Tenants’ Rights Clinic Defends Retaliatory Eviction of Tenant Leader

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Tenants' Rights students with client

Michael Mandel (3L) meets with his client Shalonda Rivers after a successful hearing in county court

Evictions may seem like simple legal proceedings, but unrepresented tenants are often unable to properly raise their defenses. Most unrepresented tenants lose their evictions – often by default. Students in the Tenants’ Rights Clinic defend families facing eviction and fight to keep tenants in their homes, all while gaining valuable litigation and negotiation skills. The clinic, based at Legal Services of Greater Miami, Inc., is offered each spring semester, and students work under the supervision of Clinic Director Jeffrey Hearne.  

At the beginning of the Spring 2019 semester, Michael Mandel, a certified legal intern and 3L at Miami Law, was assigned to represent Shalonda Rivers and her family in a pending eviction. “Defending an eviction is vital legal assistance -- being evicted or losing subsidized housing assistance can be devastating because of the lack of affordable housing in Miami and the unbelievably long waiting lists to get back into affordable housing,” said Mandel. 

Rivers is a resident leader at a HUD-subsidized property in Opa-Locka where she has lived with her three children since 2001. A few years ago, she started a tenant association so residents could collectively voice complaints about living conditions and gain valuable information about their legal rights. The association pushed for desperately needed repairs and improved conditions. Last summer, the Miami New Times featured Rivers in an article about the terrible conditions at the property. 

Because of her advocacy, the landlord filed an eviction against Rivers for allegedly not allowing the landlord into her unit on two separate occasions – nine months apart. Rivers alleged that the landlord filed the eviction against her in retaliation since it was based on a minor lease violation. 

“Once I reviewed the case and the possible consequences involved to Ms. Rivers and her family, it really hit me how vital and potentially life-changing these cases are to these families and how much of a positive impact I can make through my work in the clinic,” said Mandel. 

Mandel drafted various documents to defend the eviction, including a motion for summary judgment and engaged in settlement negotiations with opposing counsel. He represented Rivers at the summary judgment hearing, and during the hearing, the landlord voluntarily dismissed the eviction due to the strength of Rivers’ case. With the help of Mandel’s advocacy, Rivers and her family successfully defended themselves in their eviction and can stay in the place they have called home for nearly two decades. Additionally, Rivers has been relocated to a hotel while the landlord makes much-needed repairs to her apartment.

“I am very happy to have been able to successfully defend Ms. Rivers in her eviction suit,” said Mandel. “Anyone who has met Ms. Rivers can tell you that she is a great advocate for low-income tenants, and it meant a lot to me to be able to use my legal training to help prevent the potentially tragic outcome of an eviction.”