Michael CThe Housing Justice Project (HJP) is a homelessness prevention program sponsored by the King County Bar Association (KCBA), which provides accessible volunteer-based legal services for low-income tenants facing eviction in King County.
Although the HJP in Kent is requesting assistance with this app, such an app would be invaluable to tenants in other parts of the state, including Pierce and Snohomish Counties, and could be expanded in future versions to support low-income people who make other payments using money orders or cash to generate a receipt.
What We Do:
Provide legal advice for tenants with eviction related issues.
Help tenants respond to eviction documents.
Negotiate on behalf of tenants facing eviction with landlords.
Represent tenants at eviction (Show Cause) hearings.
Provide referrals and resource information.
HJP Clinic Overview:
Tenants facing eviction come to one of two KCBA HJP Clinic locations:
The King County Courthouse, Seattle WA.
The Maleng Regional Justice Center, Kent WA.
What Happens at the HJP Clinics:
Tenant's sign-in (there are typically more tenants in need of assistance than volunteer attorneys to help).
Volunteer interviews the tenant to determine the nature and severity of the tenant's issue.
Clinic staff triage cases (those closest to eviction or with a hearing that day are handled first).
Volunteer attorney meets with tenant to:
Provide advice and counsel
Negotiate with the landlord and landlord's attorney on behalf of the tenant.
Represent or prepare the tenant to appear at a Show Cause hearing.
The Quality of Assistance Depends on the Tenant's Preparation
The better the tenant is prepared, the better the representation and therefore, the outcome. Tenant's should prepare for the clinic by:
Deciding if they want to stay where they are living or move to a new place.
Create a timeline of events such as:
When their lease began
When they were first notified about the eviction
When they recieved various legal documents about eviction.
Bringing a copy of their lease.
Bringing copies of rent reciepts, cancelled checks, money orders.
Bringing all copies of notices they have recieved from the landlord:
3-day or 10-day Notices
Summons and Compliant
Order to Show Cause
A letters or e-mails to and from the landlord and the landlord's attorney
However, most tenants arrive with incomplete records, they rarely have a copy of the lease, and they have often lost any reciepts they may have been given.
Tenant's rarely have a bank account. Therefore they are forced to pay their rent or other fees to the landlord using money order's or cash.
Despite the law, landlords and property managers won't always give the tenant a receipt--and even when the landlord or property manager does give a receipt the tenant will often misplace it or forget to bring it with them when they need to prove they made a payment. In contrast, the landlord typically comes with a ledger, and while the ledger may be wrong, the tenant is not in a position to show there are errors because the ledger is generally undecipherable.
Most tenants have a smartphone.
Most smartphones have a camera.
We could create an app (which will resemble the apps used by banks to allow people to deposit a check by taking a photo of the check), that would capture and record the details of the transaction such as:
Who the payment was made to (the payee)
The amount of the payment
The purpose of the payment
The date the payment was made
The payment instrument (check, money order, cash)
Who accepted the payment (name and signature).
Scenario One: Paying the Rent
The tenant gets a payment instrument (such as a money order) from a vendor (typically a grocery or other store). Tenant fills out the instrument with the necessary information such as the payee (the landlord or a property agent), the purpose (rent, security deposit, utilities), and they endorse the instrument. Tenant uses the app to record a picture of the front and back of the endorsed instrument.
When the tenant is transferring the instrument to the payee, they record information about the transaction, such as the payee, the amount, the purpose, the date, and the name of the person accepting the payment. The person accepting the payment provides a signature (on the screen of the smartphone if possible). This transaction information is then securly saved on the smartphone (or uploaded to a service for backup).
Scenario Two: Proving a Rent Payment
When the tenant needs to prove a rent payment, for example at the HJP, the tenant opens the app. They enter a date, or scroll through the payments to find the payment (date). The payment record is displayed on the smartphone screen. The tenant can forward the payment to a printer (IP address) or by e-mail.
Tenant could also enter a range of dates and a payee, and the app could create a "Tenant's Ledger" which could be compared to the landlords. Again, this ledger could be printed or forwarded to another person.
There are lots of issues with this proposal, we are only trying to communicate the problem, and a potential solution. We are open to ideas and suggestions about how to make this work. The overall goal is still to help people facing eviction show they are good tenants, and should be able to keep their home.
Please add your ideas or ask us any questions that will help this idea become reality by getting help from the hackathon participants.