Every week, the Campaign’s legal aid programs receive requests for urgent help from New Hampshire residents facing imminent homelessness through illegal evictions or legal problems that may cost them access to federally-subsidized housing.
Through its Housing Hotline, 603 Legal Aid advocates help clients avoid illegal evictions by providing them with self help instructions by telephone.
NHLA advocates promote equal access to housing by preventing illegal evictions, challenging discriminatory housing practices, and engaging in community outreach. Through the Foreclosure Relief Project, NHLA collaborates with 603 Legal Aid and HomeHelpNH to prevent homelessness by either resolving cases so homeowners can keep their property or negotiating a smooth and graceful exit with a plan for an affordable next home.
John's Legal Aid Success Story
The day started out as a typical Friday for John. He returned home from his overnight job, took a quick nap, and then drove to Boston to pick up his daughter. John looked forward to spending a fun weekend with her at his apartment in Concord.
“When I returned home, I noticed a tube of papers finagled between my apartment door handle,” he said. “I assumed it was an invitation to a church event, but that wasn’t the case.”
John had received an eviction notice from the court. To make matters worse, it stated that he was supposed to have been evicted from his apartment a month ago for nonpayment of rent, and he had to appear for a hearing ASAP.
The notice was not entirely a surprise to John. His rent had been increased when he took a second job a couple of years ago. However, he stopped working that job six months later and didn’t notify the landlords about his decreased income until much later. Attempts to get the situation resolved on his own were ignored.
“A million thoughts raced through my head,” John said. “I had already fought in court for years to have a stable relationship with my daughter. Where would she stay when she’s with me if I got evicted? Would I even be able to bring her with me to NH? And how would this affect our relationship?”
John rushed to the courthouse and asked the clerk for advice. The clerk told him that it was probably too late for anyone to help him, but John refused to give up. Then he remembered 603 Legal Aid. The organization had helped him with a tax issue in the past and John recalled staff members’ patient and understanding demeanor.
“I left a message on the phone line and patiently waited for a return call. Not long afterward, I received a call back from paralegal Steve McGilvary. Steve listened to my story and gave me some background on how these situations usually go. He then explained to me my options and his opinion on the best course of action. It was extremely helpful and reassuring to know that I would be going to court with more of an understanding than in my previous encounters with the legal system.”
Steve also told John that he would try to get a lawyer to possibly help him in court the day of his hearing, although he cautioned that it would be a long shot.
“Regardless, I felt confident that a positive outcome would be reached,” John said. “That was all possible because of Steve’s preparation and encouragement.”
The day before his hearing, John received an email from New Hampshire Legal Assistance attorney, Lauren Greenwald. Lauren would be at the courthouse the following day and could help John plan a course of action before the hearing.
“I arrived at court early and was greeted right away by Lauren’s friendly smile,” said John. “We met in a mediation room and she was confident I could get some type of deal accomplished. She told me to wait in court while she would try and speak to the prosecution and see about the possibility of some deal being reached.”
When Lauren returned to John, he saw that she was no longer smiling. John’s landlords did not want to make any deal. Lauren suggested one last option she could bring to the landlords’ attorney to avoid the eviction.
“Her quick thinking had me feeling confident again as I waited,” said John “However, I still made sure to pray a quick rosary.”
The next time Lauren came back, the look on her face told John that his prayers had been answered. The landlords agreed to the pay and stay offer Lauren presented, and John would not be evicted if the terms were met.
“I happily signed the deal and thanked Lauren for her instrumental help,” he said. “603 Legal Aid is an amazing service to the Concord community and our great state of NH. I can never thank you guys enough!”
Jack's Legal Aid Success Story
Jack purchased his home in Middleton in May 2018 with cash. Right after buying it, he used all of his remaining money to put in new plumbing. A string of injuries and medical issues since then prevented Jack from working and earning income for the next three years.
