New Answer Clinic Allows Tenants Their Day in Court

If your landlord is evicting you but you have a strong defense or counterclaim, you’ll get your day in court, right?

WRONG – unless you properly raised that defense or counterclaim in your written answer.

Nearly 40,000 eviction cases flood the Fulton County courthouse each year. Many of those tenants receive mediation and hearings. But tenants who were confused by the answer form and left it mostly blank, or who did not articulate their defense or counterclaim, find themselves on the 4:00 p.m. calendar. Also known as the “judgment on the pleadings” calendar, all of those tenants will lose their case by order of the court – without ever having a chance to speak.

In an effort to help tenants with good cases avoid that result, the Georgia Law Center for the Homeless began holding a weekly Answer Clinic in June. Every Wednesday in the Fulton County Magistrate Court clerk’s office (Room TG100), attorney and law student volunteers meet with tenants to identify the ones with strong defenses and counterclaims and help articulate them in their answer. Amy Mei Willis, an Equal Justice Works Fellow with the Law Center, coordinates the Answer Clinic.

AVLF’s Cole Thaler volunteered with the Answer Clinic on its second day, and immediately saw its benefits to tenants. Volunteers listened to tenants’ descriptions of poor conditions, improper notice, and the like, and showed them how and where to raise those issues on the answer forms. Volunteers also helped tenants with Magistrate Court’s new electronic filing system, which can be confusing to tenants who are not computer-savvy.

There are many reasons why tenants with good cases need help filing answers — whether it’s literacy challenges, language barriers, or simply being intimidated by the judicial process. Due process does not exist if the procedures are too confusing for unrepresented tenants. Thanks to the Answer Clinic, tenants who would otherwise be shut out and silenced have a meaningful opportunity to access justice.