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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.

 

 

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.

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.

 

 

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.

Project on Predatory Student Lending Sues Federal Government For Withholding For-Profit College Corporation’s Recruitment Records

On February 14, the Project on Predatory Student Lending of the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit, challenging the government’s refusal to provide documents shedding light on for-profit college giant Education Management Corporation (EDMC)’s recruitment practices.

Months ago, the Project filed a FOIA request with the Department of Justice (DOJ), seeking access to these documents. DOJ claimed that it couldn’t release the documents (in part) because it said there was a court order preventing it from doing so. The Project disagreed. So, together with Public Justice, we asked the court that issued the order to clarify that the order does not, in fact, prevent DOJ from releasing the documents.

Soon after we asked the court for clarification, however, DOJ changed its tune entirely. It now claims that the public has no right to access these documents, even though they were produced to the government by a corporation the government alleged defrauded it of billions of dollars, and would enable the public to evaluate the government’s decision to settle its claims for less than one percent of what it had originally said they were worth.

The lawsuit challenges the government’s assertion that the public has no right to these important documents.

Two Federal Lawsuits, Still No Documents

Federal regulations allow student loan borrowers to seek cancellation of their federal student loans by showing that their school violated state law. Former students of the Art Institutes and other EDMC-owned chains thus want the documents to help prove that they were defrauded, and are entitled to relief on their student loans. Because these documents have been kept secret—and because EDMC uses forced arbitration clauses to drive students out of the public court system—borrowers seeking debt relief often have little but their own personal experiences to support their claims of misconduct.

The Attorney General of Minnesota—one of the states that participated in the case—expressed support for the Project’s efforts, stating that the information requested by the Project “could aid students in their efforts to obtain loan forgiveness from the United States Department of Education, which would unburden them from thousands of dollars of debt.”

The Project has made a significant effort to obtain these documents—filing a freedom of information request, litigating the government’s denial of that request, and moving to intervene to challenge the government and EDMC’s efforts to keep the documents secret—because the documents are critical to the Project’s advocacy on behalf of low-income student loan borrowers. The documents will help the Project seek relief for former students of EDMC-owned schools; inform the public about the practices of for-profit education companies and the government’s oversight of those companies; and advocate for policies that will protect low-income student loan borrowers.

Background: Government Lawsuit Against EDMC

EDMC, a corporation that has been closely associated with Goldman Sachs for years, runs four large chains of for-profit schools, including the beleaguered Art Institutes. In 2011, the federal government, along with several states, sued EDMC, alleging that it violated state and federal law and then lied about it to get government funding. The government claimed that, to maximize enrollments, EDMC illegally paid its “admissions employees” based on the number of students they could enroll; “created a ‘boiler room’ style sales culture,” the “relentless and exclusive focus” of which was “the number of new students” each recruiter could sign up; taught its recruiters to exploit prospective students’ vulnerabilities; and rewarded those who recruited the most students with bonuses, extra time off, vacations, and gifts.

The lawsuit eventually settled in 2015 for $95.5 million, less than one percent of the more than $11 billion in taxpayer-funded federal student grants and loans that the government alleged EDMC received between July 2003 and the suit’s filing. The settlement did not relieve students of any of the federal student loan debt they took on to attend EDMC-owned schools.

Documents Related to This Case

  • Freedom of Information Act Requests, Appeal, and Complaint:
  • Intervention (Dec. 2016):

About the Project on Predatory Student Lending

The Project on Predatory Student Lending fights for low-income borrowers, representing students and families who have experienced unfair, deceptive, and illegal conduct at the hands of for-profit colleges. In addition to litigating on behalf of its clients, the Project has advocated for policy reforms to increase accountability in the for-profit industry.

About Public Justice

Public Justice pursues high impact lawsuits to combat social and economic injustice, protect the Earth’s sustainability, and challenge predatory corporate conduct and government abuses. For two decades, Public Justice has been exposing and preventing excessive secrecy in our nation’s courts. Public Justice has unsealed evidence of dangers to public health and safety, helped injury victims oppose over-broad protective orders, and educated the public about the dangers of litigation conducted behind closed doors.

Job Announcement: Attorney Position, Veterans Legal Clinic

The Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School is pleased to announce that we are adding a new Clinic Attorney to our team in the Veterans Legal Clinic.  With a focus on advocating for veterans with mental health needs and other underserved veteran populations, the Clinic Attorney will provide representation in a variety of case types, including discharge upgrade cases and veterans benefit appeals that require or include a character of service determination. The docket for this position will include, but not be limited to, representation of veterans with less-than-honorable discharges, LGBTQ veterans, and survivors of Military Sexual Trauma (MST).  The Clinic Attorney will also conduct community outreach and trainings for service providers.

The position represents a unique opportunity to work in a dynamic public interest law office within Harvard Law School’s clinical program.  To learn more about the position, please review the posting here:

Clinic Attorney Job Posting — Harvard Law School Veterans Legal Clinic

Applications must be submitted via Harvard’s Human Resources website. Applicants should apply for the position designated as Clinic Attorney, Harvard Law School (ID # 41848BR).

