The COVID-19 (also known as the coronavirus) pandemic has shaken the lives of Marylanders in many ways. You may be concerned about your health, income, or home. We’ve compiled answers to some frequently asked questions in the links below. While the PJC’s office is closed, we are still working. If you are seeking legal assistance or advice, please contact us by phone at (410) 625-9409.
Have questions about sick leave, unemployment insurance, or other issues relating to workers’ rights during this crisis? Check out these resources.
Get answers to questions about tenants’ rights, utilities, evictions, and other housing issues.
Information about accessing healthcare
For more information about COVID-19, please visit:
Information on free legal help, changes in court procedures, housing, utilities and other essential services, unemployment, immigration, and domestic violence.
Toolkit from the office of the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi about benefits and protections available to help individuals and communities deal with the pandemic.
Information about eligibility for SNAP benefits, from Maryland Hunger Solutions
Zafar Shah is an attorney in the Human Right to Housing Project. Prior to joining Public Justice Center in 2011, he investigated employment, housing, and language access discrimination cases at the District of Columbia Office of Human Rights. His prior work involved transnational workers’ rights at Centro de los Derechos del Migrante and immigrant workers’ rights at Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance.
In 2008 Zafar graduated with exceptional service honors from the American University Washington College of Law, where he was a Public Interest/Public Service Scholar and worked two semesters in the International Human Rights Law Clinic. He also interned for Legal Aid Society of New York, Farmworker Justice, CASA of Maryland, and Center for Justice and International Law. He was a recipient of the South Asian Bar Association of New York Public Interest Fellowship and the National Lawyers Guild’s Haywood Burns Memorial Fellow for Social and Economic Justice.
Zafar currently serves on the Section Council for the Delivery of Legal Services Section of the Maryland State Bar Association and is co-chair of the Legal Impact Network Housing Working Group. From 2007 to 2009 Zafar co-chaired the National Lawyers Guild’s United People of Color Caucus. He also served as a volunteer attorney with Kids In Need of Defense from 2010 to 2017.
A Baltimore City resident since 2006, Zafar found the perfect job at PJC, where he brings direct client services, high impact litigation strategies, community partnerships, and legislative advocacy into a single focus on the empowerment of politically and socially marginalized communities. He holds a range of interests outside his work on housing and tenants’ rights: energy equity, community organizing, digital divide and technology literacy, and diversity in the legal profession. He was raised in north Texas and received his B.A. with special honors in 2003 from the University of Texas at Austin.
Phone: (410) 625-9409 x237
Ronnie Reno joined the Public Justice Center as a staff attorney in the summer of 2010 after retiring as a partner in the Baltimore office of Venable LLP, where he spent almost his entire legal career. At Venable, Ronnie specialized in commercial real estate law, and his clients included real estate developers, homebuilders and commercial mortgage lenders. Since arriving at the PJC, the majority of his work has been in connection with the PJC’s Human Right to Housing Project.
Ronnie has served on the Board of Managers for Haverford College and has been a Goucher College trustee since 1978. He served for many years as the legal advisor to the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland. He is also one of the founders of the Baltimore Choral Arts Society.
Ronnie was raised in Baltimore. He received his BA from Haverford College and his JD from the University of Pennsylvania. After graduating from law school, Ronnie clerked for the Hon. William Henderson of the Maryland Court of Appeals. He also served for two years as an Assistant Maryland Attorney General.
Phone: (410) 625-9409 x247
Carolina Paul joined the PJC in June 2018 as a Paralegal in the Human Right to Housing Project. Before she came to the PJC, she conducted Medicaid outreach and enrollment for Baltimore County families. Carolina has worked in direct service and outreach in education, healthcare, and transportation. She is excited for the opportunity to translate these skills to a legal setting. Carolina grew up in Baltimore and graduated from the University of Chicago.
Phone: (410) 625-9409 x271
Charisse Lue joined the Public Justice Center in 2018. She serves an attorney in the PJC’s Human Right to Housing Project. She is also a member of the board of the Family Crisis Center of Baltimore County. Prior experience includes working as an advocate for the homeless and survivors of domestic violence, as well as for the Office of the Attorney General for the Red Line and Purple Line projects.
