UNC School of Law’s Economic Justice Clinic Secures Unexpected Win for Client in Eviction Case

May 9, 2024

The Economic Justice Clinic at the University of North Carolina School of Law, led by Assistant Professor of Law and Director Kate Sablosky Elengold, provides legal assistance to low-income individuals in matters related to consumer credit and debt. The clinic’s wide-ranging cases, from mortgage foreclosure defense to student debt issues, are often in collaboration with partner organizations like Legal Aid of North Carolina, extending their reach and support for those facing economic injustice.

Anna Fraser, 3L, who has worked with the Economic Justice Clinic throughout the academic year, partnered with other clinic students to represent a woman  sued for rent payments after leaving an apartment she shared with her ex-husband due to a domestic violence situation. The client had reached an agreement with the apartment complex that released her from the lease, but she still faced legal action for the outstanding rent.

As Fraser and her colleagues represented the client in the litigation, they uncovered a breach of contract by the apartment complex, which had sued for the rent after signing the release agreement. The clinic also identified Fair Debt Collection Practices Act violations in the case. With solid counterclaims in hand, the team negotiated tirelessly to secure a beneficial settlement for their client.

Anna Fraser ’24

After months of battling with the apartment complex, the Economic Justice Clinic achieved a positive outcome for the client. The apartment complex agreed to pay the client more than $10,000 as part of the settlement, instead of the client having to pay the apartment back rent. The clinic also obtained a written apology for their client from the apartment complex– a rare occurrence in civil litigation.

Elengold highlighted the significance of the clinic’s work in addressing the power differential often present in such cases. “Usually, when somebody is sued for back rent or eviction, it would happen in small claims court, and it’s a very quick and dirty process,” she explained. “Usually, the defendant, who is our client, wouldn’t be represented and wouldn’t know how to defend against this at all.”

Professor Kate Sablosky Elengold

The Economic Justice Clinic’s success in this case underscores the crucial role of legal representation in ensuring access to justice for low-income individuals. By providing legal services to those who might otherwise navigate the legal system alone, the clinic helps to level the playing field and protect the rights of vulnerable populations.

Throughout the process, Fraser and her teammates sharpened essential legal skills, including fact development, case theory construction, strategy formulation, client communication, and negotiation with opposing counsel. Elengold emphasized the transferability of these skills to any area of law, making the clinic experience invaluable for aspiring lawyers.

As Fraser prepares to graduate and embark on her legal career at a private law firm, her commitment to pro bono work remains strong. The hands-on experience and client counseling skills gained through the Economic Justice Clinic will undoubtedly serve her well as she seeks to make a positive impact in her future practice.