Essex County Legal Aid Association
Free emergency legal advice to poor residents of Essex County, New Jersey
Real People

The "average" ECLAA client is an African-American woman raising children and renting a Newark apartment from which she faces imminent eviction.

But an "average" cannot tell you about real people.
  Here are brief stories about 30 clients we have helped.  For all ECLAA clients -- even if all we can do is help them transition out of their apartment with minimal distress and disruption to their families' lives, our service goes well beyond that provided by strictly pro se legal clinics. For each client, there are typically at least 2 and often 3 or more consultations. We are not using the clients' actual names below -- in order to assure confidentiality.  

  1. ECLAA’s client Gloria faced emotional and physical abuse by her husband -- that had also resulted in damage to the apartment, which was the basis of the landlord’s complaint for eviction. We were able to postpone the eviction (by notifying the parties of the underlying abuse) and to ensure that the client’s husband vacated the premises.  Our client did not wish to stay there, so she got two weeks to retrieve her belongings in peace, without her husband present.  The Rachel Coalition worked with her after our services ended. 
  2. ECLAA addressed serious health violations stemming from untreated lead in our client Hannah’s apartment, where she lived with her two young children who had become ill through this toxic exposure. The landlord instituted a complaint for eviction for non-payment of rent since the tenant was using her funds for treatment. We assisted the tenant and through early intervention, the Health Department was able to place her and her children into a new apartment. The tenant was able to move in an orderly manner while protecting her family. 
  3. Our client Esmerelda was billed improperly for electrical use stemming from other tenants’ usage, because her landlord shared electricity among multiple units. Our client faced a loss of electricity along with an enormous bill she was unable to pay. ECLAA arranged a conference call with PSE&G and with the client at our office. The billing matter was resolved, and our client was able to remain on the premises with electrical services.
  4. We assisted Henry, a client who purchased a used car that required multiple repairs shortly after leaving the dealership. The dealership failed and/or refused to make necessary promised repairs. Henry filed a small claims action seeking a return of his down payment. He obtained a judgment and was ordered to return the vehicle.  After he did so, the dealership filed and won its motion to vacate the judgment, leaving the client without a vehicle and without a judgment.   ECLAA assisted the client to prepare a Motion and Certification to vacate the dismissal and reinstate the complaint.  This allowed the client an opportunity to have the case heard on its merits and minimize the losses incurred by the Court’s prior order.
  5. Sally, a young mother had to address her ex-husband’s application to obtain sole legal custody of their children.  We provided the client with the underlying custodial law in New Jersey and assisted her in preparing her Certification in support of joint custody.  We also assisted her in having the court schedule a Best Interests Hearing.  Our client was able to maintain the custodial arrangement that gave her primary residential custody.  
  6. Georgia got a letter from the Sheriff’s office demanding that she immediately vacate the apartment due to the Sheriff’s sale of a foreclosed property.  We contacted the Sheriff’s department and stopped the removal since the bank had failed to institute eviction proceedings.  
  7. Joanna, a single mother with three school age children had no lights for approximately one month. She was afraid to address this issue with the landlord.  We contacted the landlord. Her lights were turned on the same day.
  8. Grace, an elderly client was being evicted from public housing on the claim that she misrepresented her sources of income.  The housing authority traced the alleged fraud back for several years, claiming she owed approximately $11,000 in back rent.  We obtained the client’s paperwork pertaining to her income, a pension from her years working in England. We worked with the landlord’s attorney to resolve this matter.
  9. We helped Wendell use his security deposit as rent, because the landlord had not deposited it in a NJ bank. 
  10. A Section 8 Housing issue involved the Smiths, a married couple where the husband was on the building’s “barred list,” due to a non-formal finding of bad behavior.  As a result, the couple could not reside together.  Our office corresponded with the management office and negotiated a return of the client to the apartment.  
  11. Our client Antonia faced continued harassment by another tenant. We corresponded with the landlord about the serious allegations against the other tenant.  Our client was elderly, and the harassment made her fear for her safety.  The landlord addressed her fears only after we facilitated a resolution.
  12. Our client Joshua, along with other tenants, was paying rent to a fraudulent representative of the landlord.  The tenants received an eviction notice from the landlord for non-payment of rent.  We sent the landlord rental receipts. He withdrew the eviction papers.  We advised the tenant to hold all rental payments until a procedure was established to mail payments directly to the landlord at his out-of-state home.  
  13. Jane had not visited with her child, who was in foster care, for about six months.  The client was homeless and cognitively limited.  She never received court notices or checked in with the courts.  We contacted the Family Court and advised them of the situation.  The court contacted ECLAA the following week to advise that a Guardian Ad Litem was appointed on Jane's behalf. Her court-appointed attorney later advised us that housing and mental health services had been procured on her behalf.  She could receive mail and participate in the child protective services litigation, which allowed her to visit her son weekly.
