ECLAA = free legal help on civil law crises for low-income Essex County NJ residents

About our clients. Not just tenants.

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Here are some of the Essex County Legal Aid Association's Landlord-Tenant clients.

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 stories about 30+ tenants who our lawyers have helped.  We start with three in-detail stories to help you better understand the process and issues associated with helping at-risk tenants.


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.  


First, here are detailed descriptions about how we helped three tenants facing eviction:


  • Joseph and Sondra, a husband and wife were served with a Summons and Complaint based upon failure to pay their rent in March and April.  On May 1, they signed a Stipulation of Settlement wherein they agreed to the entry of a judgment of possession and further agreed to the issuance of a warrant of removal in the event that the terms of the stipulation were breached.  The stipulation of settlement provided that the family would vacate the premises by August 1, that they would pay the January rent by May 9, and would continue to pay their rent until they vacated the premises on August 1.  The family failed to pay their rent for three months and did not vacate the premises on August 1.  A warrant of removal was issued and they were scheduled to be locked out of the premises on August 18.  On August 15, Sondra came to our office seeking legal advice.  We drafted an application for an Order to Show Cause seeking a hardship stay and requested that their security deposit be applied toward the back rent.  The family consists of the husband, wife, their adult daughter who has cognitive impairment, and an adult male whom they care for because he has cerebral palsy and is unable to care for himself.  All four members of this family are disabled and receive Social Security benefits.  Their application for an Order to Show Cause was granted and a hearing was scheduled for August 25.  Our office agreed to represent them at the upcoming hearing.  The case presented a problem because the statute requires that all back rent be paid prior to the issuance of a hardship stay.  We had to convince the court to provide the family with additional time to pay their back rent because they did not have the funds available on the date of the hearing and also to permit them to use their security deposit to pay a portion the back rent because the landlords had violated the Rent Security Deposit Act.  On August 25, we appeared in court and argued the case on their behalf.  The Court ruled in our favor and granted all of the relief we had requested.  The family was permitted to use their security deposit toward their back rent, they were given a four-day extension to pay the remaining balance due on their back rent, and they were granted a two-month hardship stay which allowed them to remain in the premises until October 31, provided that they paid their rent on time for the next two months.  The family was very grateful for the successful outcome in this matter.


  • On September 12, a man named Carl came to our office seeking legal advice regarding his upcoming Order to Show Cause hearing which was scheduled for September 14.  In November of the prior year, a company hired our client as the building superintendent for a building located in Newark.  As part of his employment, our client was allowed to live rent free in an apartment at that location.   In June, our client received a letter postmarked June 27 from the company advising him that he will be terminated from his job as building superintendent as of June 23.  However, although it was mailed on June 27, inexplicably the letter was dated January 26.  The letter stated that he had three days to vacate his apartment or he would be required to start paying $700.00 as rent beginning on July  1.  Thereafter, our client was verbally advised by both property managers to continue to perform his duties as the building superintendent.  The property managers never asked Carl for any rent and they allowed Carl to continue to reside in apartment C in exchange for his work as the building superintendent.  Subsequently, counsel for the landlord filed a complaint to evict him wherein the landlord sought $5,708.00 in back rent and late charges from January through July, which included court costs of $108.00 plus attorney fees in the amount of $450.00.  The matter was scheduled for court on August 4.  The two property managers both verbally advised our client that he did not need to worry about the eviction case and that he didn’t have to go to court on August 4.  They instructed our client to “just keep cleaning the building”.  Based upon their representations, our client did not appear in court on August 4.  Unbeknownst to him, on August 4, the landlord was granted judgment of possession based upon a default because of our client’s failure to appear in court.  Our client continued to perform his duties as the building superintendent until September 4, when a Warrant of Removal was posted at the premises.  In response, on September 7,  our client filed an application for an Order to Show Cause which was granted.  The return date was scheduled for September 14. We drafted a document which set forth the facts of this case and the arguments our client would be relying upon and instructed him to read this document into the record on September 14, during the hearing.  Our client appeared in court and argued his case.  At the conclusion of the hearing, he returned to our office and informed our staff that the judge was persuaded and ruled in his favor.  He expressed his gratitude for our assistance.    


