative agencies are responsible for important parts of our life, such as income, health insurance, and housing.  But dealing with the agencies that handle these benefits can be very difficult.  The following information will help when trying to solve a problem with an administrative agency.

Some common administrative agencies are the Social Security Administration, Veterans Administration, Internal Revenue Service, Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, public housing authorities, and the Office of Child Support Services.  Even though each agency has its own rules, there are some common policies.  All administrative agencies:

  • Must give written notice when benefits or services are denied, reduced or terminated and tell you the reason for that decision;
  • The notice must tell you how to “appeal” or challenge the decision if you disagree with it;
  • The notice must tell you how much time you have to request an appeal, and whether or not your benefits will continue while you appeal;
  • You have a right to appoint an authorized representative to deal with the administrative agency for you, and each agency usually has a form to fill out if you want to do so;
  • Administrative agencies all have complaint or grievance procedures you can use if you have a problem with the agency, and the procedure for each agency should be available online or at the office;
  • Most final decisions of administrative agencies can be appealed to court but only AFTER you follow the agency process first.

When dealing with an administrative agency, you can maximize your chances for success and minimize your frustration if you:

  • Keep copies of all papers that you give the agency;
  • Keep a phone log of all calls you place to the agency, and who you speak with when you call;
  • Keep a calendar where you write down important deadlines in your appeal;
  • Attend all appointments scheduled with the agency or call at least 24 hours in advance to cancel;
  • Respond to all requests from the agency for additional information, and keep a record of what you provide and when you provided it; and
  • Give the agency your current phone number and address any time your contact information changes.

While these tips may help you deal directly with administrative agencies, some times you might need help from a lawyer.  Call Legal Aid at 1-888-817-3777 to apply for help with denials, reductions, terminations and over-payments of many public benefits.

 

This article appeared in The Alert: Volume 30, Issue 3. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

Are there new consumer issues that can be solved by Legal Aid? Close

Consumers facing tax foreclosure after a tax lien sale, or with certain loans and vehicle issues, should call Legal Aid to apply for assistance.  Legal Aid will evaluate and might be able to assist with problems related to:

  • student loans
  • payday loans
  • auto title loans
  • used auto purchases involving fraud, and
  • auto repossessions.

Additionally, Legal Aid will evaluate cases involving a tax foreclosure or potential tax foreclosure where the county has sold the tax lien debt to a debt collector and the debt collector is actively collecting on the debt and/or initiating foreclosure.

Some of these matters are new areas of service and are in addition to the numerous other types of problems Legal Aid handles.  Please call 1-888-817-3777 to apply for legal assistance.

 

This article appeared in The Alert: Volume 30, Issue 3. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

What should I know about Health Care through Medicaid and the Marketplace? Close

All low-income Ohioans should be enrolled in free or reduced cost health care.  People between the ages of 19-64 whose income is below 138% of the federal poverty level should apply for Medicaid immediately and contact Legal Aid if denied coverage.  Ohioans can apply for Medicaid at www.benefits.ohio.gov or in person at their local Department of Job and Family Services anytime.

Anyone whose income is between 100% – 400% of the federal poverty level is eligible for tax credits to reduce the cost of health coverage through the Marketplace.  Anyone who has or needs health coverage through the Marketplace should be aware of the following dates and deadlines:

Marketplace Deadlines:

  • November 15, 2014. Open Enrollment begins. Apply for, keep, or change your coverage.
  • December 15, 2014. Enroll by the 15th if you want new coverage that begins on January 1, 2015. If your plan is changing or you want to change plans, enroll by the 15th to avoid a lapse in coverage.
  • December 31, 2014. Coverage ends for 2014 plans. Coverage for 2015 plans can start as soon as January 1st.
  • February 15, 2015. This is the last day you can apply for 2015 coverage before the end of Open Enrollment.

[www.healthcare.gov/quick-guide/dates-and-deadlines/]

To buy Marketplace insurance outside of Open Enrollment, you must qualify for a Special Enrollment Period due to a qualifying life event like marriage, birth or adoption of a child, or loss of other health coverage.  For more information or to apply, go to www.healthcare.gov.

 

This article appeared in The Alert: Volume 30, Issue 3. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

I have an administrative hearing scheduled but do not speak English. What are my rights? Close

Federal law states that you have the right to an interpreter in an administrative hearing if you are a person with limited English proficiency (LEP). This means that you do not speak, read, write, or understand English fluently. Additionally, LEP individuals who are not involved in the administrative hearing, but who need to be there, like a parent or guardian, also have the right to an interpreter. Your family members or children should not be used instead of a qualified interpreter from the agency/organization. LEP individuals have the right to participate in administrative hearings in the same way as someone who speaks and understands English fluently.

Examples of agencies that must provide you with an interpreter: courts; U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services; Social Security; Veterans Administration; IRS; Ohio Department of Jobs & Family Services (Unemployment Compensation & welfare office); Medicaid office; Bureau of Motor Vehicles; public housing agencies; and public and charter/community schools.

Asking for an interpreter:

  • Ask an employee of the court, agency, or organization for an interpreter.
  • If the person you ask says no: ask for a supervisor, customer service representative, or ombudsman (person who hears complaints).

What to do if you do not receive an interpreter:

  • If you still do not receive an interpreter, you may file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).
  • You can file a complaint by either sending a letter or using DOJ’s complaint form.  The form is on DOJ’s website.  You can do this in either English or your first language.
  • The complaint should explain when and how the agency did not give you an interpreter or how they did not speak to you in a language you can understand.
  • Please keep a copy of the complaint for your records.
  • The letter or form should be sent to:                             Interpreter Address Info Block

 

 

 

 

  • DOJ Website: http://www.justice.gov/crt/complaint/
  • DOJ Phone: 1 – (888) 848-5306
  • DOJ will respond to you with a letter or phone call.

 

This article was written by Legal Aid Senior Attorney Megan Sprecher & Volunteer Attorney Jessica Baaklini appeared in The Alert: Volume 30, Issue 3. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

How can I use the Social Security website? Close

Social Security’s website is www.socialsecurity.gov. Like any government website, the official website of the Social Security Administration is full of helpful information. There are long lists of publications, forms and other web resources.

There are many things that can be done through Social Security online. This includes applying for benefits, appealing decisions, finding out if you can get benefits, and estimating future benefits.

The website is where folks can set up an account with Social Security. Up to 14 million people have established a personalized my Social Security account at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount.  With an account, folks can see information from their home, office or library.