  14. We advised and assisted Martha and John, elderly clients with cognitive disabilities, who were illegally locked out and lived on the streets for several days before they came to our office. They got the legal help they needed, as well as the attention and patience they deserved.
  15. Rhonda, a young mother, was severely abused by her husband. We worked with her and the social worker at the hospital assigned to her care. We were able to protect her housing and help her start a divorce action with a referral to Newark Now.
  16. When a school district refused to enroll the daughter of Angela, a new town resident, we provided a mediation tool between our client and the school superintendent which resulted in her child’s admission to school after having missed 15 school days.
  17. Susan and other ECLAA clients faced dangerous and unsanitary living conditions. Through the use of Marini letters, we made it possible for our clients to withhold their rent until repairs had been made. 
  18. Mary received a $3,000 tenant award as a result of displacement due to unsafe living conditions, because we successfully created a Complaint and Brief supporting relocation assistance. Other ECLAA clients have received awards since then.
  19. Dolores' home was subject to a Sheriff's sale by a debt collector seeking to enforce an $8,000 judgment. Her home had a $400,000 mortgage and was her family home for the previous 15 years. After extensive negotiations with the debt collector's attorney, the matter was settled for $7,200, which Dolores was able to pay under a structured payment plan.
  20. We provided Andrea with relevant case law and helped her prepare a certification setting forth the factual background supporting a claim in which she sought to limit her child's visit with her father due to a pending DYFS investigation involving the father's live-in paramour. Anna was eventually successful in her application.
  21. Lisa receives Social Security Income (SSI) benefits of $650/month, her only source of income. Her severe thyroid condition ultimately led to surgery. Before surgery, Lisa had received a lump sum retroactive SSI payment for $10,000. While she was recovering in the hospital, the Sheriff levied her account, pursuant to a large judgment that had been issued. Her $10,000 was removed in its entirety. Lisa tried to resolve the problem on her own with no success. We resolved the case within 2 days. Her SSI money was returned; SSI payments are judgment-proof. 
  22. Ernest and his wife live on pension income of $1,900/month. A few years ago, he co-signed a loan for a used car his adult daughter bought for $11,000. Her car was repossessed and sold back to the dealer for $8,000. A $17,000 debt was levied against Ernest, which would have wiped out his savings. We negotiated a repayment plan. Ernest signed a forbearance agreement. The creditor agreed to $2,500 upfront followed by $500/month for 7 months. The debt totaled $6,000.
  23. Joanna struggles on SSI of $705/month. When she moved to a smaller apartment, her landlord withheld her $1,500 security deposit. We got the landlord to pay back the deposit in full, after reminding him that it cannot be withheld for normal wear and tear, cleaning fees or painting costs.
  24. Martha is a single mother raising her asthmatic son. Her landlord failed to pay utility bills for 6 months, so her heat and power were shut off mid-winter. We helped her submit paperwork that led the judge to issue an order with a judgment vs. the landlord exceeding $6,000 to both reimburse Maria for living expenses and compel the landlord to restore her utilities.
  25. Carlos is undergoing multiple radiation treatments for a brain tumor. He gets SSI of $668/month, his sole income source. A collection agency obtained a judgment against him and levied Carlo’s bank account, taking his savings of  $1,015.  We informed the creditor that this levy was improper, provided proof of income and arranged for release of the levy.
  26. Raul supports his family on a gross salary of $1,800/month. The law firm for the creditor took what was in his bank account -- $6,931. He owed $1,574 more. The law firm was going to take it in full. We convinced the law firm to return $1,000 of the $6,931 and allow Raul to pay the $2,547 balance at $150/month so he could keep his family housed and fed. 
  27. Hill lives in public housing.  The housing authority took her to court for alleged non-payment of many months of rent. After reviewing the authority’s records and after many phone meetings, ECLAA found that the arrears arose from a door repair, not rent.  Hill owed only $96.  The authority withdrew the action.
  28. Jonathan was being evicted for failure to pay his rent increase, late fees and attorney fees. ECLAA prepared a brief addressing the inappropriateness of the fees, as well as challenging the rent increase.  In fact, Jonathan had paid the rent increase for the past several months. We were able to get him a credit for the excess rent paid going forward.  The tenant was successful in paying only the base rent. No other fees were assessed.
  29. Cecilia had signed a consent order to pay late fees in excess of $1,000. ECLAA made a motion to vacate the consent order, successfully arguing that her payment of such fees is contrary to the Rent Control laws of Newark.
  30. Kareem, a disabled veteran, was being evicted because he was unable to pay a rental increase in an owner-occupied dwelling.  ECLAA determined that Kareem was in an illegal apartment and needed to be relocated immediately because of safety issues.  Kareem's wife Sharon was also disabled. Neither could get down the stairs leading to the outside without assistance. ECLAA contacted a veterans’ group that helped secure alternative living arrangements. ECLAA helped obtain relocation expenses on behalf of Kareem and Sharon. 

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