Moving Day in Boston: What Are Tenants’ Rights?

 

With the single biggest residential moving day in Greater Boston coming up on September 1, renters moving out of one place and signing a lease on a new one need to know their rights as tenants. One way to do that is to check out the newly updated book Legal Tactics: Private Housing, an easy-to-understand, comprehensive handbook on Massachusetts tenants’ rights for lay audiences.

The book focuses on private rental housing and answers questions on everything from security deposits and last month’s rent to rent and utilities, repairs, evictions, housing discrimination, lead poisoning, mobile homes, and tenants in foreclosed properties.

It is available for free online or you can purchase a hard copy online or by calling   Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education at 1-800-966-6253 .

Julia Devanthery

More than forty sample forms, letters, and checklists provide tenants and their advocates with the tools needed to prevent problems, gain protections, and communicate effectively with landlords, boards of health, and courts. A one-stop reference, this book also provides the legal information tenants need through footnotes, an expanded phone directory, and actual text of key laws.

“This book empowers unrepresented people and arms non-lawyer advocates as they take on powerful opponents and navigate a challenging legal system,” says Julia Devanthery, one of the lawyers at LSC who represents low income clients on housing issues.

Maureen McDonagh

“Until there is a civil right to counsel, tenants will have to represent themselves in landlord-tenant matters in Massachusetts,” adds Maureen McDonagh, who leads the Housing Clinic at LSC. The Harvard clinic is a community lawyering office in Jamaica Plain/Roxbury that focuses on representing low-income tenants who cannot afford counsel, including providing Attorney of the Day services in Boston Housing Court.  The Clinic has special expertise working on issues at the intersection of domestic violence and housing.

“Legal Tactics is essential reading for any tenant,” says McDonagh, “and especially for those fighting to stand up for their rights.”

 

Here’s just a few of the many types of questions renters may have that the book addresses, and links to find the answers online:

I’m moving into a new place and had planned to use my deposit from my old place to put down on my new place.  But my old landlord is being slow in giving me my deposit back – and she says that the apartment is in worse shape than when I moved in six years ago, so she plans to keep part of the deposit to cover the cost of repainting and cleaning?  Is this fair?  (Chapter 3)

I have a pet, and my landlord says he will rent the apartment to me, but he is asking that I put down a first and last month’s rent, security deposit equal to one month’s rent, plus a “pet fee.” Is that OK?  (Chapter 3)

Can my landlord evict me with no notice for non-payment of rent?  (Chapter 12)

Can my landlord evict me with no notice for any other reason?  (Chapter 12)

I really like the new place I’ve just found and can afford the rent.  But the neighborhood is gentrifying, and other apartments in the area are being converted to condos. If my landlord decides to convert my apartment into condos down the road, how much advance notice must he provide me?  (Chapter 17)

When can I sublet my own apartment to someone else?  What are my legal rights if, unbeknownst to me, I sublet an apartment that the original renter was not allowed to sublet and the landlord finds out?  (Chapter 11)

Edited by Annette R. Duke of the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, Boston,  authors of individual chapters include two members of the Legal Services Center at Harvard Law School, Julia E. Devanthery, and Maureen E. McDonagh, who have written chapters on evictions and security deposit law, including information on how victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or sexual harassment have the right to break their leases following these incidents.

Other authors includes lawyers from Greater Boston Legal Services; Cambridge and Somerville Legal Services; National Consumer Law Center;  the Community Legal Aid organizations in Springfield, Worcester, Pittsfield, and Lowell; Northeast Legal Aid; the Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association; Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, and  law firms including Goldstein & Feuer, Moquin & Daley, and Gary Allen, Esq.

 

 

Job Announcement: LSC’s Veterans Legal Clinic Seeks to Hire an Estate Planning Clinical Fellow

The Legal Services Center (LSC) of Harvard Law School has a current opening for a Clinical Fellow.  The position in within the Estate Planning Project of the Veterans Legal Clinic.  The Estate Planning Project—through which Harvard Law students also receive hands-on training in lawyering skills—provides free legal representation to low-income disabled veterans on matters such as wills, powers of attorneys, healthcare proxies, living wills, trusts, special needs trusts, guardianships, conservatorships, and probate of estates.  The goal of the Project’s representation is to help each veteran attain the maximum degree of control over financial, health, and family decision making.  Many of the Project’s clients have multiple service-connected disabilities and/or face chronic or terminal illnesses.  The Clinical Fellow will oversee the Project’s docket, maintain community and pro bono partnerships, represent clients, and train and supervise law students who enroll in the Veterans Legal Clinic and who seek to develop skills in estate planning practice.  The position represents a unique opportunity to work in a dynamic public interest law office within Harvard Law School’s clinical program. Salary is commensurate with experience.  The position is for an initial one-year appointment.  The possibility of reappointment depends on performance, the availability of funding, and project requirements.

