Legal Aid reaches deal in eviction, billing case with Marin housing agency

This story by reporter Richard Halstead appeared in the Marin Independent Journal on September 4, 2014
This story by reporter Richard Halstead appeared in the Marin Independent Journal on September 4, 2014

Legal Aid of Marin says it has won a victory for tenants following settlement of a class action complaint against the Marin Housing Authority over eviction and billing practices.

“We set out to change what we believed to be unfair practices by MHA. As a result of our action, MHA made changes to these practices, which is a victory for all housing authority residents,” said Paul Cohen, Legal Aid of Marin’s executive director, in a prepared statement.

The Housing Authority, which manages much of Marin County’s public housing, said that the changes were the result of its “independent, voluntary decisions.” The Housing Authority’s executive director, Lewis Jordan, could not be reached for comment.

Legal Aid of Marin’s suit, filed in September 2012, alleged that the Housing Authority billed a number of tenants for questionable repairs and fees and then evicted them when they couldn’t pay their rents.

Legal Aid also alleged that the Housing Authority was failing to timely decrease rents when tenants’ income decreased.

The complaint asserted that the Housing Authority violated federal regulations relating to eviction and grievance procedures, rent payment allocations, collection of late fees, legal fees and maintenance fees.

Prior to the settlement, which was approved by the court in July, the Housing Authority agreed to refund more than 1,000 transactions to 565 present and former tenants totaling some $104,000, according to Legal Aid officials. The transactions involved rent, maintenance and other fees that were repeatedly miscalculated or misallocated by the Housing Authority, according to officials.

The Housing Authority also agreed to two years of community oversight by the United States District Court, Northern District of California if it violates any terms of the settlement. Cohen said Legal Aid of Marin will monitor the Housing Authority’s service to its tenants for the next two years.

Legal Aid of Marin was assisted by lawyers Frank Sommers and Andrew Schwartz of Sommers & Schwartz, a San Francisco firm with experience in civil rights cases. The Housing Authority’s insurers will pay $400,000 in legal fees to Sommers & Schwartz and Legal Aid of Marin as part of the settlement agreement.

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