The Social Security Statement is one thing that you can get on the website. It is a good planning tool. It provides people age 18 and older with important information about their wages and taxes.

Individuals who currently receive benefits can manage their benefit payments. Folks can get an instant benefit verification letter, change their address and phone number, and start or change direct deposit of their benefit payment.

You can’t apply for a card online because the Social Security office has to verify certain documents. You can, however, complete and print the application to bring to your local office.

The Social Security website has undergone changes to make it easier to read and navigate. You can find more answers by first going to the Frequently Asked Questions tab at the very top of the home page. This tab section also allows you to convert the website to its Spanish version as well.

 

This article was written by Legal Aid Supervising Attorney Karla Perry and appeared in The Alert: Volume 30, Issue 3. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

How does the IRS help with tax preparation, refunds, and fraud? Close

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has made it easier for taxpayers to file their tax returns, as well as to monitor and protect their federal income tax accounts.  Here are some examples:

Complete your tax return for free. If your income is below $58,000 – you can use free federal income tax preparation software.  It is available online 24/7.  The IRS states the process is safe and secure. Refunds may be directly deposited into your bank account. Visit http://www.IRS.gov/freefile for more details.

Obtain tax return and income transcripts at no cost.  If you need your past income  tax or earnings records, for example, because you are applying for a mortgage or a student loan, you may obtain a copy for free. Tax return and income transcripts may be ordered online, without charge, and delivered electronically or by mail. Taxpayers also may sign and submit to the IRS Form 4506-T or call (800) 908-9946 to obtain their free tax return transcripts. IRS forms can be found at http://www.irs.gov/Forms-&-Pubs.

Monitor the status of your refund.  The most up to date information about your refund can be found using the IRS tool “Where’s My Refund?” (http://www.irs.gov/Refunds). Taxpayers also can learn the status of their refund by calling the IRS Refund Hotline at 800-829-1954.  If you haven’t received your refund within 20 days of filing an electronic return or six weeks from the time of mailing your paper return, you may contact the IRS at 800-829-1040 and a representative will figure out the status of your refund.

Contact the Taxpayer Advocate Service.  If you have a problem with the IRS that you can’t resolve, the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) is available to help you. TAS is an independent organization within the IRS that works on behalf of taxpayers. TAS may help taxpayers who have financial difficulties, who face an immediate threat of adverse action, or who have not heard back from the IRS in response to a question. You can contact the Local Taxpayer Advocate (LTA) at (216) 522-7134 or send Form 911 to the LTA by fax at (855) 824-6409 or by mail to 1240 E. Ninth St., Room 423, Cleveland, Ohio 44199.

Protect yourself from refund fraud related to identity theft. Refund fraud can cause lots of problems for taxpayers. Determine if any of the following problems have occurred:  a.  More than one tax refund was filed for you for a single tax year;

b.   IRS records show you received more wages than you actually earned; or

c.   Your state or federal benefits were reduced or cancelled because the agency received incorrect information concerning a change in your income.

 

If so, you should immediately act in the following ways to protect yourself from identity theft:

1.  Contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at (800) 908-4490 and

complete and submit to the IRS Identity Theft Affidavit Form 14039;

2.  Notify your local police department to make a report;

3.  Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) through its Identity Theft Hotline

at www.consumer.ftc.gov or by calling (877)438-4338; and,

4.  Contact the three major credit bureaus:  Equifax – www.equifax.com or

(800) 525-6285; Experian – www.Experian.com or (888) 397-3742; and,

TransUnion –   www.transunion.com or (800) 680-7289 to tell them you were

a victim of identity theft.

 

Guard against tax preparer abuse. If you believe your tax return was not prepared correctly, immediately complete and submit to the IRS Form 14157. Fraud by tax preparers occurs when the preparer claims inflated personal or business expenses, false deductions, unallowable credits and/or excessive exemptions on returns prepared for their clients. For suspected cases of fraud, contact the Ohio Attorney General at 800-282-0515, local law enforcement agencies and an attorney who specializes in civil litigation who will counsel you on your rights and remedies.

 

This article was written by Legal Aid Supervising Attorney Dennis Dobos and appeared in The Alert: Volume 30, Issue 3. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

What is domestic violence and how can I recognize it? Close

What is domestic violence?

Domestic violence is a pattern of repeated physical, sexual and emotional violence and behaviors that one person in a relationship uses to exercise power and control over the other. Domestic violence is never a random or isolated incident and it often increases in severity and frequency over time.

Abusers control family or household members with verbal insults, emotional abuse, financial control and threats. If these tactics do not work, the abuser then enforces his threats with physical and/or sexual violence. The consequence of the abuse for a victim depends on the tactics, but all abuse emotionally and psychologically hurts the victim. Abusive behaviors always create fear in the victim, force the victim to do what s/he does not want to do, and prevents the victim from doing what s/he wishes to do.

Domestic violence occurs in all communities among people of all income levels, racial and religious backgrounds, gay, lesbian, straight, transgendered, and people with disabilities.

Why do partners abuse?

In the most simple terms, they abuse because they can and it works. Hitting, kicking, choking, threatening, name calling and more are deliberate decisions based on what the abuser has learned through observation, experience and reinforcement. Abuse is not caused by illness, genetics, or substance use. It is not caused by “out of control anger.” Victims do not make their abuser hurt them.  Abusers decide when to be abusive to their partners and often choose which part of the victim’s body to hit so as not to leave noticeable marks. Others choose the place and time to carry out their assaults in an effort to exert the most power and control over the victim.

Are you in an abusive relationship?

You may be a victim of abuse if:

1)      Your abuser’s failure to accept responsibility forces you to compensate for his behavior.

2)      You often feel that you have no control over your life. Decisions about family, friends and activities are based on how the abuser will react.

3)      You may feel guilty over the failure of your relationship. This is reinforced by the abuser who blames you for all that goes wrong. Guilt over failure may be accompanied by shame for “putting up” with the abuse.

4)      The abuser blames you and you begin to believe it over time.

5)      Your behavior may be reinforced by economic dependence and increasing feelings of helplessness and fear as the abuse continues.

6)      You may fear the abuser’s anger but you may also deny or minimize this fear. Denial and minimization are common coping strategies for surviving abuse.

7)      You become isolated form friends, family or neighbors and other forms of support. This is not by choice.

Your abuser may:

1)      Be extremely jealous and suspect you of being unfaithful without any rational reason or evince to support such a belief.

2)      Control your access to money, social relationships and job opportunities and may monitor all your activities by making you account for any time apart or money spent.

