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A Bittersweet Victory

Portrait photo outdoors of mother and daughter smiling at camera with arms around each other's shoulders.

When Ms. J* first moved into her home, she never imagined the struggle that would follow for her and her daughter.  

Now, after years of advocating for her family, she’s finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel.  

Ms. J and her daughter DJ, now 11 years old, live in a basement apartment. For more than two years, a reoccurring leak brought sewage water from the unit above down into their bathroom – causing mold and mushrooms to grow across the ceiling – and holes in the floor and windows led to mice and insect infestations.  

DJ has asthma, and the mold and mice made it much worse. She’d startle awake when mice darted across her bed at night and get worked up until she was wheezing uncontrollably.  

Ms. J constantly contacted the property manager, but her issues were either ignored, pushed off, or fixed so poorly the mice and sewage water would return quickly. At one point during an attempted repair, the contractors cut an even bigger whole in the bathroom ceiling and then left it open for three days, letting even more sewage water through. 

“I put the orders in so many times,” Ms. J said. “I needed to see someone [from management] coming over here because you wouldn’t want to go home and live like this in your home, or let your children live like that.”  

She tried to find them a new home, but since they live in a subsidized housing complex, they had few alternatives. 

You can go home and forget about us – we still have to live in this type of environment.

Ms. J

She took meticulous notes of every conversation she had with the property management, was as polite as she could be, but they refused to fix the issues. The conditions not only affected their physical health, but also meant they couldn’t have family friends or DJ’s classmates over safely. The frustration drove Ms. J to tears.  

DJ’s pediatrician introduced Ms. J to Children’s Law Center, and she worked with attorney Lacia Japp to make headway with property management.  

Following an initial walk-through of the apartment, Lacia Japp connected with the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia – which had recently reached a settlement agreement with the owner and property manager regarding property-wide housing code violations. This settlement agreement, which required prompt attention to necessary repairs, provided the needed leverage for our negotiations with the property manager to get Ms. J’s unit finally fixed – they began significant repairs within the week. The ceiling hasn’t leaked since November, other major issues have been addressed, and they are providing regular exterminator visits to ensure the issues don’t recur.  

DJ is doing better now and the family is grateful for Children’s Law Center’s help. Ms. J thinks of it as a bittersweet victory, though, since it shouldn’t have taken lawyers’ involvement to make sure sewage wasn’t leaking into her family’s home every morning.  

“Working with Ms. J was wonderful,” Lacia Japp said. “She’s so passionate about advocating for her daughter and for other families in similar situations. But it shouldn’t have come to this. Children’s Law Center is pushing for systemic reforms, including proactive inspections, to improve housing conditions before they make children sick.” 

* We always provide clients the option to change their names when sharing their story. Initials and a stock photo have been used at the family’s request. All other details are true.