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This volunteer keeps tenants in their homes

March 1, 2017: It’s 8:45 on Wednesday morning. The lobby outside of the Baltimore City Rent Court is packed with tenants and landlords. Jamerra Cherry walks up to one of the tenants and asks if she can help. Soon a line has formed as tenants realize she’s there for them. Jamerra is a volunteer who works with and is supervised by the Public Justice Center’s Human Right to Housing Project. Once a week, she carves out time from her day job as a senior paralegal at Joseph, Greenwald & Laake to help Baltimore tenants navigate Rent Court. On a typical day, she might meet with tenants who are facing eviction or dealing with a landlord’s refusal to fix faulty wiring and leaking pipes. She shares information about tenant rights, researches case law, represents tenants in court, and observes trials. “People are being displaced over things that could have been resolved,” she says. It’s her mission to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Maryland law allows certain non-attorneys to represent parties in Rent Court – landlords often hire “agents” to represent them, and tenants may be represented by a paralegal who is supervised by a legal aid organization. In one recent case, Jamerra represented a woman whose landlord was harassing her for rent. Suspecting that the landlord had put a random number on a court document where the home’s license number should have been, she told the tenant to ask Baltimore Housing to look up the property. Sure enough, the place wasn’t licensed for renting because the landlord had failed to let inspectors in to confirm that it was livable. The landlord therefore could not rent the property or use the courts to go after the tenant. Jamerra brought the information to the trial, and the judge dismissed the case. She also worked out an agreement between the tenant and the landlord, giving the tenant time to find a more hospitable place to live. She even had the opportunity to talk with the landlord about what the landlord had done wrong.

When asked why this work is important to her, Jamerra describes what’s on tenants’ minds: if they lose this case, they’re evicted. They have babies at home. They’re struggling to make ends meet. With the stability of their lives at stake, tenants sometimes go along with whatever ridiculous demands the landlord makes because they don’t want to be on the street. This give landlords room to take advantage of them, or even convince them not to show up for their court date. When they don’t show up, the judge rules in favor of the landlord and the tenant ends up evicted. Describing the treatment of tenants, she says, “It’s like they’re throwaways.”

Week in and week out, Jamerra reminds tenants they have the right to stand up in Rent Court. Thank you, Jamerra, for your dedicated advocacy for Baltimore tenants.

 

Photo credit: Jessica A. Richardson



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