“It just seemed like everything I did turned to [expletive],” he said. “I was really aggravated with myself that I had no way of making money. I was starting to panic.”
Although Jack receives federal disability benefits, he hadn’t been able to put anything toward his property taxes since 2019. The town obtained a tax lien on his house in October 2021 and a town official and local law enforcement officer appeared at the end of his driveway to tell Jack he needed to vacate his property by the end of November.
“I said, ‘Okay, I’ll just sell the house and pay back the taxes.’ But she said, ‘You don’t own the house anymore. We took it from you.’ And I said, ‘I have a doctor’s note to tell you what’s happening to me. I just ran into a streak of bad luck and it’s been hard for me.’ It’s not like I don’t want to pay it. I want to pay it. I feel awful I can’t pay it.”
Jack felt overwhelmed and hopeless. He couldn’t sleep and didn’t know where to turn for help.
“I fought for this country. I paid cash for this home. How can they take this from me? I don’t understand it,” he said. “But I’m a fighter. I wasn’t going to take the weak way out.”
Jack’s Veterans Affairs case worker said that legal aid might be able to help. A new federally funded program called the Homeowner Assistance Fund was about to launch to help homeowners who have been financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and are behind in paying their mortgages, property taxes, or utility bills. NHLA works with the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority to help program applicants who are at immediate threat of homelessness due to a tax deed or a foreclosure, as Jack was.
“It’s helped me out so much, this program,” Jack said. “Thank God for it. Because if I didn’t have this program, I wouldn’t have my house.”
Jack was one of the first applicants of the HAF program, and the first to work with NHLA. He worked with attorney Stephanie Bray from NHLA to get a discretionary stay until his application could be approved and the town could receive the money.
“It was a race against time,” Stephanie said. “Basically, it was like a patient coming into a hospital on a stretcher flatlined. The tax deed had already happened. The eviction notice was already served. It was really late in the game. To make matters worse, I wasn’t hearing from the town while I was also putting pressure on the program to get the money freed up.”
On June 2, two days before Jack was to be evicted, the money came through and the town recorded the deed granting the home back to him. In further good news, as a senior and a veteran, Jack should be able to qualify for tax exemptions and deferrals reducing his future financial burden.
The process of getting Jack’s back taxes resolved was not smooth, but now he can remain safely housed with his dog and have storage space for his tools and equipment when he is able to return to work.
“Thank God there are people like Stephanie who help people like me. And this program being her is a huge blessing.”
Emily's Legal Aid Success Story
When Emily’s roommate moved out of their apartment, Emily – who relies on disability benefits – had nowhere to go and no way to continue paying rent by herself. Grappling with the prospect of being evicted, facing homelessness and losing her two beloved emotional support cats began taking a toll on Emily’s health as she tried to find help.
“To be completely transparent, I didn’t think I would be able to see another day,” she said. “Being an epileptic, stress causes me seizures, and any seizure could potentially kill me. I didn’t know what I was going to do, until my phone rang and I heard the welcoming voice of Mr. Steve Tower on the other end of the line.”
Steve, an NHLA staff attorney, had been contacted by Manchester city welfare regarding Emily’s situation. Steve spent two hours calming Emily down, explained the eviction process to her and outlined her rights as a tenant.
The Center for Disease Control implemented an eviction moratorium early during the pandemic to prevent tenants who have been hurt financially and are unable to pay their rent from losing their homes. Keeping people in their homes and out of shelters prevents the spread of COVID-19.
On the day Emily was supposed to vacate her apartment, both she and Steve raised the CDC eviction moratorium and state laws that protect tenants to her landlord to keep her in her apartment.
From there, Emily worked on applying for help through the New Hampshire Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) while Steve convinced Emily’s landlord to renew her lease.
“I felt like there was some type of light and I was going to make it,” said Emily. “Steve went out of his way to make sure he could put me at ease no matter what time of day it was, and always helped direct me in the path of what to do next. Working with Steve made me feel confident in the decisions I was making.”