Minimum Requirements: Candidates must have earned a J.D. no more than three years ago, have at least one year of relevant experience, and be admitted to the Massachusetts bar or eligible for temporary admission pursuant to Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Rule 3:04.

To Apply:  Applications must be submitted via Harvard’s Human Resources website.  The posting and online application portal can be found here.

About the Veterans Legal Clinic:  Founded in 2012 at the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School, the Veterans Legal Clinic provides pro bono legal assistance to veterans and their families.  Our goal is to protect the legal rights of the veterans community through determined, passionate, and effective advocacy.  In addition to representing individual clients, the Clinic also pursues broader initiatives to improve the systems that serve the veterans community. To learn more about the Clinic, please visit here.

About the Legal Services Center:  Located at the crossroads of Jamaica Plain and Roxbury in the City of Boston, the Legal Services Center is a community-based clinical law program of Harvard Law School. Through five clinical offerings—Family Law/Domestic Violence Clinic, Predatory Lending/Consumer Protection Clinic, Housing Clinic, Veterans Legal Clinic, and Federal Tax Clinic—and numerous pro bono initiatives we provide essential legal services to low-income residents of Greater Boston and in some instances, where cases present important law reform opportunities, to clients outside our service area. Our longstanding mission is to educate law students for practice and professional service while simultaneously meeting the critical needs of the community. Since 1979, we have engaged in cutting-edge litigation and legal strategies to improve the lives of individual clients, to seek systemic change for the communities we serve, and to provide law students with a singular opportunity to develop fundamental lawyering skills within a public interest law setting. To these ends, we actively partner with a diverse array of organizations, including healthcare and social service providers and advocacy groups, and continually adapt our practice areas to meet the changing legal needs of our client communities. We encourage diversity, value unique voices, and pursue with passion our twin goals of teaching law students and advocating for clients. To learn more about LSC, please visit here.

Click here for a pdf of the job posting.

Job Announcement: LSC’s Project on Predatory Student Lending Hiring for a Clinical Attorney

The Project on Predatory Student Lending seeks an outstanding experienced attorney to join our team this summer. The Project is committed to building and maintaining a diverse staff and an inclusive environment.

This position presents an opportunity to join an exciting and innovative project that provides much-needed services, the benefits of which will extend beyond our local community, to work in a dynamic public interest and clinical teaching law office, and to advocate on behalf of consumers harmed by fraudulent and deceptive practices.

Candidates must have a J.D. and be admitted to the Massachusetts bar or have the ability to receive temporary admission pursuant to Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Rule 3:04. Minimum of 3 years litigation experience required.

For more information, please see the posting here.

LSC’s Project on Predatory Student Lending and Public Citizen Sue to Stop Education Department’s Illegal Regulatory Delay

The U.S. Department of Education broke the law when it announced a delay of a rule designed to protect students defrauded by predatory for-profit colleges and career training programs, two borrowers said in a lawsuit filed today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The borrowers are represented by Public Citizen and the Project on Predatory Student Lending of the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School.

The lawsuit was brought by Meaghan Bauer and Stephano Del Rose, former students of the for-profit New England Institute of Art (NEIA) in Brookline, Mass. They allege that NEIA, which is owned by Education Management Corporation (EDMC), engaged in unfair and deceptive practices against them and other students that left them with a useless education, few job prospects and a mountain of debt. The students intend to bring suit against the school for its conduct in court, on behalf of a class. They also have asserted a federal right to have the Education Department cancel loans that the students obtained to attend the school based on the school’s unlawful conduct. The lawsuit seeks to invalidate the Department’s delay of the rule, and would allow the rule to take effect for all borrowers.

Bauer and Del Rose had been counting on an Education Department rule finalized in November by the Obama administration that prohibits schools receiving federal funds from relying on forced arbitration clauses and class action bans to prevent their students from bringing their claims together and in court. This Borrower Defense rule would ensure that Bauer and Del Rose have their day in court in a suit against NEIA. The rule also would provide Bauer and Del Rose with new protections and transparency when the Education Department considers their applications to have their federal student loans forgiven.

