It was 2010 and I had just graduated law school at what might have been the absolute worst time in human history to do so.
Undaunted by the job market, I was honored to receive a paid fellowship in the New York court system, assigned to help out those living in poverty with landlord disputes. And when I say paid, I mean a metro card for the subway and enough cash for a bagged lunch.
What I saw and experienced changed me forever.
I’m sure there are many very honest and fair landlords working in Brooklyn. However, there were ones whose greed, inhumanity, and general awfulness transcended even my own low expectations.
My clients were often working grandmothers, taking care of multiple members of their families, living in rent-controlled apartments. The landlords, eager to take advantage of rising rents in the city, wanted my clients out.
To get them to leave, they’d turn off the heat during snowstorms and bang on their doors at all hours. They’d come in, unannounced. They’d leave stoves and refrigerators unfixed.
Then, if a tenant was even one day late on the rent, they’d move to evict, not take payment, and start (illegally) charging legal fees as part of the evictions process.
It was, of course, all a bet that these tenants could not get adequate representation to fight them.
BUT FIGHT THEM I DID. I proudly took them on at every opportunity… even getting sanctions against the lawyers for their behavior. We were able to make sure many tenants who were the subjects of these abusive practices got to stay in their homes.
In the process, I was deeply affected by their strength and resolve. These were people that were doing anything and everything just to get by. My own debts and the extra jobs I was taking to pay for subway fare and my apartment paled in comparison. I had faith I would eventually get a reasonable paying job and a good home. My clients’ had no such hope. They were simply fighting to not be homeless.
That experience informs so much of my candidacy and activism. There are way too many people who live on the edge of disaster, just one illness or car problem away from a financial death spiral… and whose lives are made worse on a daily basis by the greed of some landlords and developers. For a lot of people, having a safety net doesn’t mean a handout. It means simply having someone who will stand for you and ensure that the laws written by and for the people ACTUALLY PROTECT THE PEOPLE.
That’s the kind of thing I’ll be fighting for in Tallahassee. I am so grateful you’re with me.