Bar News - September 7, 2007
Saving Someone’s Home: LARC Surmounts the Language Barrier
By: Steve McGilvary
“Por favor, tengo problemas con mi apartamento. ¡He recibido una carta de mi propietario y tengo solo siete días para mudar mi familia de aquí!”
Mrs. Maria Sanchez
Did you understand Mrs. Sanchez? If not, then you and Mrs. Sanchez share something in common – you both speak only one language. Not a big deal when nearly all the folks around you speak what you speak. But imagine for a moment that they don’t. Then imagine you need help right away. Suddenly, it’s a very big deal.
Mrs. Sanchez speaks Spanish. The “language” of evictions in New Hampshire is English. Fortunately for Mrs. Sanchez, her bilingual advocate at LARC understood her cry for help. She at last found someone who would listen and be able to offer advice.
The LARC advocate learned that Mrs. Sanchez and her family had been in their apartment for just a couple months when things began to go wrong. An elderly, long time tenant living next door heard a noise one evening coming from the Sanchez home. A complaint to the landlord was lodged. Eviction notices, written in English, landed on the Sanchez’s door a few days later. A summons, also in English, arrived a few weeks after that. The Sanchez family may not be bilingual, but the official-looking court documents told them they faced serious trouble. They knew they needed special help.
Mrs. Sanchez brought her eviction papers to a Latino Community Center in town. This center, like many other community centers for non-English-speaking groups around New Hampshire, is regularly visited by LARC’s new Eviction Prevention outreach program. LARC’s Eviction Prevention program tours the state to educate such vulnerable groups about the eviction process and how to navigate through New Hampshire’s court system. The Latino Center knew exactly what Mrs. Sanchez needed to do next. They instructed her to call a special phone line set up for Spanish speakers at LARC. Mrs. Sanchez later explained that this gave her the courage to call.
The LARC advocate advised Mrs. Sanchez how to stay in her case by filing the necessary forms at court. Mrs. Sanchez learned she had the right to request from the court a free interpreter for the hearing. An analysis of her case based on an in-depth conversation with her advocate also revealed that her landlord had made a fundamental mistake. Before bringing her to court, the landlord failed to give Mrs. Sanchez a fair warning of what she could have done differently to avoid eviction altogether. This meant that Mrs. Sanchez had a defense, a chance to keep her home.
LARC succeeded in connecting Mrs. Sanchez to a Spanish-speaking Pro Bono attorney in her town for further consultation. The Pro Bono attorney, after conferring first with LARC about all the various defenses, spoke face-to-face with Mrs. Sanchez on the finer points of presenting her case at court. Mrs. Sanchez, her confidence level considerably boosted by the professional assistance provided by LARC and her Pro Bono attorney, felt ready for the first court appearance of her life.
After the hearing Mrs. Sanchez, still a bit incredulous, filled her LARC advocate in on what had happened. The judge had listened to her arguments and had agreed with her! The judge determined the landlord really had failed to follow all the required steps in the lawful eviction process. The landlord’s eviction case was dismissed. Mrs. Sanchez won the right to go home.
“¡Muchas gracias! Es una bendición saber que UD esta allá.” Translation: Thank you very much! It’s a blessing knowing you are there
Steve McGilvary is an advocate at the Legal Advice and Referral Center (LARC) in Concord.