GIVING BACK: Helping Tenants Assert Their Rights

Vol. 31 No. 4

By

Ireneo A. Reus III is the managing attorney at The Law Offices of Ireneo A. Reus III in Long Beach, California.

During the start of the Lenten Season, many people pick something to give up (whether it be special foods or favorite activities—such as social media). For me, Lent is a time that I give back and choose to do more to help others in my community. This year, I learned about a young couple with two young children from an underserved community that faced problems with their landlord, who had failed to make much-needed repairs to their rental home. The young couple could not afford to pay for an attorney. The landlord repeatedly ignored their requests to make the necessary repairs. Furthermore, this landlord lived adjacent to the rental home where the young family lived and also harassed the young family. To make matters worse, I also learned that this landlord had been convicted in criminal court of punching a pregnant woman who previously rented the same home. Thus, the constant threat of possible violence from the landlord/slumlord and the threats to the family’s safety from the damage in the premises compelled me to take action and accept this case on a pro bono basis.

As a young lawyer and a solo practitioner, I strive to take on pro bono cases. This desire is the result of my life experiences as a first-generation immigrant to the United States. My parents and siblings arrived in the United States when I was eight years old. Our first “home” in the United States was a modest two-bedroom apartment that was shared, at times, by nine people. Although space was very limited and I slept on the floor, the premises were always well kept, and this living arrangement worked for my family until we could afford to move into a bigger place. Thus, I could only imagine living in a damaged apartment that the young family lived in, and their case resonated with me. This case is not fully resolved yet—the tenants are still trying to compel the landlord to repair the premises—but the tenants thanked me for advocating for them. Their appreciation was very rewarding.

In my law firm I focus primarily on representing corporate clients and business owners. When it comes to landlord-tenant matters, I focus on commercial leasing (having represented commercial landlords and tenants in negotiating leases and in litigation). Although I don’t handle residential landlord-tenant law on a regular basis, I am knowledgeable about residential leasing matters, particularly about the various duties of the landlord to provide quiet enjoyment, maintain the premises, and make timely repairs. So it felt good to play a small role in helping this young family assert their rights against the landlord.

My other inspiration for pro bono work comes from hearing about what other attorneys are doing or have done. For example, I have served as the chair of the board of directors of the State Bar of California Young Lawyers Association (CYLA) and previously served as the chair of CYLA’s Jack Berman Award of Achievement, which recognizes a young or new lawyer for distinguished service to the public sector, the judiciary, or the public. Over the past five years since I’ve served on CYLA’s board, I have been inspired by the stories of attorneys providing pro bono services for worthy clients and causes, such as veterans’ rights, the homeless, access to health care, prisoner’s rights, and political asylums and refugees.

I hope that this article inspires at least one attorney to take on a pro bono case. As solo practitioners, we know that there are many constraints on our time. However, if I can do pro bono work, anyone can.

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