Housing Conditions Improve with Legal Aid’s Help

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April, 2011 — The residents of a federally subsidized apartment complex in downtown Cleveland presented their landlord with a list of serious conditions issues and requested that they be addressed. The list included elevators that were out of order for lengthy periods of time, concerns regarding the security cameras and security staff, inconsistent garbage removal, bed bug and mice infestations, and dirty air filters and vents. When the tenants did not receive a response from their landlord, a group of motivated tenants, consisting entirely of seniors and individuals with disabilities, decided to take action.

Melvin Flowers, a five-year resident of the building and the tenant board president, explains the problems: “There were issues going back a long time with the property manager which were not resolved”¦ It was horrible for the residents.”

Melvin Flowers in the library of his apartment building.

The tenants began to deposit their rent with the Cleveland Municipal Housing Court; they also brought their case to Legal Aid. Abigail Staudt and Jane Messmer, attorneys in Legal Aid’s Housing Practice Group, represented the tenants throughout the Housing Court’s mediation process with the building’s management company. The resulting agreement dramatically improved conditions at the building. The landlord also implemented a more effective system for resolving infestation issues and for responding to the maintenance of the ventilation systems, installed more security cameras, and put a visitor policy into effect.

Mr. Flowers credits the focus of the tenant board for the positive result: “We had very good people. It was not about personal issues, but about the problems we had in the building. We kept things open and allowed everyone to say what was bothering them but we stuck to the issues in our petition.”

Ms. Staudt was very impressed with the clients’ determination: “A lot of buildings have conditions issues. We had a strong group [of tenants] that wasn’t going to back down. Each client was willing to put the time in to go to court, attend meetings and live with uncertainty.”

Ms. Messmer adds, “We remind renters that they are entitled to a decent, safe and clean place to live. In this particular case, people in similar situations at other buildings started asking about the process.”

Effects of the tenants’ teamwork are evident at the building. Mr. Flowers says, “We have a better maintained building. Jane and Abigail gave us such great support. They met with us and kept us informed. Without Legal Aid, we could not have won.”

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