Gelasio, husband and father of two children, came to one of our walk-in legal clinics distraught because his landlord was demanding rent payments that Gelasio had already tendered. Gelasio, a Mexican immigrant from Oaxaca, had already lived in his apartment for over a year and had made every rent payment on time. During the first nine months of his tenancy, Gelasio made timely rental payments to the real estate broker who had a working relationship with the landlord. With the landlord’s permission, this broker accepted monthly payments from Gelasio and delivered them to the landlord. After the real estate broker absconded with two of these payments, the landlord demanded the money from Gelasio and commenced a nonpayment eviction proceeding against Gelasio and his family.
Speaking very little English, Gelasio could not understand why he was being brought to court. He tried explaining to the landlord that he paid the rent, but the landlord paid little attention to his story and proceeded with the eviction case.
The lawyers at Catholic Migration Services and law students from the St. Johns Law School clinical program took on Gelasio’s case to prevent the landlord from unfairly collecting rent already paid and to protect Gelasio from wrongful eviction. The lawyers and interns prepared evidence for trial and served the landlord with subpoenas. On the trial date, the landlord dismissed its case against Gelasio. The sudden twist in Gelasio’s fate apparently hinged not so much upon the merits of his defense but upon his ability to obtain counsel.
Although a triumphant tale for Gelasio, its moral is sadly familiar to most brought to housing court and underscores the importance of CMS’ mission to represent poor immigrant families of New York and expand access to justice for the most vulnerable among us.