3)      Be emotionally dependent on you and make constant demands for reassurance and gratification.

4)      Have poor self-esteem and feel inadequate about his masculinity, sexuality and parenting. These feelings may be masked by an extremely “tough or macho image.”

5)      Enforce rigid gender roles or believe in the traditional male “head of household” role.

6)      Blame you or others for their behaviors, feelings and problems.

7)      Was abused as a child.

8)      Have few friends and poor social skills.

9)      Be cruel not only to you but to children and pets.

10)  Be preoccupied with gun, knives, etc.

11)  Respond to situations with unpredictability.

12)  Use inappropriate displays of anger if they do not get what they want which includes physical touching without consent, threaten violence, verbal abuse and breaking objects of value to you.

If you think any of the above may be true for a relationship you have, call the numbers listed in this newsletter for help. Click here to access the information online.

This article was written by Legal Aid Senior Attorney Alexandria Ruden and appeared in The Alert: Volume 31, Issue 1. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

What should I do if I am experiencing domestic violence? Close

Emergency Info for Web

 

 

 

 

This information was compiled by Legal Aid Social Worker Dani Lachina and appeared in The Alert: Volume 31, Issue 1. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

How can domestic violence affect children? Close

Domestic violence affects everyone in a household including children.  Children may suffer physical injury or threats, but also experience emotional distress when they witness violence between their parents or other adults in the home.

If a child is not safe at home because of domestic violence, the adult victim should be supported.  Victims of violence may be able to leave the abuser and remove the children from danger, if they are able to secure emergency shelter, financial assistance, food and other basic necessities.  When a child is injured, some victims need help getting the child to a doctor, hospital, or prescribed medical treatment.  In any life threatening situation, always call 9-1-1 for help.

Many children who witness violence experience immediate and long term effects on their well- being.  Young children may experience problems sleeping, nightmares, and bedwetting.  Older children may be aggressive toward other children or the parent they live with.  Some children don’t feel hopeful about the future while other children experience learning and behavior problems. Parents and caregivers should let others involved in the child’s life know about the violence – if it’s safe to do so.  Then, teachers, coaches, and friends will understand the negative changes in behavior.

Long-term effects of domestic violence may cause children to experience shock, fear, guilt and anger.  These are normal feelings for children under the circumstances. But, the feelings can be difficult to cope with, both for the child and the adult.  Often professional support and counseling is needed to manage a child’s normal reactions to witnessing violence.

Sometimes it is necessary to engage the legal system to assist children who experience domestic violence. Parents may file a complaint to determine custody in Juvenile Court (if the parties are not married) or the Domestic Relations Court (if the parties were or are married).  Additionally, parents may file a motion to obtain a Civil Protection Order that also covers the children in order to stop future violence. These petitions, complaints, or motions should be supported by an affidavit (a written statement that a person signs, swearing it’s the truth) to explain why a court order is needed to protect the children. Forms to make these filings to protect children are available online at www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/jcs/cfc/drforms and https://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/…/domesticV.

Domestic violence affects the well being of children.  If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, call the resources listed in this newsletter for immediate help.  Legal Aid provides representation in some cases. Call 1-888-817-3777 to apply for help.

This article was written by Legal Aid Managing Attorney Davida Dodson and appeared in The Alert: Volume 31, Issue 1. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

Where can I go to escape domestic violence and get help? Close

Cuyahoga County, in partnership with the City of Cleveland, recently opened the new Family Justice Center, a one stop center for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, elder abuse and stalking. The center is designed to help victims and survivors access the professionals they need, while in a comfortable, healing environment.  Cuyahoga County is excited to join the Family Justice Center movement, which has launched over 120 centers worldwide in the last fifteen years. Family Justice Centers are considered to be state of the art and let victims of crime choose better coordinated services that will help them live safer lives.

The center was launched after years of planning and coordination amongst multiple partners, including the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland. Teams of professionals, survivors, and funders met regularly to ensure that Cuyahoga County’s Family Justice Center was built with victim needs in mind.

Onsite service providers include the Witness/Victim Service Center, Domestic Violence & Child Advocacy Center, Cleveland Rape Crisis Center, Frontline Services, City of Cleveland Division of Police, and City of Cleveland Prosecutor’s Office. The Family Justice Center also has relationships with the County’s Division of Children & Family Services, the County Prosecutor’s Office, and the Legal Aid attorneys. Although there are Cleveland specific services, any Cuyahoga County resident can come to the Family Justice Center for assistance with protection orders, linkages to counseling and supportive services, and assistance navigating the justice system.

No appointment is needed! The Family Justice Center is open Monday through Friday, from 8:30 to 4:30 p.m. The address is 75 Erieview Plaza, 5th Floor, Cleveland, Ohio 44114. Free parking for victims of crime is available at the Hamilton Parking Garage, at E. 12th Street, between St. Clair and Lakeside Avenues. For more information or if you have questions, call the Family Justice Center at 216-443-7345.

This article was written by Jill Smialek of the Cuyahoga County Family Justice Center and appeared in The Alert: Volume 31, Issue 1. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

I know or am an immigrant suffering from domestic violence. Can I get help? Close

Anyone can be a victim of domestic violence, including immigrants.  In fact, abusers often try to use a person’s immigration status as a method to control or abuse an immigrant victim.  For example, a U.S. citizen husband who constantly threatens to call the immigration authorities on his undocumented immigrant wife and have her deported is abusing her.

The government recognizes that immigrants who are victims of domestic violence can be particularly vulnerable.  There are special immigration laws that help protect immigrant victims of domestic violence.  One allows immigrant spouses of US citizens (USC) or lawful permanent residents (LPR) who have a green card to file a petition for themselves to remove conditions of residency.  A second allows victims who do not have a green card to file a self-petition if they meet certain criteria under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).  A third option allows victims of violent crimes, including domestic violence, to apply for a U-Visa if they can demonstrate cooperation with law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of the crime.

Option 1: Self-petition to remove conditions of residency

When a USC or LPR applies for permanent residency status for their immigrant spouse, the immigrant spouse is granted a green card with conditional residency for two years.  Before the end of the 2 years, the immigrant spouse typically must file a joint petition, with their spouse, to remove the conditions.  However, in abusive relationships, the USC or LPR spouse often refuses to file the joint petition.   Abused immigrant spouses may file to remove the conditions on their residency by themselves if they can prove that they got married “in good faith” (not for immigration purposes), but during the marriage their spouse abused them.   If the immigrant spouse is successful in their self-petition, they then receive permanent residency status and a 10 year green card.