ERAP approved Emily’s application and is now providing rental and utility assistance. She also has assurance that she can remain in her apartment for at least one more year and has more time to find future housing or roommates.
“Seeing as my case is now over, I feel like my life is starting to look up a bit,” she said. “Steve is an incredible human who doesn’t just do his job with passion and pride, but with such love for the people he is helping. Steve Tower saved my life.”
Claire's Legal Aid Success Story
Assistance animals provide crucial services and comfort for individuals with disabilities. Claire is a survivor of domestic violence, and deals with anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Her doctor advised her to get an emotional support animal to help cope and alleviate her symptoms.
Claire settled on a young Labrador Retriever named Axel, and immediately felt an improvement in her mood. Not only does Axel help Claire, he helps Claire’s fiancée, Jack, a veteran who also has PTSD. Her four children also have a close bond with Axel.
“They know what I’m going through, and Axel is able to help them cope too,” Claire said.
Claire didn’t tell her landlord about Axel right away. When he found out a few months later, Claire showed him her doctor’s letter. She was shocked to hear from him later that she would need to get renters’ insurance for $500,000 for personal liability.
Claire immediately tried to find out if what her landlord was asking for was legal. Her online research led her to the Legal Advice and Referral Center.
State and federal fair housing laws protect the rights of people with disabilities to have assistance animals even if a landlord has a no-pets policy. Emotional support and service animals are not pets, but rather are considered assistive aids.
An advocate at LARC advised Claire to file a complaint with HUD if her landlord didn’t change his mind.
Even after Claire told her landlord that she had received legal advice, the landlord was adamant that Axel would have to go if Claire did not get renters’ insurance, and she began to worry her family could be evicted if they didn’t get the unaffordable insurance.
“He talked about talking to his attorney and writing up paperwork,” said Claire. “I’m not sure I would have been able to handle the stress of going to court in addition to everything else in my life.”
LARC referred Claire’s case to NHLA’s Fair Housing Project, where Maria Eveleth guided law student Katie Mosher to represent Claire.
At first, Claire refused to get her hopes up.
“My previous experiences with state agencies filled me with uncertainty. I was constantly wondering to myself if they were really going to help me,” she said. “But with NHLA, I felt reassurance for the first time. Katie was very good in getting back to me by phone or email. And if there was something she didn’t know, she told me she would get that information and let me know once she did.”
Katie walked Claire through the entire case process and shared several helpful tips. She advised Claire to make sure she was responsibly caring for Axel and that Axel was behaving himself. She also told Claire to hold onto any documentation or communication from her landlord about possible retaliation.
Thankfully, no retaliation occurred. Claire’s landlord granted her reasonable accommodation request without any changes to her month-to-month lease, and Claire’s faith in the justice system was renewed.
“I would encourage people to support organizations like NHLA and the lawyers who give their time to help low-income people. I would not have been able to afford an attorney without legal aid. To those who support legal aid, your support is not going unnoticed.”
Greta's Legal Aid Success Story
Ari reached out for legal help after he had done everything he could to help his grandmother, who only wanted to age in dignity in her Charlestown home that she and her husband bought 50 years ago.
After Greta’s husband died, she gave her son Jack power of attorney, and signed ownership of her house to Jack and his wife Martha. They verbally gave Greta a “life estate,” a promise that she could stay in the home and they would care for her until her death.
But they quickly took complete control of Greta’s checkbook. They required her to pay all of the household bills from her Social Security and her husband’s life insurance.
When other family members would visit, Martha called the police and placed “No Trespass” orders against them.
Martha had episodes of violent outbursts, and eventually called the police to report that Greta, a physically small and frail woman in her 80s, assaulted her.
Martha filed for a restraining order, and Greta was forced to leave her home and all her personal belongings. Then Jack and Martha put the home up for sale.
“It was destroying my grandmother, to lose her home where she raised her family,” Ari said.
