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The Bells get justice

PJC attorney Zafar Shah with Sharon and Henry Bell in front of the District Court of Maryland

PJC attorney Zafar Shah with Sharon and Henry Bell
Photo courtesy of the Right to Housing Allilance

August 6, 2013:  A few months ago, we shared the story of Henry and Sharon Bell’s fight to hold their absentee landlord accountable. In May, a judge allowed the Bells to pay their rent to the court until the landlord completed extensive repairs on the property. After four more hearings, the Bells finally got the justice they long deserved as tenants: improvements which brought the home up to code, return of $2,000 in rent, and damages of $2,450. With representation from the Public Justice Center and support from members of the Right to Housing Alliance, the Bells successfully demonstrated to the court how hard they had tried to make their home livable and how far the landlord had gone to ignore them. 

Henry and Sharon Bell’s victory is just one example of the PJC’s new efforts in using legal advocacy alongside a community organizing effort to promote and defend the human right to housing. The PJC uses legal representation and legislative advocacy to enforce and shape landlord-tenant law while allying with community organizers like the Right to Housing Alliance, who build community-based political power among low-income renters and homeowners. 
At regular RTHA meetings, tenants from Baltimore’s Park Heights neighborhood gather to share their experiences, and PJC attorneys offer individuals legal advice and representation in some cases. Henry Bell describes the benefit of the organizing: “It’s a great impact on our lives. To come to the Alliance meetings and hear other people express what their personal situations are so we can build a greater force to fight. I’m overwhelmed by it.”
In coming together, tenants not only receive individual legal and moral support, but realize that many people face similar challenges and become emboldened to demand that landlords, government, developers, and the courts respect their right to decent housing. Ultimately, we hope that the pressure from renters and PJC legal advocacy will lead to better treatment from landlords and courts and to fair community development practices that realize the human right to housing. To read more about the Bells and the Right to Housing Alliance, click here.

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