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Fighting Hurdle after Hurdle for Safe Housing

Mom holding baby.

Last winter, Adrian, Alysha and their mom, London*, faced the coldest days of the year without heat.

London was seven months pregnant when she moved with her daughter into a new apartment in August. Though her apartment should have been inspected by the city to ensure it was safe to live in, she learned immediately that their AC didn’t work.

Just days later, a thunderstorm revealed leaks in the ceiling so significant that it started raining in the back bedroom. The water damage was so bad that she had to throw all their furniture away. She reached out to the property manager for help but heard nothing back.

Over the following weeks, leaks opened in the bathroom ceiling, mold grew on the walls, and mice and insects ran rampant. London kept trying to get the property manager to fix the damage, but they refused. As winter neared and the heat still wasn’t working, she took a dangerous chance by heating the apartment with their oven.

Adrian was born in October and by late November he and sister Alysha started having trouble breathing from all the mold. The lack of heat only made things worse. London brought her kids to their pediatrician, who connected her with Children’s Law Center.

We helped London file for an emergency injunction to force the landlord to fix the heat and pay for a hotel while making repairs. The landlord agreed at first, but dragged out the repairs and made the process as difficult as possible for London and her family.

They refused to pay for more than one night at the hotel, forcing London and her children to return to a cold apartment at the hotel’s early check out time. London waited until 4 PM, only for the landlord to send out an unlicensed repair team who installed insufficient heaters that blew out all other electricity in the apartment.

It was clear that staying in this building wasn’t safe or healthy.

We worked in court to make sure the landlord properly fixed the heating issue while London found a new home for her family. They moved in March, and the kids’ breathing problems have gone away.

The landlord hid behind an LLC until a judge ordered him to appear in court. A recent WAMU investigation since revealed this landlord repeatedly targets renters like London to make money from guaranteed rental payments while refusing to make repairs or provide extermination.

We meet hundreds of families like London’s every year which is why we worked with Children’s National to map some of the DC apartment buildings with the highest rates of pediatric asthma and worst housing conditions. We’re now using those maps to combine funding for energy efficiency with health funding to assist owners in making building repairs.

London encourages other parents dealing with similar circumstances to stay strong: “It might take time to get out of a bad situation,” she said, “but it’s worth taking the time.”

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