Option 2: Violence Against Women Act Self-Petition

The VAWA self-petition is for immigrants who do not have a “green card, but who meet one of five categories:

1) they are  married to an abusive USC or LPR spouse;

2) their USC/LPR spouse is abusing their child;

3) they were married to an abusive USC or LPR (as long as the divorce was within the last 2 years or the spouse lost their immigration status in the last 2 years);

4) they are the child of an abusive USC or LPR; or

5) they are a parent who is abused by their USC adult child.

Immigrants who complete a VAWA self-petition must show that they married their spouse in good faith, and if they were deported it would cause extreme hardship to themselves or their child.   If the self-petition is approved, the immigrant victim gets a work permit and can apply for a green card.

Option 3: U-Visas for victims of crimes

A U-visa is a type of visa available to immigrants who are victims of certain crimes, including domestic violence.   Other eligible crimes include rape, sexual assault, and sexual exploitation. The immigrant victim must show that they were helpful to law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of the crime.  If a U-visa application is approved, the applicant gets a work permit valid for four years.  Also, after having U-visa status for 3 years, an immigrant can apply for a green card.

More information about the immigration benefits available to domestic violence victims is available at www.uscis.gov.  Legal Aid provides assistance to immigrant victims in some cases.  Call Legal Aid at 1-888-817-3777 to apply for help.  Legal Aid is not a government agency and does not share information with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

 

This article was written by Legal Aid Staff Attorney Katie Laskey-Donovan and appeared in The Alert: Volume 31, Issue 1. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

Are there housing protections for victims of domestic violence? Close

Victims of domestic violence are often forced to choose between abuse and homelessness. If a victim of abuse does not have any other place to live, victims many times will stay with their abuser.  Victims also face loss of housing and housing discrimination because of their abuser’s behavior.

The Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA 2013”) protects victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking. In 2013, the law was expanded to provide more protections.

More People are Protected: VAWA 2013 covers victims of sexual assault in addition to victims of domestic violence, dating violence and stalking.  Also, VAWA 2013 now specifically protects Native American women, immigrants, LGBT victims, college students and youth.

Protections from Evictions: Under VAWA 2013, victims cannot be denied housing in federal housing programs because of being a victim of violence.  Victims also cannot be evicted from federal housing programs due to their status as victims or due to the actions of the abuser.

VAWA 2013 also created emergency housing transfer options in all federal housing programs.  Victims should be able to transfer to a different unit to have safer housing.  Plans for these options are being developed by local housing authorities.

College Students

VAWA 2013 also protects college students.  Schools must create a recording process for incidences of dating violence and report the findings. Schools also must create plans to prevent dating violence and educate victims on their rights, including the right to contact law enforcement.

Preferred Waiting Lists

Some public housing authorities and subsidized housing providers provide a preference to domestic violence victims on their waiting lists.  Victims may be able to secure subsidized housing more quickly than if they were on the regular waiting list.

If you are a victim of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault or stalking, and you believe that you have been denied housing or that you are being evicted due to your abuser’s action, you should seek legal counsel.  Legal Aid provides assistance in some housing cases.  Call Legal Aid at 1-888-817-3777 to apply for help.

 

This article was written by Legal Aid Managing Attorney Abigail Staudt and appeared in The Alert: Volume 31, Issue 1. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

What should I know about Civil Protection Orders (CPOs)? Close

Civil Protection Orders (CPO) are intended to help protect domestic violence victims and hold abusers accountable for their actions. Under Ohio law, domestic violence victims (“petitioner”) to file a petition against their abuser (“ respondent”)to ask the court  for relief that may decrease the violence occurring within the family.

Only the court in each county that hears domestic relations matters may issue domestic violence CPOs.   . A petitioner must provide evidence to the court that he/she or a family or household member is in immediate and present danger of domestic violence. For example, a civil protection order may be considered where a family or household member experiences recent physical abuse, threats to harm or kill or stalking behavior.

A petitioner must fill out forms and complete a sworn statement describing the violence. She/he must appear in court with the forms which will be reviewed by a magistrate to decide if an “ex parte” order should be granted.  “Ex parte” means the respondent / abuser is not in court for the hearing.  If granted, the petitioner will get a temporary protection order after this first hearing.

There is another hearing within 7 or 10 court days. At this next hearing, the respondent can be present to dispute what the petitioner says or write in his or her statement. The protection order is either granted or denied.  Sometimes the parties may agree to the terms of the CPO.  If not,  there will be a  hearing before the magistrate to decide if the petitioner has presented enough evidence to obtain a CPO. If granted, the CPO can stay in place for up to 5 years. It can also be renewed, modified or terminated by further court hearing.

If granted, the court shall order that the abuser is stopped from abusing, threatening, or stalking the petitioner and other family or household members. The court may also stop an abuser from hurting the family pet.  The court can also prohibit the abuser from having contact with any family or household member or going to the home, school, or place of employment. The court may evict the abuser and grant immediate possession of the home to the victim. The court may also order support, custody, visitation, or use of property which may include the car.

A CPO may be obtained with or without an attorney. A victim may be accompanied by a victim advocate during all stages of the proceedings.  Call the hotline phone numbers listed in this newsletter to ask about availability of DV advocates. Legal Aid helps in some domestic violence CPO cases.  Call Legal Aid at 1-888-817-3777 to apply for help.

 

This article was written by Legal Aid Senior Attorney Alexandria Ruden and appeared in The Alert: Volume 31, Issue 1. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

What are my rights as a taxpayer? Close

Dealing with the IRS can be a complicated and involved process. Know your rights as a taxpayer to make the process a little easier. The IRS has adopted a “Taxpayer Bill of Rights,” (see http://www.irs.gov/Taxpayer-Bill-of-Rights). As a taxpayer, you have:

1. The Right to Be Informed. You have the right to know how to follow the tax laws. You are entitled to clear explanations of the law. Anytime you receive a notice from the IRS, the agency must explain its reason for contacting you. If you have questions, call the number located at the top right corner of most notices.

2. The Right to Quality Service. You have the right to prompt and professional assistance when dealing with the IRS. The people you speak with should be respectful, and help you understand the information they provide to you. You have the right to file a complaint for poor service. First, ask to speak with a supervisor.

3. The Right to Pay No More than the Correct Amount of Tax. You have the right to only pay what is legally owed. You can schedule an appointment with your local Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) site to have your tax returns done by a professional free of charge.