The Borrower Defense rule was slated to go into effect on July 1. In May, however, a trade group brought suit to challenge portions of the rule. And last month, the Department of Education announced it would delay key parts of the rule until that litigation is over. It also announced that it would begin a new rulemaking to reconsider the rule. Under the terms of the law that governs the rulemaking, a replacement could not take effect for at least two years.

In another lawsuit filed today, a group of state attorneys general also has argued that the Education Department’s delay of the rule is unlawful.

Read the complaint and visit this page for more information about the case.

 

Veterans Legal Clinic Files Class Action Against Massachusetts Treasury on Behalf of Veterans with Bad-Paper Discharges

Jeffrey Machado, one of the lead plaintiffs, while serving in Afghanistan.

Jeffrey Machado, one of the lead plaintiffs, while serving in Afghanistan.

On June 29, the Veterans Legal Clinic at the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School filed a class action lawsuit in Massachusetts Superior Court on behalf of Army combat veteran Jeffrey Machado and an estimated 4,000 veterans from Massachusetts who served in Iraq, Afghanistan, or elsewhere since 9/11 but are considered to be undeserving of the state’s $1000 Welcome Home Bonus given to servicemembers when they are honorably discharged from the military.

The lead plaintiffs in this suit are two former Soldiers from Massachusetts who deployed to Afghanistan, honorably completed their enlistments, re-enlisted so that they could continue serving their country, and then later left the military with a bad-paper discharge assigned to their final enlistment periods.  Both are diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) related to their deployments and experienced family and health issues that contributed to the conduct that led to the bad-paper discharges.

The Massachusetts Legislature created the Welcome Home Bonus in 2005, continuing a long tradition of providing benefits to returning servicemembers from Massachusetts. However, the Massachusetts State Treasury, which is charged with administering the Bonus program, recently decided that the two veteran plaintiffs were not eligible for the Welcome Home Bonus because their final enlistment periods ended with bad-paper discharges, despite the fact that their prior enlistments during which they had deployed had ended with honorable discharges.

“As the class action complaint sets forth, the Treasurer has violated its governing statute by failing to give due credit to these two men and others like them who honorably completed enlistments, immediately reenlisted, but later left the military with bad-paper discharges that applied only to their final enlistment,” says Dana Montalto, Senior Clinical Fellow at the Veterans Legal Clinic at the Legal Services Center. “These veterans should be eligible for the Welcome Home Bonus based on the service that the military already deemed fully honorable.”

Daniel Nagin, Director of the Veterans Legal Clinic, adds, “The Treasury’s decision to deny bonuses to these veterans is especially unjust because they could have applied for the Bonus after they returned from Afghanistan and were still on active duty, and the Treasury would no doubt have approved their applications. Only because these veterans happened to apply after they left the service and returned to Massachusetts did the Treasury’s misunderstanding of the law cause these veterans to be denied the Bonus.”

Thousands of American men and women have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11, experienced hardships, and risked their lives in war zones. More than 135,000 post-9/11 veterans have bad-paper discharges. The Government Accountability Office recently found that 62 percent of servicemembers separated for misconduct from fiscal years 2011 through 2015 had been diagnosed within the prior two years with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury, or another mental health condition.

“These men and women volunteered for military duty when most Americans do not,” notes Montalto. “Many of them have physical or mental wounds because of that service—but choose to reenlist and continue serving. Yet, when those mental and emotional burdens become too great and the end result is a bad-paper discharge, the Commonwealth is unlawfully choosing to find that the entirety of the military service of these individuals is worthless. The Welcome Home Bonus law does not permit that kind of judgment.”

More than 150,000 men and women from Massachusetts have volunteered to enlist in the armed forces since 9/11. About 7 percent of them left the military with a bad-paper discharge assigned to their last period of service. While many did not reenlist, the Veterans Legal Clinic team estimates that about 4,000 did complete their first enlistment contract with an honorable discharge and then re-enlisted, but received a bad-paper discharge related to that subsequent enlistment. This group should be eligible for the Welcome Home Bonus, Clinic attorneys say.

“Both plaintiffs feel that this case is less about the Bonus payment itself and more about having the Commonwealth recognize the honorable military service that they and thousands of fellow veterans dedicated to this nation,” says Montalto.  “We are filing this lawsuit on their behalf to ensure that they and others get the recognition they deserve.”

Click here for a copy of the complaint.

Additional coverage of the case comes from WBUR and Stars & Stripes.

