August 16, 2018
Julia and her family live in a small town, and they are renters, which can be a challenge in a community with few rental properties. They found an partment building that seemed like it would work out, but before long, the property started to show serious signs of water damage. Holes appeared in the walls and the roof, the basement grew mold, and a small plant even began to sprout out of the bathroom floor. After living with the damage and subsequent lack of heat for six months, Julia’s family was forced to move when the roof collapsed in mid-November.
The landlord told them he couldn’t afford to fix the building at the time, but he moved them to another property he owned in the same town. Julia was thrilled to live in a new apartment where she didn’t have to worry about the roof caving in, so she didn’t worry much about the increase in rent and lack of heat. The landlord planned to put in central heat and air, and so for the time being, she bought some propane heaters to keep the worst of the chill at bay and settled into her new home.
Not long after, Julia and her husband separated. He continued to provide financial support, but the landlord still hadn’t installed heat. Almost all of her spouse's support was going to basic living expenses, primarily the propane heat in her “new and improved” place. Not only was she now living in substandard housing again, but she couldn’t afford the pricier rent.
After falling behind in her rent, Julia’s landlord filed to evict her. When he delivered the notice, he was verbally abusive and called her names in front of her children. Frustrated and insulted, Julia reached out to her local Legal Aid of WV office and told them her story. On their first meeting, she and her attorney went through her materials, including photos of both properties.
Julia’s attorney filed an answer and a counter for damages, as well as encouraging her to look for a new place owned by a different landlord. Though the process, the magistrate set multiple hearings, as he was unwilling to rule on the case with what was presented, giving the landlord time to hire an attorney and request a trial by jury. Julia’s attorney felt they would have a strong case in front of a jury, but Julia wanted to move on and offer more stability for her family.
In the end, her attorney was able to work out a settlement with the landlord: two weeks in the apartment so she could find alternate housing, not paying past-due rent, and a small cash settlement in damages for both apartments. The landlord refused to apologize for insulting Julia, which almost drove the case to trial, but she decided it was ultimately best for her family to spend their energy elsewhere. Through her local WV DHHR worker, she was able to get new housing before her two weeks was over, and she and her children now have a stable living situation she can afford—best of all, they have heat and a trustworthy roof over their heads.