4. The Right to Challenge the IRS and Be Heard. You have the right to disagree with the IRS and to submit documents that support your side. You have the right to receive a quick and fair response from the IRS. You can expect to get a reply from the IRS within 30 days.

5. The Right to Appeal an IRS Decision. You have the right to appeal most IRS decisions when you disagree. You have the right to take your tax case to court.

6. The Right to Finality. You have the right to know how much time you have to challenge the IRS. You have the right to know how much time the IRS is allowed to take to audit a particular tax year and when an audit is complete. In most cases, the IRS can audit the past 3 years of tax returns. In the case of more substantial errors, the IRS can go back 6 years. You should keep at least the last 6 years of tax returns for your records.

7. The Right to Privacy. You have the right to expect that any IRS action will comply with the law and will only be as intrusive as necessary. The IRS will also respect all other rights you are owed.

8. The Right to Confidentiality. You have the right to expect that any information you provide will not be given to anyone without your permission or unless required by law. Only after you sign a release form can your information be shared.

9. The Right to Retain Representation. You have the right to hire a lawyer when dealing with the IRS. You also have the right to know that if you cannot afford a lawyer you may be eligible for assistance from a Low Income Taxpayer Clinic.

10. The Right to a Fair and Just Tax System. You have the right to expect the tax system to consider all facts and circumstances that might affect your ability to pay.

For more information about how these rights apply to you, visit http://www.taxpayeradvocate.irs.gov/About-TAS/Taxpayer-Rights.

 

This article was written by John Sayers and appeared in The Alert: Volume 31, Issue 2. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

My Ohio driver license is suspended. What are my options? Close

Low-income Ohio drivers face a growing number of problems caused by driver license suspensions. License suspensions can often make it difficult for drivers to get to work, which makes it even harder to pay back any fines, court costs, and reinstatement fees a driver might need to get their license back.

But if your license was suspended, you may have options for driving privileges or reinstatement depending on the type of suspension you received. For example, with a child support suspension, your license might be suspended until you contact CSEA (Child Support Enforcement Agency) and satisfy whatever requirements they give you. With an OVI conviction, your license will be suspended for a period set by the convicting court – though you may be able to ask for limited driving privileges.

You can find out the reason for your suspension by checking the notice you received, visiting http://bmv.ohio.gov/suspension_reinstatement.stm, or contacting the Ohio BMV. Depending on the type of suspension, you may be able to appeal your suspension in court or apply for limited driving privileges so that you can get to work or school or medical appointments.

Different kinds of suspensions last different lengths of time, almost all suspensions require payment of fines, court costs, or reinstatement fees. Fines are penalties imposed by the court as punishment for the offense that caused your suspension. Court costs are the administrative costs charged by the court for processing your case and providing a hearing. Reinstatement fees are charged by the BMV after completing the period of suspension. Fines and court costs are owed to the court and payable to the court clerk’s office. Reinstatement fees are owed to the BMV and must be paid to the BMV to get your license back.

If you cannot afford to pay these fines, costs and fees, some programs offer help. Courts may allow you to do community service in stead of paying fines and court costs. In Cuyahoga County, see Court Community Services, http://www.ccservice.org/ for more information. You must be referred to CCS by the court, the Clerk of Courts, or your probation officer. The BMV also offers a payment plan to help low-income drivers pay reinstatement fees. The minimum monthly payment is $50. You can find more information and an application for the BMV payment plan at http://bmv.ohio.gov/dl_reinstatement_gen_info.stm.

Legal Aid provides assistance with driver’s license suspensions in some cases. Call Legal Aid at 1-888-817-3777 to apply for help.

 

This article was written by Adam Kornya and appeared in The Alert: Volume 31, Issue 2. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

What are my rights as a tenant of a rental property in Ohio? Close

Ohio law governs the relationship between tenants and landlords. When the arrangement no longer benefits one of the parties, they must take certain steps to end it. For example, they must give notice to the other side. A landlord CANNOT resort to “self-help” in order to remove a tenant from his property. The following examples are sometimes used or threated by landlords, even though doing so is against the law:

1. Physically forcing the tenant out of the property
2. Threatening to hurt the tenant if the tenant does not leave
3. Removing the tenant’s things without permission
4. Turning off utilities (gas, electric, water) at the property
5. Changing the locks
6. Altering the property to make it unlivable

The only way to evict someone in Ohio is through the court system. Before the court proceeding, the landlord must deliver all proper notices to the tenant. All landlords must serve tenants with a 3 day notice to vacate. Landlords for subsidized housing have additional notice requirements.

The landlord can then go to the municipal housing court to file a complaint against the tenant if the tenant does not move out. The court then schedules a hearing, where both the landlord and tenant can present their case. If the landlord is able to prove the grounds for eviction, the Court will order the tenant to move. Usually the courts allow tenants 7 to 10 days from the eviction to prepare to move. Tenants and landlords can call the Cleveland Housing Court at 216-664-4295 for information about eviction proceedings.

Emergency assistance and shelter can be found by calling 211 if a landlord illegally evicts a tenant. Tenants who are illegally evicted may also be entitled to money damages for property lost as a result of the landlord’s actions. Some things tenants can do if facing an illegal eviction are:

1. Call the police and make a police report immediately.
2. Take pictures of where the landlord put personal property, and anything that was damaged, as soon as possible.
3. Identify any witnesses. If anyone observed the landlord’s actions, ask for their name and contact information.
4. Notify utility companies and request utility records for the time at issue to prove the amount of the charges that should not be charged to the tenant.
5. Call Legal Aid at 1-888-817-3777 to apply for assistance or call the Cleveland Housing Court 216-664-4295 to seek information about the legal process.
If a landlord threatens an illegal eviction, there are organizations that can try to help prevent it. Call the Cleveland Tenant Organization at 216-664- 0617 or The Cleveland Mediation Center at 216-621-1919. Legal Aid can help with some evictions. Call 1-888-817-3777 to apply for assistance.

This article was written by Lukas Padegimas and appeared in The Alert: Volume 31, Issue 2. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

I need a job. Where can I go for help? Close

Need help getting a job? There are “OhioMeansJobs” centers in each county that can help you. The centers have computers and staff to help you know which jobs are in demand, whether you qualify for these jobs or whether you need job training. The staff can also help give you individual assistance with your job search and with identifying funding for job training.

Each center has a resource room where you can use a computer to look for a job and update your resume. There is always a staff person to help. They also offer computer classes. Finally, if you are getting unemployment compensation and need help with the required reemployment activities on OhioMeansJobs.com, you can ask the staff in the resource room for help.