Phone: (410) 625-9409 x245
Matt Hill is an attorney and team leader of the Human Right to Housing Project at the Public Justice Center (PJC). The Human Right to Housing Project seeks to protect and expand tenants’ rights to safe, habitable, affordable, and non-discriminatory housing and to fair and equal treatment by Maryland’s landlord-tenant laws, courts, and agencies. Matt has represented hundreds of tenants facing eviction and substandard housing conditions, advocated to create Baltimore City’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund with a dedicated funding source, acted as lead or co-counsel in a number of appeals involving landlord-tenant law, represented multiple classes of tenants in class actions challenging predatory landlord practices, advocated successfully to change Maryland and Baltimore City laws to strengthen tenant protections, and served as co-counsel in a HUD complaint and settlement that requires Baltimore County to dismantle policies that had perpetuated racial segregation and discriminated against persons with disabilities.
Prior to his working on the housing team, Matt was the Francis D. Murnaghan Appellate Advocacy Fellow at the PJC. In that capacity, he represented parties and amici in state and federal courts on various poverty law and civil rights issues in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, the Court of Appeals of Maryland and the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland. Matt clerked for the Honorable Deborah S. Eyler on the Maryland Court of Special Appeals. He earned a J.D., summa cum laude, from American University’s Washington College of Law and a B.A., summa cum laude, from Loyola College. Before attending law school, Matt taught eighth grade at Mother Seton Academy in Baltimore City.
Matt serves as a commissioner on Baltimore City’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund. He has received the following awards and honors: 2018 Lorraine Sheehan Memorial Award from the Community Development Network of Maryland; 2017 Dickens Warfield Fair Housing Advocacy Award, Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc; 2011 Housing Justice Award, Housing Justice Network, sponsored by National Housing Law Project; 2011 Maryland Access to Justice Commission Outstanding Program of the Year Award to Tenants in Foreclosure Project of Public Justice Center.
Phone: (410) 625-9409 x229
On August 8, 2020, we lost our beloved colleague Levern Blackmon. Levern first came to the PJC in 1996 through PJC’s Tenant Advocacy Training Project, which trained him as a volunteer lay advocate to represent tenants on the District Court’s rent docket. In 1998-1999 he was able to continue his work as an AmeriCorps volunteer. In 1999, Levern was hired as the Tenant Advocate/Case Manager. Levern represented and counseled thousands of tenants concerning tenant/landlord relations and secured tens of thousands of dollars for tenants from rent escrow accounts. In September 2002, Levern was appointed as the first paralegal for the PJC’s new Prisoners Project. In 2005, Levern began splitting his time between representing prisoners and tenants. He then returned to representing tenants full time as part of the Human Right to Housing team from the PJC’s office at the District Courthouse on Fayette Street.
Levern was also the recipient of the 2005 William L. Marbury Outstanding Advocate Award, which is awarded to a non-attorney who has demonstrated outstanding service in Maryland representing the rights and legal needs of the poor or by expanding access to justice for such persons.
When a person’s basic human needs are at stake, such as those involving their home, income, health care, or children, a lawyer can help protect what matters most. But in the United States, there is no federal right to state-funded counsel in civil cases. While all states provide a right to counsel for some types of civil cases by either statute or court decision (or both), the laws are patchwork and incomplete. Consequently, roughly 80 percent of the civil legal needs of low-income individuals go unmet, and half of those who seek assistance from civil legal aid organizations are turned away due to lack of resources.
At the same time, low-income individuals routinely face opponents (the government, landlords, banks, and so on) who are represented. Studies have shown that this disparity in representation leads to unbalanced outcomes, and that the presence of counsel dramatically improves a person’s chances for success while saving money for cities and states by avoiding negative outcomes, such as the use of homeless shelters, emergency medical care, unemployment, and foster care.
As the operator of the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel (NCCRC), the Public Justice Center supports efforts across the country to establish the right to a lawyer for low-income individuals in civil cases involving basic needs. The NCCRC provides significant technical, research, and writing support to over 300 coalition participants and 200 partners in 40 states, maintains the national clearinghouse of information on civil right to counsel, and engages in public advocacy and awareness throughout the country.
Visit the NCCRC website, civilrighttocounsel.org, for the latest about right to counsel developments from across the country.
The movement for a right to counsel in eviction cases has reached a seminal moment: New York City, San Francisco, Newark, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Boulder, and Baltimore now guarantee tenants a lawyer when their housing is threatened, and NUMEROUS other cities and states have introduced bills to do the same. The NCCRC provided and continues to provide extensive support to these campaigns.
