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Bar Association of San Francisco Member Benefits: Publications

Volunteer Attorney Saves the Day for Elderly Client Who Faced Deplorable Housing Conditions

By Angel Chan, VLSP Intern


Eighty-eight year old Mr. Smith* had his bags packed and was ready to move from his home of over 20 years. His landlord, who had bought his building at a foreclosure sale, had asked him to leave soon after taking ownership. When Smith refused, his landlord began restoring the other vacant units in the building, while failing to repair damage to Smith’s unit. During the period of restoration, he only had access to a bathroom in a vacant unit two floors above his, while raw sewage leaked into his apartment and mold began climbing up the walls.

The stress and deplorable living conditions were impacting Smith’s health. During his appointment with his social worker at a public health center he explained that he was packing up and needed help finding housing. The social worker immediately walked Smith down the hall and introduced him to VLSP’s Supervising Attorney for its Medical-Legal Project, Hali Reiskin, who was holding her weekly on-site legal clinic at the health center. Reiskin learned that Smith had reported the problems to the appropriate city agencies with few results. She explained to him that his landlord was violating local and state laws, and he needed a lawyer by his side.

VLSP called on long-time volunteer, Mary Catherine Wiederhold, who has extensive experience representing tenants facing wrongful evictions. Without hesitation Weiderhold accepted the case on a pro bono basis. Although Wiederhold encountered several challenges in the case, she never thought about giving up. She was determined to fight and strive for the best interest of her client. She found a contractor to do a pro bono inspection on the house and write a report documenting the habitability violations. She offered two choices to the landlord: either pay the client directly or make all repairs immediately and reduce the rental payment. With Wiederhold’s hard work and dedication, the landlord eventually agreed to settle the case before going to trial. In the end Smith moved, on his own terms, into a new apartment in the neighborhood with a pleasant, comfortable living environment and a $50,000 check in hand.

Find out how to become a volunteer with VLSP.


*Client’s name has been changed.

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