  • On October 24, a client named Rachel came to our office seeking legal advice on behalf of her elderly mother Leah with whom she resides.  Although her mother is the named tenant, our client is responsible for ensuring that the rent is paid and she is her mother’s spokesperson.  The landlord instituted an eviction proceeding based upon the tenant’s failure to pay rent in September.  Our client informed us that she and her mother were unaware of the eviction proceeding because they did not receive a Summons and Complaint in this matter.  As a result, on the date of the hearing, October 9, they did not appear in court and a default judgment was entered.  Subsequently, a Warrant of Removal was posted on the front door of the main lobby of their building.  They were scheduled to be locked out of their apartment on October 27.  We met with Rachel and learned that her mother had paid the rent for September, albeit late.  We gathered additional information about the sequence of events which led to the issuance of the Warrant of Removal and drafted a detailed Certification in support of an Order to Show Cause which set forth the basis of the request that the eviction should be stopped.  The application for an Order to Show Cause was granted and the matter was scheduled for court on November 7. On October 27, the client returned to our office for additional guidance.  She was unsure as to exactly what she and her mother needed to do when the matter returned to court.  We explained the procedures, advised her as to what she should tell the judge and instructed her to request that the Judgment of Possession be vacated and that the matter be dismissed.  The client returned to our office after the matter was heard in court.  She indicated that she and her mother had prevailed.  She was very grateful for our legal advice and for all of the guidance we provided in this matter.

       

Second, here are quite a few brief descriptions of work we have done for other at-risk tenants:


  • ECLAA’s client Gloria endured emotional and physical abuse by her husband -- that 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. 
  • 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. 
  • 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.  
  • Joanna, a single mother with three school age children, had no electricity 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.
  • Agnes, a tenant, had signed a consent order to pay late fees in excess of $1,000. We 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.
  • Charles, a disabled veteran, was being evicted because he was unable to pay a rental increase in an owner-occupied dwelling.  We determined that the client was in an illegal apartment and needed to be relocated immediately because of safety issues.  The client’s wife was also disabled. Neither could get down the stairs leading to the outside without assistance.  We contacted a veterans’ group that helped secure alternative living arrangements. We helped obtain relocation expenses on behalf of the client. 
  • 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.
  • We helped Wendell use his security deposit as rent, because the landlord had not deposited it in a NJ bank. 
  • 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.  
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. 
  • 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.
  • Ingrid 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. 
  • 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.
  • 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. 
  • A Korean veteran named Harold was evicted pursuant to a Consent to Vacate the apartment, premised on disorderly behavior. The apartment was subsidized and the eviction would have damaged his subsidy, subjecting him to potential homelessness.  Moreover, he had many medical issues. ECLAA prepared an Affidavit on his behalf, outlining the facts of the case and requesting a hardship stay.  We also prepared a letter brief setting forth our legal arguments.  The matter is currently listed for a hearing and his eviction has been temporarily stayed.
  • Aisha, a young mother of three, was being evicted after not having paid her portion of the rent for almost one year. She followed the recertification process for her program, but no follow up was made by management.  Due to a year in arrears, this tenant faced homelessness with her children as her subsidy would be in jeopardy.  After extensive negotiations with landlord’s attorney, an agreement was reached whereby landlord would dismiss the complaint after the tenant moved on an agreed date.  Our goal in protecting this tenant’s subsidy was successful and the tenant was very grateful.
  • In several cases involving the same attorney, the landlord’s attorney attached a ledger to the complaint, which did not specifically set forth the months and amounts owed by the tenant.  In addition, the ledger referenced late fees and attorney fees, not collectible in an eviction action in communities with rent control.  The complaint was dismissed based on our letters to the court setting forth the referenced deficiencies.
  • ECLAA often files motions on behalf of its clients.  In this case, the landlord attempted to evict Georgia based on non-payment of rent; however, the tenant had a valid Marini defense.  As ordered, Georgia deposited the rent with the court, with the understanding that the rent would be released to the landlord upon satisfaction of the Marini issues.  At the subsequent court appearance, the court released the rent based on the landlord’s misrepresentation that the Marini issues were resolved.  Georgia contacted ECLAA and we filed a motion for reconsideration.  As a result, the court reversed its order, cancelled the release of funds and ordered the landlord to resolve all Marini issues.      
  • Martha, an elderly woman suffering from lung cancer, contacted ECLAA when her landlord presented her with a Release and Relocation proposal.  ECLAA acted on her behalf and informed the Landlord that she would not be moving.  
  • In foreclosure cases, the new landlord will sometimes attempt to illegally evict the tenants.  In this case, the new landlord attempted to remove Sasha and her family from the property by filing an Order to Show Cause for a Writ of Possession.  ECLAA was able to show that the order was invalid and that tenants living in foreclosed properties are entitled to ligate the matter in Landlord/Tenant Court.  
  • In another foreclosure matter, the new landlord attempted to remove Keisha from the building by ejection.  However, ECLAA contacted the landlord’s attorney and informed him that landlords cannot circumvent landlord/tenant law by moving for ejection of tenants like Keisha.        


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Here are some of our clients who faced a variety of other Civil Law crises.

Again, we are not using the clients' actual names below -- in order to assure confidentiality. 


  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Sally, a young mother had to address her ex-husband’s application for 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. 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.