Hastings Law News covers the opening of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, founded by Hastings Law students. The legal services highlighted in this 1980 article are still offered by THC today!
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A group of Hastings students recently opened the Tenderloin Housing Clinic to provide assistance to residents and tenant groups seeking to protect their housing, as downtown developers eye the area with speculative gleams.
The Clinic, which opened its doors on March 3, operates out of a clean, small office in the Glide Memorial Church Annex on Ellis Street. The staff, a group of about 15 Hastings law students, is available five days a week to offer information on California landlord-tenant law and on the intricacies of San Francisco’s rent control ordinances.
Inspiration for the creation of the Clinic grew out of impatience with Hastings’ foot-dragging in implementing a public interest law program. Explains David Borgen, a second-year student at Hastings, “We wanted to demonstrate that there was no reason why there couldn’t be a clinic in the area.”
The Legal Services Committee was formed last fall to investigate the possibility of starting a housing clinic, and long months of organizing activity–recruiting, fundraising, and the inevitable meetings –ensued.
The Clinic’s organizers are pleased with the results. “Community response has been pretty good, considering it’s a brand-new clinic,” Borgen said, “Our phones have been ringing.” He notes that existing legal assistance groups are already flooded, and that the Clinic has been picking up some of the overflow.
Training for the participants was provided by volunteers from the Eviction Defense Center, another San Francisco housing assistance group. In training sessions conducted over three fuil Saturdays, students learned the general contours of landlord-tenant law, procedures for appealing rent increases, and the complexities of eviction defense.
By providing participants an opportunity to put their knowledge to practical use, the Clinic helps overcome what organizers view as a gap in the Hastings curriculum — the lack of practical training, especially for first-year students.
Adjunct to Downtown
Tenderloin Housing Clinic organizers feel that assistance with housing problems is a particularly appropriate service to offer to Hastings’ neighbors- the elderly and poor residents of the Tenderloin district.
An incipient movement to upgrade the Tenderloin threatens the housing security of its present inhabitants, underlying the highest neighborhood eviction rate in the city. “Hastings is located in an area which the people who are running this city want to change into another kind of area,”says first-year student Randy Shaw, one of the Clinic’s founders. The housing crisis in San Francisco leaves few options for those on fixed incomes.
Shaw points out that elements in San Francisco’s rent control ordinance aggravate the eviction problem. “The vacancy decontrol provision makes a landlord eager to evict because as soon as a tenant moves there’s no limit to how high the rent can be raised,” he says.
Landlords’ incentive to evict is enhanced by the knowledge that most of their tenants, easily intimidated by legal forms, will simply accept what might be a completely unfounded eviction. “Have you ever read a summons and complaint?” Shaw asks. “It’s hard enough for us, and we’re law students.” Few Tenderloin residents will even contemplate the expense of consulting a lawyer, he adds.
Another tactic used in the Tenderloin, the “phantom notice,” saves a landlord the trouble of filling out forms. A tenant gets an informal call from the owner or manager of the building, “speaking as a friend,” and is advised of plans for substantial rehabilitation in the near future. Grateful for advance notice, the tenant vacates, the rent is hiked, and the substantial rehabilitation never takes place.
The community is in “desperate need” of the services the Tenderloin Housing Clinic can offer, Shaw feels. Clinic staff will help a tenant decipher an eviction notice, fill out motions to get an extension or quash service, and will assist in filing a demurrer or even an answer.
Conceding a certain ambivalence in their feelings about upgrading a depressed area like the Tenderloin, Clinic members maintain that fairness has its own kind of charm
“We’d like to see the neighborhood upgraded too,” insists Chris Tiedemann, “but not if it means throwing these people to the wind. Many people have been in the Tenderloin for twenty or thirty or forty years. Everybody knows –developers, landlords, and Mayor Feinstein all know-that there’s nowhere else in the city for these tenants to move to once they’re evicted.”
Besides assisting in challenging an eviction, Tenderloin Housing Clinic staff can teach tenants how to appeal a rent increase before the San Francisco Rental Appeals Board. General advice is also available on rent payments, repairs, habitability, leases, privacy problems and other aspects of life covered by California landlord-tenant law.
A lawyer’s skills are not necessary for the kind of assistance and advice the Clinic provides, members feel. “We make people aware of what their options are,” says Karen Greneisen, the only non-student volunteer on the staff. “We do not make their decisions for them, though, and we are not attorneys.”
Funding for the Clinic remains a problem. Initial support came from student groups at Hastings: A.L.S.A., Clara Foltz Women’s Union, N.L.G. and P.I.L.A. Armed with endorsements from State Assembly persons and San Francisco Supervisors, the Clinic is seeking further funding from government and private organizations. Participants hope to expand the Clinic’s staff over the summer with an influx of students released from school worries and responsibilities. “People with a part-time or even full-time job may have a few hours a week to spare,” says David Borgen, “and the Clinic offers a tremendously rewarding experience.”
Students interested in information about the Tenderloin Housing Clinic may contact the staff at 776-8151.