In Cuyahoga and Lorain counties, the centers have orientations where you can learn about their programs. You usually need to bring a resume, a Social Security card, and another form of ID to the orientation. Afterwards, you can sign up for classes and workshops. The staff will also help you put your resume on the OhioMeansJobs website so employers can view it; and, you get one-on-one time with an employment specialist. At Lake, Geauga, and Ashtabula county centers, the same services are provided by staff in the resource room, first-come-first-served.

Also available are career workshops. The workshops and classes cover: resume writing, job search resources, completing job applications, and interview skills, including offering mock interviews with staff.

The centers offer some specific services for different groups of people, such as military veterans, individuals who receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and individuals who have criminal records. If you need services in language other than English, call ahead to request an interpreter.

The Ohio Means Jobs centers provide free help with all of the steps necessary to find a job. For more information, call the OhioMeansJobs centers listed below:

Cleveland
1020 Bolivar Rd,
Cleveland, OH 44115
216-664-4673
8AM-5PM
Parma
11699 Brookpark Rd,
Parma, OH 44130
216-898-1497
8AM-5PM

Elyria
42495 North Ridge
Rd, Elyria, OH 44035
440-324-5244
8AM-4:30PM

Painesville
177 Main St,
Painesville, OH 44077
440-350-4000
8AM-4:30PM

Ashtabula
2247 Lake Ave,
Ashtabula, OH 44004
440-994-1234
8AM-4:30PM

This article was written by Omar Khan and appeared in The Alert: Volume 31, Issue 2. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

What are my rights as a patient? Close

A patient is anyone who has requested or received health services from care facilities. Care facilities include, but are not limited to: community health centers, hospitals, dental offices, and drug stores, such as CVS. As a patient, you have certain rights related to your care. Some of your rights include the following:

Right to Informed Consent. If you need medical treatment, your doctor must give you necessary information about the treatment, such as possible benefits and risks, to help you make decisions.

Right to Medical Records. Generally, your provider must give you your medical records if you request them. But there may be a process to follow, such as putting your request in writing, and you may have to pay a fee for copies.

Right to Privacy. Your provider must keep all your medical records and other important information, such as your social security number, confidential unless you allow them to release the information. You may want them to release your information, for example, if another doctor needs to see your records. In that case, you would sign a release form to give permission to share your information with a specific person or organization.

Right to Emergency Services. If you need immediate help with a serious health problem, you may seek emergency services from any emergency room location even if you cannot afford it.

Right to Make Decisions. You have the right to agree to or refuse treatment.

Right to Choose End-of-Life Care. You have the right to sign advance directives, called living wills or health care power of attorney. These documents allow you to provide instructions to providers about your health care wishes if you cannot communicate yourself. Care providers must follow your directions in these properly signed documents. More information about advance directives is online at http://lasclev.org/selfhelp-poa-livingwill/.

Right to Safe Health Care Environment. You have the right to be treated with courtesy and respect and to be free from verbal or physical abuse or harassment while in a care setting.

If your rights have been violated, you may have the option to file a complaint at the place where you got treatment. Ask to speak with a patients’ rights advocate or request a copy of the complaint procedure. Also, you may complain to the Office of the Ohio Attorney General. Visit www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov to file a complaint or report patient abuse; or contact the Office at Patient Abuse/Neglect Intake Officer; Office of the Attorney General; 150 E. Gay St., 17th Floor; Columbus, OH 43215; Phone: (800) 282-0515; Fax: 877-527-1305.

 

This article was written by D’Erra Jackson and appeared in The Alert: Volume 31, Issue 2. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

I plan to represent myself in court. What should I know? Close

Every person has the right to represent themselves in court. A “pro se litigant” is a person who is involved in litigation but not represented by an attorney. Instead, the person represents themselves, also sometimes referred to as a “self-represented litigant.”

Court staff can help a pro se litigant understand how to do things. For example, court staff may answer questions about how the court works or explain what different words mean. The staff may also give you information from your case file and provide you with court forms and sample documents. Court staff cannot tell a pro se litigant what to do. Court staff cannot provide legal advice or research, or tell you what to request from the judge or court. See more information about preparing to represent yourself in court at: http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/Publications/proSeGuide.pdf

Some courts offer help to pro se litigants. For example, the Information Center at the Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations Court has computers for completing court forms and staff will provide general information about court procedures and forms. The Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court has a Pro Se Center that provides blank forms and reviews completed forms. Cleveland Housing Court has Specialists that will assist pro se litigants with information on housing issues and will provide sample forms, general assistance and other resources.

There are many online resources for pro se litigants. For example, the Cleveland Law Library website has a large page on resources for pro se litigants. See more information at: http://clelaw.lib.oh.us/PUBLIC/MISC/FAQs/Self_Help.HTML In addition, the American Bar Association lists pro se resources by state and includes helpful articles, reports, court rules and other links. See more information at: http://www.americanbar.org/groups/delivery_legal_services/resources/pro_se_unbundling_resource_center/pro_se_resources_by_state.html#oh. See a list of resources in this newsletter and at https://lasclev.org/pro-se-forms/

When filing a case in court, you may be able to complete a poverty affidavit, which waives prepayment of fees usually charged to file documents with the clerk of court. The poverty affidavit must show that you cannot afford the filing fees. For more information and sample forms, see: http://lasclev.org/selfhelp-povertyaffidavit/

If you have to represent yourself in court, remember that pro se litigants must follow the same rules and laws as attorneys. The judge can provide some limited help, however. For example, you have the right to ask for clarification if you don’t understand something. If you are asked a question you don’t understand, you should say so. Just like attorneys, you must always tell the truth in court.