The Supreme Court of Ohio ruled that low-income parents have a right to an attorney in involuntary adoption cases under the Equal Protection Clauses of the federal and state constitutions.
The NCCRC has a regular presence in the national media. NCCRC Coordinator John Pollock co-authored an op-ed in Newsweek about the necessary federal, state, and local response to the eviction crisis, and the NCCRC was featured in right to counsel stories in The Appeal and Law360 as well as in eviction stories in the Wall Street Journal, Salon, NPR, and Washington Post.
NOTE: The NCCRC cannot assist individuals with representation, legal advice, or attorney referrals. Therefore, we do not respond to individual requests for assistance. Please contact the legal aid organization in your state or your state’s attorney referral program.
Everyone should have a place to call home. Yet renters face many challenges to securing stable, safe, and affordable places to live:
The Human Right to Housing Project takes on these challenges. We stand with tenants to protect and expand their rights to safe, habitable, affordable, and non-discriminatory housing and their rights to fair and equal treatment by Maryland’s landlord-tenant laws, courts, and agencies. We defend renters facing eviction, demand repair of unsafe housing conditions, and represent renters seeking systemic relief from predatory landlord practices. We advocate to change the law regarding evictions and to demand the development of equitable and sustainable affordable housing.
The Public Justice Center provides free legal assistance, depending on capacity, to 1) renters in Baltimore City who are facing eviction or have questions about their rights and 2) renters statewide whose landlords are in foreclosure. Please call us at (410) 625-9409 for more information. If you are a renter outside of Baltimore City and your landlord is not in foreclosure, please contact the Maryland Court Help Center or another nonprofit legal services provider. You can also find information on our Get Legal Help page.
Baltimore City faces an eviction crisis: landlords annually evict as many as 7,000 Baltimore families for not paying the rent. The crisis takes a particularly heavy toll on Black women, who make up the vast majority of people called to rent court. With so many cases, rent court is designed for speed and steers tenants away from defending themselves. This system favors landlords, whose representatives are frequently at rent court. When a tenant can’t afford a lawyer, she stands alone, trying to defend her family and home against a landlord who likely has an experienced agent or lawyer.
We provide legal advice, representation, and know-your-rights education to tenants in Baltimore’s rent court, as well as to tenants whose landlords have entered foreclosure, retaliated against them or otherwise tried to evict them. We also use class action lawsuits, advocacy with government agencies, and legislative advocacy to change practices and policies so that tenants can maintain stable and safe housing. We are stronger when we do this work together, and we are grateful for our partnerships with community organizing groups, advocacy organizations, and private law firms.
If you are a renter looking for legal assistance, call us at (410) 625-9409 or visit our Get Legal Help page for more information.
Worked in coalition with Baltimore Renters United to successfully advocate to pass legislation that will provide Baltimore tenants the right to an attorney in eviction cases, making Baltimore the 7th city in the nation to provide this right.
Worked in coalition to support passage of a law that requires all residential rental properties to undergo routine inspection and licensing to do business in Baltimore City.
Filed a class action lawsuit against a property management company that charged tenants illegal, excessive fees. The resulting settlement got tenants nearly $1 million in compensation and changed the landlord’s practices.
Worked in coalition to support passage of a law that prohibits landlords in Baltimore City from discriminating against tenants based on their source of income.
Secured a precedent-setting decision in Lockett v. Blue Ocean stating that rent is the fixed, monthly amount a tenant owes to live in the home and not any other fees the landlord might charge. This is important for preventing landlords from trying to collect extra non-rent charges through the rapid eviction process.
Wrote the report Justice Diverted: How Renters are Processed in the Baltimore City Rent Court, which provides a deep dive into Baltimore’s eviction crisis. The data demonstrates how the outcome of an eviction case often does not depend on the merits of the case. Rather, the fate of a family’s home rides on a court system that puts long-standing tenant protections and basic housing standards second to court efficiency and landlords’ bottom line.
Worked in coalition to support passage of a law that prohibits landlords and foreclosure sale purchasers from evicting or locking out a homeowner or tenant without court process or the presence of the Sheriff.
Worked in coalition to support passage of a law stating that tenants must be notified when a foreclosure is pending on their homes.
Worked in coalition to support a law that protects tenants from landlord retaliation when they exercise their rights to make complaints about dangerous housing conditions, participate in lawsuits, or join tenant unions.