Without notice, the locks on her apartment were changed. Her housing contract was terminated. She was given no time to find new housing, and she had no access to her property—her clothing, work papers, medicine. As a woman recently released from prison, she had few resources. Enter William Mitchell’s Reentry Clinic.
The woman had worked with the Reentry Clinic for legal aid when she was first released from prison. Housing had posed an immediate problem for her, but she eventually found a place in a sober housing facility. So when she suddenly received a notice of termination due to a violation of the housing contract, she contacted the Reentry Clinic for help.
Joanna Woolman, director of the clinic, and Josh Ward, a student in Mitchell’s Civil Advocacy Clinic, answered her call. They believed the building owner had violated her right to a lawful conviction. Woolman and Ward pursued legal action against the owner to obtain damages. The defendants were unwilling to settle, and the case went to district court.
In court, Woolman and Ward’s client received justice. The court ruled that the defendants’ “unilateral decision to remove [the client] from the apartment” constituted an unlawful lockout in violation of Minnesota housing law. The court awarded the woman damages and found the violations were committed in “bad faith,” which resulted in further damages and attorney’s fees. In addition to issuing the favorable judicial ruling, the referee of the court voiced her approval of the woman’s actions in bringing the injustice to light, praising her as “a very intelligent lady.”
The victory was about more than winning damages and fees, the woman says. “In the end, it was an awesome feeling,” she says of the experience. “I walked out of it with more strength, more confidence and more power, and was able to go back into the community with my head held high.” One of the most valuable lessons she has taken away from her experience with the Reentry Clinic is “knowing that professional support is there for you, knowing that the legal structure can help you and give you a feeling of power.”
Mitchell’s Reentry Clinic assists women as they reenter society after being in state prison. Mitchell law students provide legal services and guide clients to community resources to help with community reintegration.