On-Line Resources for Pro Se Litigants
In the United States, people do not have a right to court appointed attorneys in civil cases when facing problems such as divorce, foreclosure, or eviction. People have no right to a free attorney for disputes with agencies about benefits, such as Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, Ohio Department of Medicaid, Social Security Administration or the Department of Veteran Affairs. In these situations, people who cannot afford to hire an attorney often must represent themselves in court or before an administrative law judge. The following resources can be helpful when preparing to represent yourself, or going to court “pro se,” as it is called when you do not have an attorney.
Cleveland Law Library
http://clelaw.lib.oh.us/PUBLIC/MISC/FAQs/Self_Help.HTML
1 West Lakeside Avenue, FL4
Cleveland, OH 44113
(216) 861- 5070

Ohio Legal Services
http://www.ohiolegalhelp.org/

ABA Pro Se Resources http://www.americanbar.org/groups/delivery_legal_services/resources/pro_se_unbundling_resource_center/pro_se_resources_by_state.html#oh

National Center for State Courts Self Representation Resource Guide
http://www.ncsc.org/Topics/Access-and-Fairness/Self-Representation/Resource-Guide.aspx

Ohio Judicial Conference
http://www.ohiojudges.org/Document.ashx?DocGuid=dddcb9f1-9006-4361-ac2c-80c553f62c36

Self-Represented Litigation Network
http://www.srln.org/

How to Research a Legal Problem: A Guide for Non-Lawyers
http://www.aallnet.org/sections/lisp/research.htmlrs

Keys to the Courtroom: A Pro Se Litigant Guide
http://www.fcmcclerk.com/resources/pdf/KeysBrochure2.pdf

American Judicature Society’s Pro Se Forum
http://216.36.221.170/prose/home.asp

Yale University’s Docket Research Guide (Information on how court docket’s can be searched)
http://library.law.yale.edu/docket-research

This article was written by Vanessa Hemminger and appeared in The Alert: Volume 31, Issue 2. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

What are my rights when I come to Legal Aid for help? Close

People come to Legal Aid for help with fundamental problems related to housing, health, family, money, or work. Legal Aid provides legal representation, self-help assistance, advice, information and referrals to help resolve these issues. When contacting Legal Aid for assistance, a person should experience high quality services. “High quality services” include the “Six C’s”: Courteous Treatment, Competence, Confidentiality, Communication, Avoiding Conflicts of Interest, and the Right to Make Complaints.

Courteous Treatment
You should experience courteous and respectful treatment by everyone that you interact with when contacting Legal Aid. Our staff and volunteers should be respectful and understanding of your particular situation.

Competence
You should experience competent assistance and representation by our staff and volunteers. The Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct require that we have the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness, and preparation necessary to provide effective assistance when delivering services.

Confidentiality
Your information shared with Legal Aid must be kept confidential. Our staff and volunteers must get your permission before sharing any information related to your case that you provide to Legal Aid.

Communication
You should receive regular updates on the status of your legal matter. Our staff and volunteers should promptly respond to your questions and phone calls. You should receive enough information so that you can make informed decisions about your case.

Conflicts of Interest
You are entitled to loyalty by Legal Aid staff and volunteers. This means that we cannot represent you if doing so conflicts with our representation of other clients. We will never represent you and the person on the other side of your case at the same time.

Complaints
You have the option of making a complaint to Legal Aid if you feel that you were unfairly denied legal assistance or if you are unhappy with the assistance provided by Legal Aid. You may complain orally or writing. Information about the complaint process is available in all offices, and online at http://lasclev.org/wp-content/uploads/Grievance-Form-and-Instructions-Form-2-4.24.2012.pdf. Mail it to the Deputy Director at 1223 W 6th St, Cleveland, OH 44113 or emailing it to grievance@lasclev.org.

Legal Aid tries to provide some type of assistance to as many people as possible, but we cannot help everyone who contacts us. The Six C’s help ensure people have a quality experience when contacting Legal Aid.

 

This article was written by Jasmine Boutros and appeared in The Alert: Volume 31, Issue 2. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

I have a State Hearing to get my benefits back. What should I know? Close

Have your state public benefits been reduced or terminated? Changes to your benefits can happen if you missed an appointment, did not submit correct information, or did not report changes in your income. If you believe the recent change to your benefits is a mistake, you may request a state hearing. A state hearing is an opportunity for you to explain the mistake and request the full amount of benefits you should receive.

Before the Hearing

If you request a state hearing, you may continue receiving the original amount of your benefits as long as you make the request within 15 days of receiving the notice about the change. Once your request is made by phone or letter to your local agency, you will be notified when and where the hearing will take place.

You may choose a representative (lawyer, friend, or relative) to act for you with the agency, but it is not required. A representative can attend the hearing in your place as long as the person has written permission from you. You may usually review information in your case file and subpoena witnesses and documents at least five days before the hearing.

At the Hearing

The hearing is where you will meet or speak with a hearing officer who will listen to the information provided and decide if changes to your benefits are correct. A representative from the agency will present information in favor of the change and you can present information about why you believe the change is a mistake. If you cannot attend the scheduled hearing due to transportation, medical, or child care issues, you may ask to postpone or request a telephone hearing. If you miss the hearing and did not call ahead of time but you have a good reason, you must contact State Hearings within 10 days to request your hearing be continued to another date.

After the Hearing

You should receive a decision within 30 days from the date a state hearing was requested. Food assistance increases must happen within 10 days of the decision and decreases by the next time you receive assistance. All other benefit increases or decreases should happen within 15 days of the decision.

If you disagree with the decision by the hearing officer, you may request an administrative appeal. If you receive another notice of changing benefits, you must request a separate hearing for that new action. Legal Aid can help with some benefits denials and terminations. Call 1-888-817-3777 to apply for assistance.

 

This article was written by Brittney Brown and Claire O’Connor and appeared in The Alert: Volume 31, Issue 2. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

What are the duties of a landlord? Close

In Ohio a landlord has a duty to:

  • Put and keep the premises in a fit and habitable condition.
  • Keep the common areas safe and sanitary.
  • Comply with building, housing, health, and safety codes.
  • Keep in good working order all electrical, plumbing, heating, and ventilation systems and fixtures.
  • Maintain all appliances and equipment supplied or required by the landlord.
  • Provide running water and reasonable amounts of hot water and heat, unless the hot water and hear are supplied by an installation that is under the exclusive control of the tenant and supplied by a direct public utility hook-up.
  • Provide garbage cans and arrange for trash removal if the landlord owns four or more residential units in the same building.
  • Give at least 24 hours notice, unless it is an emergency, before entering a tenant’s unit, and enter only at reasonable times in a reasonable manner.
  • Evict the tenant when informed by a law enforcement officer of drug activity by the tenant, a member of the tenant’s household, or a guest of the tenant occurring in or otherwise connected with the tenant’s premises.

What are the duties of a tenant? Close

In Ohio a tenant has a duty to:

  • Keep premises safe and sanitary.
  • Dispose of rubbish in the proper manner.
  • Keep the plumbing fixtures as clean as their condition permits.
  • Use electrical and plumbing fixtures properly.
  • Comply with housing, health, and safety codes that apply to tenants.
  • Refrain from damaging the premises and keep guests from causing damage.
  • Maintain appliances supplied by the landlord in good working order.
  • Conduct yourself in a manner that does not disturb any neighbors and require guests to do the same.
  • Permit landlord to enter the dwelling unit if the request is reasonable and proper notice is given.
  • Comply with state or municipal drug laws in connection with the premises and require house-hold members and guests to do likewise.