Court Orders Department of Education to Consider Student Loan Relief Application, Calling Request for Further Delay “Frivolous and in Bad Faith”

The United States District Court for the Central District of California issued an Order today that directs the Department of Education to rule on the loan relief application of a former Corinthian student that has been pending for over two years.  To date, the Department of Education has not ruled on thousands of applications for loan relief submitted by borrowers whose federal student loans were originated by private banks under the Federal Family Education Loan Program.

The Plaintiff, Sarah Dieffenbacher, filed her first application for loan relief in March 2015. Her loans went into default while her application was still pending.  In late 2016, Sarah received a notice that her wages would be garnished. She works as a home health care phlebotomist to support herself and her four children. She objected to the wage garnishment because the terms of her loan and federal law both provide that Corinthian’s fraudulent actions render her loans unenforceable. She asked the Department to hold the hearing on her objections to which she was entitled.

After the Department of Education overruled her objection, citing the fact that her file included a signed loan contract, and ordered the garnishment to go forward, Sarah filed a lawsuit against the Department in March.  Represented by the Project on Predatory Student Lending of the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School, she argued that the Department did not consider the arguments or evidence she presented before rejecting her claim. As the Court noted, her application was supported by 254 pages of exhibits, which included a sworn statement from Sarah as well as records from the Attorney General of California regarding documented misconduct on the part of Everest and its parent company.  The Department also did not provide Sarah with the requested hearing before issuing a summary denial.

In response to the lawsuit, the Department filed a motion asking that the Court refrain from examining the case altogether.  The Court ruled that this request was not based on a “substantial or legitimate concern” but rather was “both frivolous and in bad faith,” and “appears to be an attempt to evade judicial review so that it can retain the ability to garnish Plaintiff’s wages without a conclusive ruling as to the enforceability of her loans.”  Under the ruling, the Department now has ninety days to provide Sarah with a conclusive ruling on her application for loan relief.  Responding to the ruling, Sarah said, “I’m fighting for myself, but also for so many others who were defrauded by for-profit schools.  I hope this case will put pressure on the Department to do the right thing.”

This ruling comes amidst growing concern that the Department of Education is refusing to take actions required by law and its own regulations designed to wipe out student loan debts that are the product of fraud and illegal activity by predatory schools.  Tens of thousands of applications for relief based on the fraud of Corinthian and other for-profit schools have been pending with the Department for months and even years.  “Today’s ruling confirms that student loan borrowers have rights that exist independently of political winds and caprices.  It is inexcusable to delay and thereby deny Sarah and other borrowers in similar positions their contractual and statutory rights,” said Toby Merrill, director of the Project on Predatory Student Lending and one of the lawyers representing Sarah.

Additional Information

Ms. Dieffenbacher is also represented by Alec Harris, Eileen Connor, and Deanne Loonin of the Project on Predatory Student Lending of the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School, as well as Robyn Smith of the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles.

Click here for a copy of the Court’s Order.

Click here for the Project’s press release about the Order.

ITT Trustee to Stop Collection on All “Temporary Credit” Accounts

MAY 19, 2017

On May 18, the court overseeing ITT’s bankruptcy case approved a motion to stop collection on all ITT “Temporary Credits.” ITT used unfair and deceptive tactics to get students to sign up for Temporary Credits, including by describing Temporary Credits as grants and threatening to expel students if they did not agree to the debt. Even after ITT filed for bankruptcy, its servicers and debt collectors continued to harass students to collect these Temporary Credits.

Former ITT students have consistently objected to ITT’s ongoing collection efforts. In January, the Project on Predatory Student Lending filed an adversary complaint in the bankruptcy case on behalf of hundreds of thousands of former ITT students, arguing that the debts were incurred as a result of ITT’s unfair and deceptive practices and asking the court to block the estate from collecting these accounts. The students then objected to the trustee’s request to hire more contractors to try to collect these Temporary Credits. The class of former students is currently represented by the Project on Predatory Student Lending and Jenner & Block LLP.

Former ITT students are gratified that the trustee has now decided to stop pursuing these accounts. Stopping collection on Temporary Credits is an important first step, but any ongoing collection on ITT-generated debt continues to harm students unjustifiably. Former ITT students continue to face collections on billions of dollars of federal and private student debts that the company generated by its unfair and deceptive practices.

For more information about students’ claims against ITT, click here.