Senior Law Project Director Cheryl Steinberg and Fair Housing Project Director Christine Wellington worked together on Greta’s case.
“The first thing we did was to defend Greta in the restraining order case. Cross-examination quickly revealed who the real victim was,” says Wellington.
She and Steinberg then obtained an injunction to stop the sale of the home and to protect Greta’s personal belongings until they could prove her life estate in the property. The case was ultimately resolved in mediation.
“Greta’s son and daughter-in-law did not honor their promise to care for her,” Wellington said. “Instead they financially exploited her and verbally abused her. Only the force of law could stop the sale of the home and provide a venue for resolution of this case.”
“The help from NHLA was imperative. I don’t know where we would be right now if they hadn’t won this case,” Ari says. “I can’t even say how much gratitude I have for Chris and Cheryl. My grandmother has her home back. She laughs all the time, she smiles all the time.”
Kelli's Legal Aid Success Story
Kelli loved her work as a nurse, and loved being able to support her daughter and disabled mother, until she sustained severe brain damage in a stroke. The damage left Kelli unable to handle long-term critical thinking, like what to do after her landlord said he planned to kick her and her family out for not paying rent.
But she had always paid, in full and and on time. Kelli believes he wanted her to leave because she complained about tripping in a hole he had left unfilled on the property. Not knowing what to do, Kelli called LARC, where an advocate found errors in the landlord’s paperwork.
“Before, I felt like I was all alone, like I had no teammates, and (my advocate) made it seem like I had a big team, even if it was just one person.”
Kelli’s advocate wrote a motion to help her get the case dismissed, and explained how she should present her case. Then Kelli went to court on her own and argued, successfully, against the landlord’s experienced attorney.
“I wasn’t even that scared,” she said. “It’s a life saving thing. When you’re so low and you’ve got no resources, when someone makes you think, ‘I can get through this,’ that just means the world.”
Samantha's Legal Aid Success Story
In January, me and my partner had a domestic violence issue, and we separated. He couldn’t come anywhere near the house, and I was left with all the bills, the house, the car. I couldn’t afford it. I went to the management but they gave me an eviction notice. They didn’t even try to work with me.
I had to do everything I could so I wouldn’t be homeless in the cold. I couldn’t go to the wet shelter. It’s absolutely no good for anyone that’s in recovery. It’s a wet shelter. People can bring in drugs, they can bring in alcohol and there’s too much at stake for me.
I was a nurse for 16 years, until a 525-pound woman I was caring for fell on me, and I blew out three discs in my back. That was back when the oxycontin was big. A couple of years later, I turned the page from taking medicine for pain to being addicted.
It’s been two years now that I’m in recovery. I haven’t been in trouble once. I work second-shift and I get out of work around 11, but the shelter doors are shut already by then. Even if they let me in, they close at 5 or 6 in the morning and I wouldn’t be able to keep up with no sleep like that. I would have ended up sleeping in my car. I don’t know if I could have kept my job.
I didn’t have to go through any of that, because the time frame LARC gave me make all the difference. (My advocate) held my head together, kept me from feeling panicked. This is something an addict would go out and use over. He told me what I needed to know. He said don’t worry, they’re not going to come and kick you out today. Knowing that he was in my corner, knowing I could call and say, what’s going to happen now, it allowed me to sleep. It allowed me to think about my next step.
He had me read, verbatim, what was on all the forms, and he’s the one that noticed they were trying to collect more than just my rent in the “rent owed” calculations. They can’t do that. Maybe I would have noticed if I had time to go to the library, and research this, but maybe I wouldn’t. Then he helped me write a motion, and I presented it myself in court. That’s why the judge continued the hearing.
I was scared, of course. I had no idea when I got the eviction notice, where am I going to go, what am I going to do with my stuff? When LARC came into the picture and I knew I wasn’t going to be homeless tomorrow, it gave me the space to figure out my next step and not panic, and not worry about going backwards.