My rental unit needs repairs – what do I do? Close

Landlords are required to make certain repairs to their rental units, when they are needed, including:

  • Repairs to keep the property in a livable condition;
  • Repairs to meet housing and building codes that affect health and safety; and
  • Repairs required by the terms of the lease.

In Ohio, if a landlord fails to make repairs, a rent deposit (or rent escrow) process allows a tenant to pay the rent to a court, instead of the landlord, to get the landlord to make these repairs.

Before a tenant may rent deposit, the tenant generally must:

  • Be current in rent;
  • Give the landlord written notice of the repairs needed, by sending the notice to the person or place where the rent is normally paid; and
  • Then give the landlord a reasonable time (usually 30 days) to make the repairs.

If the landlord does not make the repairs during this reasonable time, the tenant may rent deposit.   At the time the monthly rent is due, the tenant deposits the monthly rent with the Clerk of Court of the municipal court for the tenant’s community.   Each month, the tenant must continue to timely deposit the rent with the Clerk of Court.   The Clerk of Court may have rules for depositing the rent, which the tenant must follow.

When can a landlord evict a tenant? Close

A landlord may bring an eviction action against a tenant when the tenant has

  • Failed to pay rent on time
  • Occupied the unit after the termination or expiration of the rental agreement
  • Breached the lease agreement

How can a landlord legally evict a tenant? Close

To bring an eviction action, the landlord must first serve a 3-day notice to vacate the premises in person, by mail, or at the premises. If the tenant does not move within the 3-day period, then the landlord must file and action in Forcible Entry and Detainer at the court in the city where the property is located. The Court will schedule a hearing and the tenant will receive a summons and complaint at least 10 days before the hearing.

At the hearing, the landlord may present evidence in support of the eviction and the tenant may present a defense to the eviction action. A tenant may raise the issue of bad conditions as a defense or a counterclaim at the eviction hearing. If an eviction is ordered, the landlord will make arrangements with the Court to have the tenant’s belonging removed from the unit if the tenant does not move. Local procedures may vary, check with your municipal court or an attorney.

How do I end a lease? Close

For a month-to-month lease, either a landlord or a tenant may terminate a month-to-month agreement by giving a full thirty days notice to the other party. The thirty days begins on the next rental due date and runs with the rental period.

For a longer term lease, such as a written lease, the rental agreement (lease) normally specifies the method for termination or renewal. If termination or renewal is not specified, then the agreement ends on the date in the agreement.

If a tenant breaks a lease by moving before the lease is up, or if a tenant has had a lease terminated because the tenant is in violation of the Law, the tenant may be held liable under the agreement until the unit is re-rented.

My landlord is keeping my security deposit – what do I do? Close

The landlord must return the security deposit to the tenant within 30 days of the time that the tenant gives up occupancy (i.e., moves out and turns in the key) and terminates the rental agreement. The tenant must provide the landlord with a forwarding address in writing.

The Ohio Landlord-Tenant Law permits a landlord to apply a security deposit to cover the costs of unpaid rents or charges, and any repair of tenant-caused damages to the property, in excess of normal wear and tear. If the landlord makes a deduction from the security deposit, the landlord is required to provide the tenant with a written itemized accounting of the money that is withheld.

If, after 30 days, the landlord has not returned the deposit or the itemized accounting, or if the tenant disagrees with the landlord’s decision to withhold some or all of the security deposit, then the tenant may sue for double the amount which the tenant believes was wrongfully withheld.  If the tenant’s claim is for less than $3000, the tenant may file in the Small Claims Court in the city where the property was located.

I am worried my landlord is retaliating against me – what can I do? Close

Ohio Landlord Tenant Law forbids a landlord from retaliating against a tenant by increasing the rent, decreasing the services, evicting or threatening to evict the tenant because the tenant has:

  • Complained to a public official
  • Complained to the landlord
  • Joined with other tenants to bargain collectively over the terms and conditions of the rental agreement.

A tenant can file a claim or assert a defense to an eviction for retaliation. A landlord who engages in retaliation may be held liable for any actual damages to the tenant and for reasonable attorney’s fees.

Can my landlord enter my apartment whenever he wants? Close

No. A landlord may enter a tenant’s unit only after giving a 24-hour notice, except in case of emergency. Landlords may not enter at an unreasonable time or in an unreasonable manner. Landlords may not make repeated requests for entry that have the effect of harassment. Tenants may seek injunctive relief from the courts when landlords abuse their right of access. The Ohio Landlord Tenant Law does not prohibit a tenant from installing her/his own locks on the rental premises, although this may be prohibited by the lease. A tenant has the duty under the law to not unreasonably restrict the landlord’s right of access.

What are tips for people who are renters? Close

  • Before you move in, determine who pays for utilities
  • On the day you move into a rental unit, take photos of the condition of the unit
  • Document your requests for repairs; for example, keep a log with the date and repair request
  • Always pay your rent, unless you are depositing it at the Court.
  • Always maintain proof of your rent payment; keep the money order stub, or get a receipt
  • On the day you move out, take photos of the condition of the unit

Success Stories

photo
United States Senator Rob Portman on the importance of Legal Aid, pro bono service, and the economy
In his keynote speech on September 3, 2013 at Cleveland"s Renaissance Hotel, Senator Portman applauded Legal Aid on its 108-year history of helping people solve legal problems.

Read More

Learn more about Legal Aid's history and services.

photo
Staff Profile: Marilyn Fitzpatrick
She was so caring and knowledgeable. Thank you for having such a good employee. A grateful Legal Aid client speaking of Marilyn Fitzpatrick

Read More

Learn more about contacting Legal Aid.

photo
How Homeowner Rita Pollard-Bell Saved Her Home
Ms. Pollard-Bell’s determination to keep her home resulted in a very positive outcome.

Read More

Learn more about Legal Aid's Consumer Practice.

photo
News Tidbits from Legal Aid
On October 26 – everyone in the city could see the legal community’s commitment to Legal Aid: the Terminal Tower was lit blue to honor the American Bar Association’s National Pro Bono Week.

Read More

Read more about goings-on at Legal Aid here.

  • photo1
  • photo1
  • photo1
  • photo1