FOR FORMER ITT STUDENTS:

As of yesterday, if you have Temporary Credits from ITT that were serviced by United Accounting Services (UAS), FirstSource/One Advantage or other collection agencies (Premiere Credit NA, General Revenue Corporation, and Security Credit Systems), you should no longer submit any payments. In the next few weeks, the trustee will send out a notice to those students who are affected. In the coming months, the trustee will calculate refund amounts for only those students who continued to make payments on their Temporary Credits after ITT filed for bankruptcy.

ITT issued Temporary Credits to students to pay tuition not covered by federal and private student loans. Many Temporary Credits were later converted to private loans, including Student CU Connect CUSO and PEAKS loans—these debts are no longer considered Temporary Credits. The debts that were not converted to private loans are still considered Temporary Credits, and have been serviced by UAS & FirstSource on behalf of ITT.

This ruling does NOT apply to other types of ITT-related debt, including federal loans, private bank loans, Student CU Connect CUSO loans, or PEAKS loans. This ruling also does not apply to any debt that is not ITT-related, even if UAS or FirstSource are collecting on those debts.

Stopping collection on Temporary Credits is an important first step, but it does not solve all of the problems ITT caused, including federal and private loan collections. The ITT trustee can stop collection on Temporary Credits because ITT’s estate still owns those accounts. The trustee does not own the federal loans or most private loans. Therefore, the trustee has less control over these loans. Below are updates on the status of a few other types of ITT loans:

  • Federal Loans. The Department of Education acknowledged that over $3 billion ITT-generated loans could be eligible for borrower defense discharges. The Department of Education has received over 2,000 applications from ITT students, but to date, we are not aware of any borrower defense discharges granted to ITT students. We will continue to advocate for the Department to grant borrower defense discharges to former ITT students.
  • Temporary Credits converted into accounts with Student CU Connect CUSO/PEAKS. These accounts are currently outside the control of the ITT trustee. These accounts are the subject of multiple investigations, and we are advocating on behalf of students to discharge these accounts.
  • All other private student loans are not part of ITT’s bankruptcy proceeding right now.

Click here to sign up for future updates.

 

 

Job Announcement: Clinical Fellow, Federal Tax Clinic

The Federal Tax Clinic at the Legal Services Center seeks to hire a clinical fellow for a two-year appointment commencing in summer 2017.  The position represents a unique opportunity to join Harvard Law School’s clinical program, to work in a dynamic public interest and clinical teaching law office, to work on cutting-edge tax law issues, and to develop lawyering and clinical teaching skills. For more information, please see the posting here.

Project on Predatory Student Lending Statement on Proposed Sale of EDMC to Dream Center Foundation

Last Friday, for-profit college giant Education Management Corporation (EDMC) announced the sale of many of its campuses to the Dream Center Foundation. The acquisition would convert three of the corporation’s chains—the Art Institutes, Argosy University, and South University—into nonprofits. EDMC will retain ownership of the Brown Mackie chain, which is shutting down most of its campuses, and the 19 Art Institute campuses the corporation is in the process of shutting down.

EDMC’s conversion to nonprofit status raises critical questions, including how the corporation intends to ensure positive student outcomes once it is no longer subject to gainful employment regulations. EDMC has more than 130 programs that the federal government has found to burden graduates with unmanageable student loan debt—programs that will be subject to even less federal oversight once they have been sold to a nonprofit. EDMC’s compliance with federal requirements attached to the receipt of federal Title IV funds will be even more critical once the corporation is no longer subject to the “90-10 rule,” which prevents for-profit colleges from receiving more than 90 percent of their revenues from such funds.

Like the last-ditch sale of many Corinthian campuses as that company failed, this sale leaves failing schools with EDMC, while selling off assets that may still have value to a new entity that may disclaim liability for the acts of its predecessors. This type of transaction leaves former students struggling with unmanageable debt even more completely without recourse.

Less than a year ago, EDMC tried to sell the New England Institute of Art, an Art Institutes campus in Brookline, Massachusetts, to a university based in India. The deal was scuttled after the corporations failed to obtain state approval. As EDMC’s equity holders continue to try to divest themselves of these assets, regulators should demand assurances that whoever owns the schools will operate them in the interests of students.

***
The Project on Predatory Student Lending represents a group of former students who attended the EDMC-owned New England Institute of Art. In September, these former students demanded that the companies remedy the harms they had caused to students and their families. The Project and Public Justice are currently challenging the federal government’s refusal to provide documents shedding light on EDMC’s recruiting practices.