The Penn Housing Rights Project (PHRP) is a Toll Public Interest Center student pro bono project. This year, PHRP developed a new partnership with the Philadelphia Landlord/Tenant Legal Help Center and Philadelphia Legal Assistance. The Help Center’s hotline has been a unique opportunity to continue to develop both my understanding of a very interesting area of law as well as my interviewing and dispute resolution skills. Perhaps most importantly, this is a project that addresses the needs of under-served and vulnerable segments of the population, such as those of low income or living with a physical or mental disability.
Callers to the helpline may be dealing with one or more of any number of problems, and thus our first job is to conduct an interview and gain an understanding of the underlying facts. A landlord may have begun eviction proceedings for nonpayment of rent or alleged breach of another term of the lease. Sometimes the property has become un-heated, pest-infested or otherwise uninhabitable. Each set of facts will be unique and implicate different aspects of contract and real property law, as well as the procedural rules of the Municipal Court of Philadelphia.
Working on the helpline has helped to round out my law school experience. Perhaps most importantly, it has reinforced the importance of understanding each caller’s priorities, needs and limitations above all else. For example, even if a caller dealing with an abusive landlord has valid arguments he or she could assert to thwart an eviction proceeding and retain possession of the property, it might be best to simply negotiate a move-out on fair terms, especially if a better home has become available. For many callers, fighting their landlord has become a full-time job, and our primary goal is to give them the tools they need to achieve a better living situation as quickly and cost-effectively as possible.