Home About RSS

Mills Legal Clinic of Stanford Law School
Mills Legal Clinic of Stanford Law School

Community Law Clinic Students Gain Experience in Housing Law

In addition to the previously reported employment and expungement work of Community Law Clinic students, last year’s students also gained substantial practical experience in housing matters representing families and individuals, many of whom were facing eviction.  On top of achieving great results for their clients, students practiced a variety of skills in these cases including research, drafting, negotiation and counseling.

* * * *

Two students represented a woman who failed to answer her eviction lawsuit because she was incarcerated at the time of service and jail officials refused her the paper she requested to draft some kind of answer. Immediately upon release, she sought legal representation, and, based on her incarceration and her meritorious defense, the students were able quickly to negotiate a favorable outcome with the landlord’s lawyer in the shadow of their likely motion to vacate the default judgment.

* * * *

Another team of two students represented a family that had fallen behind in rent when their sole breadwinner lost his construction job. The students identified a doctrinally fatal flaw in the pleading filed by the landlord’s attorney, and filed a motion to dismiss and accompanying brief, which was tentatively granted by the court. The landlord’s attorney expressed his intent to contest the ruling, and the parties began negotiating. The students identified a serious habitability problem with the apartment, which they argued reduced the rental value of the premises. From the position of strength created by their motion and research, the students were able to negotiate a payment plan and, ultimately, a renewal of the lease that permits the family to stay in their home.

* * * *

Two students represented a family facing eviction, and successfully attacked the landlord’s pleadings, this time with a motion to quash service of the summons. This motion required legal research and drafting of affidavits of the family members about the lack of proper service. The motion was granted, again placing the tenants in a strong bargaining position. In addition to research, drafting, and negotiation skills, this case gave the students a terrific opportunity to engage with the rules of professional conduct in action, as the household was made up of two families. The representation of multiple parties with potentially conflicting interests was challenging for the students, who counseled their clients and were able to secure a settlement on behalf of all of them.

* * * *

A team of two represented a tenant who faced eviction for nonpayment of rent despite assurances from his landlord that the rent could be paid mid-month when his pension funds arrived. The students filed an answer to their client’s eviction suit, and propounded discovery, including notices of multiple depositions. Following several rounds of intensive negotiation, the students secured a dismissal of the eviction lawsuit and reinstated their client’s tenancy in good standing without payment of any fine or penalty.

* * * *

Two students similarly represented a pair of tenants whose house had considerable uninhabitable conditions. Immediately upon being retained, the students propounded discovery on the landlord, which brought him quickly to the bargaining table. Again, the students were able to negotiate a relocation arrangement that enabled the household’s children to finish the school year in place and to make a reasonable transition.

* * * *

Two students experienced rapid-fire litigation practice representing a tenant family in an eviction case.  The landlord claimed that the tenants had committed a nuisance on the premises with loud noise and fighting that resulted in police calls.  In the course of a 3-week period, they filed a responsive pleading, propounded written discovery, and a motion to compel with sanctions when the opponent failed to produce a properly noticed deponent (they also experienced the joy of litigating against an opposing counsel who didn’t return phone calls or otherwise respond within legally mandated time-frames), all in pursuit of basic information about the allegations.  The case ended by a negotiated settlement read into the record at the settlement conference.  In addition to the litigation experience, the case also provided important counseling opportunities as the client had to weigh his family’s housing security against the blow to his own sense of pride in surrendering the fight against allegations that he thought were entirely baseless and ethnically motivated.

* * * *

Two other students similarly litigated an eviction case, this one on behalf of a woman who’d been renting a mobile home that hadn’t had heat for over a year.  The students filed a motion to dismiss, which was granted, and then, when the landlord failed to correct in her second complaint the very deficiency that had formed the basis for the first motion to dismiss, they filed a second one, which was also granted!  Throughout, the students negotiated with the landlord’s lawyer in pursuit of a mutually agreeable settlement. The case involved ethical issues as well as legal research and drafting, as the landlord seemed to employ her lawyer on and off, thus engaging the “communicating with a represented party” rule.  The clinic’s client moved out of the mobile home on her own terms after the second demurrer was granted.

* * * *

Leave a Reply