National Association of Consumer Advocates elects Bertling to serve as co-chairman of the Massachusetts NACA chapter

The Board of Directors of the National Association of Consumer Advocates (NACA) recently announced that it had elected Roger Bertling, Director of the Predatory Lending and Consumer Protection Clinic of the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law school,  to serve as co-chairman of the Massachusetts NACA chapter.

NACA is a nonprofit association of more than 1,500 attorneys and consumer advocates committed to representing consumers’ interests. Its members are private and public sector attorneys, legal services attorneys, law professors, and law students whose primary focus is the protection and representation of consumers. They have represented hundreds of thousands of consumers victimized by fraudulent, abusive, and predatory business practices. As a national organization fully committed to promoting justice for consumers, NACA’s members and their clients are actively engaged in promoting a fair and open marketplace that forcefully protects the rights of consumers, particularly those of modest means.

The Massachusetts chapter of NACA is one of the largest and most active in the country.

For more information on NACA, please visit: http://www.consumeradvocates.org/about-naca

For more information on the Predatory Lending and Consumer Protection Clinic, please visit: http://www.legalservicescenter.org/about-the-legal-services-center/our-clinics/

New York Times Calls Former ITT Students’ Legal Action ‘Gratifying’

“It seems only right that victims of predatory for-profit education companies should have their student loans forgiven,” the article begins. It goes on to discuss the validity of students’ claims, their difficulty in getting debt relief, and the thousand of pages of “powerful testimony” submitted with the students’ complaint. As the article explains, the evidence shows “a pattern of practice that dispels any notion that bad behavior harmed just a handful of ITT students.”

Read the full article: Student Victims Seek to Become Creditors in ITT Bankruptcy

Challenge to Secrecy of Recruitment Records from For-Profit Education Company

The Project on Predatory Student Lending of the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School and Public Justice asked a federal judge on Friday, December 16, for access to documents that are likely to reveal for-profit college giant Education Management Corporation (EDMC)’s recruitment practices.

A few years ago, the federal government, along with several states, sued EDMC, whose four large chains of for-profit schools include the beleaguered Art Institutes, alleging that it violated state and federal law and then lied about it to get government funding.  The government claimed that EDMC illegally paid its recruiters based on the number of students they could enroll, a practice prohibited by federal law.  EDMC, the government alleged, “created a ‘boiler room’ style sales culture,” the “relentless and exclusive focus” of which was “the number of new students” each recruiter could sign up. To maximize enrollments, the lawsuit alleged, EDMC taught its recruiters to exploit prospective students’ vulnerabilities, and rewarded those who recruited the most students with bonuses, extra time off, vacations, and gifts.

The lawsuit eventually settled in 2015 for $95.5 million, much less than the $1.47 billion the company received in taxpayer-funded federal student grants and loans in the 2014-2015 year alone.  But as part of discovery in the suit, EDMC produced a lot of documents that we believe will shed light on their recruitment practices. “The documents from this lawsuit are likely to strengthen claims for relief of hundreds, if not thousands, of former EDMC students,” said Amanda Savage, one of the attorneys representing the debtors.

Former students of the Art Institutes and other EDMC-owned chains want these documents to help prove that they were defrauded, and are entitled to relief on their student loans. Because these documents have so far been kept secret—and because EDMC uses forced arbitration clauses to drive students out of the public court system—borrowers seeking debt relief often have little but their own personal experiences to corroborate their claims of misconduct.

“While taxpayers spent hundreds of millions of dollars funding what the Department of Justice has called EDMC’s ‘recruitment mill,’ the borrowers who attended these schools have yet to obtain federal debt relief,” said Public Justice attorney Jennifer Bennett.

Before filing this lawsuit, the Project tried to get these documents showing EDMC’s predatory recruitment practices through federal and state freedom of information requests, but its request was denied in part because of a protective order in the case. The Project asked a federal judge to rule that the protective order does not shield the documents.

Documents Related to This Case

About the Project on Predatory Student Lending

The Project on Predatory Student Lending fights for low-income borrowers, representing students and families who have experienced unfair, deceptive, and illegal conduct at the hands of for-profit colleges. In addition to litigating on behalf of its clients, the Project has advocated for policy reforms to increase accountability in the for-profit industry.

About Public Justice

Public Justice pursues high impact lawsuits to combat social and economic injustice, protect the Earth’s sustainability, and challenge predatory corporate conduct and government abuses. For two decades, Public Justice has been exposing and preventing excessive secrecy in our nation’s courts. Public Justice has unsealed evidence of dangers to public health and safety, helped injury victims oppose over-broad protective orders, and educated the public about the dangers of litigation conducted behind closed doors.

Class of Former ITT Students File 7.3 Billion Dollar Claim in ITT Bankruptcy

On January 3, 2017, a group of former ITT Tech students moved to intervene in ITT’s bankruptcy proceedings in the Southern District of Indiana. They seek to act as representatives of hundreds of thousands who have been defrauded by ITT.

Along with legal documents, the students filed over a thousand pages of first-hand accounts from students who attended ITT, affidavits from several whistleblowers, and evidence developed from state and federal law enforcement investigations. The CFPB and multiple state attorneys general are also parties in the bankruptcy proceedings.

For more information on the student intervention, including all of the documents that were filed, background on ITT, and explanations of the legal actions taken today, click here.