Legal Services Alabama Wins Decision in Support of Tenants’ Rights
By Legal Services Alabama
Legal Services Alabama is excited to announce that the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals has recently issued a decision protecting tenants’ rights in a case where LSA appeared as amici curiae. The case, Morrow v. Pake, revolved largely around whether or not a tenant was required to assert his/her rights in an eviction action (which has very short time frames) or could wait and bring them as a separate action later. In their brief, which LSA co-authored with the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, LSA and Appleseed argued that tenants should be allowed to bring their claims outside of the eviction like any other civil action. The tenant in this case was represented by attorneys and students from the Civil Legal Clinic at The University of Alabama School of Law. Tuscaloosa Staff Attorney Joseph Abrams, a member of LSA’s High Impact Litigation Unit, and Director of Advocacy Michael Forton, co-authored the brief for LSA.
In this case, a low-income tenant chose to leave her home because it was unlivable and had been cited by the city for numerous code violations. Her landlord had refused to make repairs over an extended period. Her landlord filed an eviction while she was moving, which he later dismissed once she finally finished moving. The underlying issue on appeal was whether Alabama’s Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act required tenants to assert their rights during an eviction or lose those claims for any subsequent litigation.
As Abrams explained the case, “The Court’s decision provides more clarity to tenants who seek to assert claims against former landlords. The decision allows Ms. Morrow to assert claims against her former landlord, even though those claims were not asserted in an earlier eviction action. The decision has thereby shown a much-needed light on jurisdiction and the requirements for compulsory counterclaims in the Landlord-tenant setting. LSA is delighted to have yet another tool in our fight against injustice.”
With an estimated 90 percent of tenants across Alabama being unable to afford legal representation in evictions, the amicus brief discussed the real-world, practical implications that “mandatory counterclaims” would have on unrepresented, low-income tenants. In Alabama, eviction actions are among the most expedited proceedings allowed by law. In as few as 28 days, Alabama courts can remove tenants (and their families) from their homes. In most cases, that simply isn’t enough time for a tenant to properly prepare and advocate for his/her claims.
Phillip Ensler, Policy Counsel at Appleseed, co-wrote the amicus brief with Abrams and Forton on behalf of low-income Alabamians. “Alabama Appleseed is committed to ensuring equal access to justice for all Alabamians," Ensler said. "This decision is a step in the right direction by protecting the rights of tenants and leveling the playing field between tenants and landlords."
This amicus is the second brief that LSA’s High Impact Team has worked on for this year. The first, Turner v. Wells Fargo Bank, successfully established the rights of homeowners to require their mortgage companies to follow the rules in a mortgage contract before foreclosing.
“Legal Services Alabama was proud to partner with all of the lawyers involved in this appeal. Since the Alabama Landlord and Tenant Act was passed in 2007, there have been ongoing attempts to roll back or diminish the rights it provides to tenants,” said Forton. “The Court of Appeal’s decision in this case reinforces the fact that every Alabamian deserves a decent place to live and there should be consequences when a landlord violates the law.”