Making Justice Real

The Official Blog of the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia

Securing Emergency Housing Repairs During COVID-19 Crisis

COVID-19 has brought many unexpected changes to everyone’s life. For those of us lucky enough to work from home, we have found ourselves without commutes, adhering to a very relaxed dress code, and suddenly figuring out printer issues all on our own. For those of us with young kids, we have also found a new appreciation for daycare.

For some, though, COVID-19 has brought more daunting changes. Our client, Ms. Jefferson (name changed to protect her identity), found herself without access to a bathtub or shower, a toilet, a stove, an oven, a refrigerator, or a kitchen sink. For months, Ms. Jefferson had been bathing, using the bathroom, and cooking at the senior living facility where her grandmother lives. Essential aspects of her apartment have been non-operable since last summer. After Ms. Jefferson’s landlord ignored her many requests to make essential repairs, she resigned herself to the new status quo. That is, until COVID-19 prevented her from entering her grandmother’s senior living facility.

After Ms. Jefferson contacted Legal Aid, I made numerous attempts to work with the landlord to obtain these essential repairs. The landlord, however, took the position that COVID-19 prevented any repairs from being priorities—even emergency repairs.

With nowhere else to turn, Ms. Jefferson filed a housing conditions case in Superior Court with our assistance, and she sought a temporary restraining order for emergency repairs. After a brief telephonic hearing, the Court ordered Ms. Jefferson’s landlord to fix the plumbing issues immediately and either replace or repair the broken appliances. Now, Ms. Jefferson is able to bathe, use the bathroom, and cook in her own apartment.

As a loaned associate, Ms. Jefferson’s situation and her experience with the justice system was eye-opening. Ms. Jefferson’s landlord blatantly disregarded her pleas to make her home habitable, and COVID-19 legally forced Ms. Jefferson to shelter-in-place in a home that did not have basic essentials. It is only because the Court intervened that her circumstances were improved.

At Skadden, I’m able to throw myself into research, doc review, and memos without once having to wonder whether my client will have access to justice. I never once have had to worry that my clients would not be able to bathe, cook food, or access a toilet. Ms. Jefferson, however, was fully at the mercy of the Court’s decision to hear her case and grant the relief she had desperately needed—and deserved.

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