Grantee Spotlight

Landlord-Tenant Clinic at South Texas College of Law Houston

 

Rockwell Fund, Inc. (RFI) invests in organizations that provide supportive housing for individuals and families. Supportive housing is an effective way to reduce housing insecurity and develop a culture of independence for individuals and families. According to the Economic Policy Institute, from 1995 to the present, median rent has increased by over 70% but income for poor families has remained stagnant. Most poor families spend about 50% of their income on housing and 1 in 4 of these families spend over 70%. [1]

Considering these circumstances, landlord-tenant mitigation support programs have become a critical element in helping individuals remain in stable housing.

Within the last year, South Texas College of Law Houston (STCL Houston) has focused on landlord-tenant issues, specifically as they relate to preventing evictions. This can be particularly complex for low-income renters who are dealing with landlords who are not making the necessary repairs to the property to comply with health and safety standards. Due to a lack of awareness and knowledge of eviction laws and tenant rights, many tenants unknowingly expose themselves to eviction. In response, STCL Houston has developed a legal clinic under the umbrella of the Randall O. Sorrels Legal Clinics where a clinic attorney and a maximum of eight law students meet with people facing eviction, to assist with their cases. STCL Houston is also hoping to prevent future evictions from being filed by going out into communities and eviction courts to explain and counsel tenants on their rights and landlord obligations under Texas law.

The clinical program at STCL Houston is a law school-sponsored voluntary program that provides students with opportunities to give back to the community and share the legal skills they are developing. Students can utilize transferable skills such as presenting evidence, cross-examining a witness, and honing negotiation techniques and compromise strategies that will be useful in their legal careers regardless of whether the student pursues public interest law.

The STCL Houston’s Landlord-Tenant Clinic began in spring of 2018. Eric Kwartler, clinical teaching fellow at STCL Houston, had participated in a housing clinic during his time in law school at the University of Texas. There, he discovered a huge gap in access to justice among renting families. Eric observed firsthand the injustices suffered by low-income tenants due to lack of knowledge and state policies that favor landlords. Thus, began the Landlord-Tenant Clinic at STCL Houston.

The clinic, currently in its second semester, served approximately 13 clients in its inaugural year. The services provided include full legal representation, community education, legal advice and counsel. STCL Houston plans to grow the program by visiting communities that have experienced a higher prevalence of evictions as recorded by Matthew Desmond’s Eviction Lab. Eric and his team also plan to expand the clinic by developing partnerships with community organizations that serve potential clients, so that they can mitigate the long-term renting consequences for the clients and their family. An eviction is an obstacle that leads to a long-term poverty cycle for families. An individual with an eviction on their record has a harder time securing habitable housing, maintaining employment and reaching financial security.

Mr. Kwartler advocates three steps to eviction prevention:

  1. Stop it before it starts by educating tenants on their rights and obligations
  2. Representation
  3. Mitigation

“All tenants are not refusing to pay rent due to personal irresponsibility, but due to the inevitability of the rising housing market. Some families can do everything right and still not make enough to make ends Lmeet,” says Mr. Kwartler. “Landlord lobbyists had a heavy hand in creating the tenant provisions of the property code which favors landlords at every level of the eviction process.” Mr. Kwartler would like to see the tenant population become as protected as landlords in Harris County, which saw almost 18,000 households evicted in 2018.

The Landlord-Tenant Clinic at STCL Houston serves US citizens and legal permanent residents as well as undocumented tenants with unrestricted sources of funding. The clinic’s priority is to continue seeking individuals who need services through community outreach and leveraging partnerships.

Stable and affordable housing should not be tabled but is the cornerstone to lift families out of generational poverty.

In addition to the Landlord-Tenant Clinic, STCL Houston offers clinics in 19 subject matters, include veterans’ clinic, family law, estate planning, probate, guardianship, child welfare and much more.

RFI is proud to support South Texas College of Law Houston and ensure that Houston residents have access to the resources they need to maintain an optimal life.

[1] https://www.epi.org/publication/causes-of-wage-stagnation/

 

Most poor families spend about

%

of their income on housing.

In Harris County

households were evicted in 2018.

770 S. POST OAK LANE, SUITE 525, HOUSTON, TX 77056