The economic effects of COVID-19 continue to put low-income individuals across the state at risk of losing their homes.
Legal aid advocates from New Hampshire Legal Assistance and 603 Legal Aid have established clinics in the state’s busiest courthouses – Manchester and Nashua – to help tenants prepare for their hearings and give them an opportunity to negotiate with their landlords for additional time to apply for rental or utility assistance.
Students from the University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law volunteered to support the eviction clinics by contacting tenants ahead of their hearing, encouraging them to access available resources. Since September, the intervention and advocacy of NHLA and 603 staff members at clinics have helped approximately 102 households with their eviction cases.
“A lot of people don’t know how to access or navigate the legal system,” said Filip Jovic, a second-year law student with an interest in intellectual property law, family law, and tax law. “I want to make sure people’s rights are protected and they have access to the resources they are entitled to.”
Filip referred multiple individuals to websites where they can apply for rental assistance. He also reminded more than a few of them of upcoming court dates. For those who are unfamiliar with eviction hearings, Filip admits that how they work might come as a surprise.
“The hearings themselves take only a few minutes,” he explained. “That’s why it’s important for tenants and landlords to come to eviction clinics. People who are not familiar with the process can be easily overwhelmed. The kind of support they need isn’t available during the actual hearing.”
Brianna Hankel, another second-year law student took a year off between her undergraduate studies and law school to serve as a support staff member with Families in Transition. Her work with FIT sparked an interest in helping people in meaningful ways.
“I met a lot of people at FIT who could use legal help,” Brianna said. “With these volunteer opportunities, I feel like I’m getting stuff done for them.”
Brianna received files of eviction cases for the upcoming week. She called individuals and let them know that legal aid advocates were going to be at the courthouse the day of their hearing and that they could come in 30 minutes prior to their hearings to speak with advocates and prepare for their case.
“The people I spoke with over the phone were really excited to learn they could come in 30 minutes early to get help preparing,” she said. “The eviction process is difficult to deal with and it’s easy to feel lost and helpless.”
“The clinics have been a tremendous success in providing last-minute eviction prevention services for tenants,” said Elliott Berry, Co-Director of NHLA’s Housing Justice Project. “The outreach to tenants being done by UNH Law students and the records they are gathering from the courts have substantially increased our ability to provide effective advice and representation to tenants within the short time that we have to work with them on the day of their eviction hearings.”
Funding support for this program was provided in part by the IOLTA program of the New Hampshire Bar Foundation.