We recently sat down with Shiva Kooragayala, a volunteer from Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP. Shiva told us how he helped LCBH clients remain housed during the pandemic. Thank you, Shiva!
How did you get involved with LCBH?
I connected to LCBH through Kaitlin Cutshaw. She knew that I have a long-standing interest in working on a variety of housing issues and particularly public and affordable housing policy. I’m trained as an Urban Planner and worked at the Urban Institute, where I researched local and national housing policy. When I got to Skadden, I knew I wanted to continue working in this space as an attorney.
Why is volunteering on matters related to housing important to you?
Housing is a platform for people to improve their lives. While at Northwestern for law school, I spent two years as a clinical advocate and worked on several eviction defense matters in tandem with Legal Aid Chicago. I typically took on cases for tenants who had vouchers or project-based assistance. It was a great experience. Housing is fundamental to everything else. If you lose your voucher, you can’t get back on the list, so you are functionally homeless. Getting access to housing, and keeping it once you have it, is so important.
Skadden attorneys have a long history of volunteering at LCBH. What are some recent examples?
Governor Pritzker’s COVID-19 response included legislation to make it easier for eviction cases to be sealed during the pandemic. The statute makes it mandatory to seal, if certain conditions are met. This prevents people who had evictions filed against them during the pandemic from having a blackmark on their record saying they’re not a good tenant. Kaitlin and I discussed how pro bono lawyers from firms could engage in motion practice and get relief for clients in a limited way.
What eviction sealing work did Skadden and LCBH do?
We created a clinic in collaboration with LCBH to engage Skadden lawyers. We designed the clinic to be virtual and we worked together to create training materials that covered the context of sealing to people’s lives and its role in the affordable housing crisis. We trained attorneys how to write, file a motion, and go to court for their clients. It was a great opportunity for attorneys to get their feet wet and experience going to state court. I co-taught the training for Skadden attorneys There were a lot of successful sealed motions from the clinic.
What are some examples of how you sealed a record for an LCBH client?
One of my clients was getting evicted, despite being protected by the eviction moratorium. Her landlord tried to challenge the governor’s order and filed an improper eviction. She did everything right to be protected. She was very happy when the eviction was dismissed and sealed. Afterwards, she was able to find another place to live and she got a new job. I think sealing her past evictions was equally as important as winning her eviction case on the merits, because having an erroneous eviction on her record would have limited her ability to find a new home.
During the pandemic you had a very important victory for one of your clients. Tell us about that.
I worked with a married couple that had lived in the same building for over twenty years. They missed a rent payment during COVID and the landlord brought a case to evict them. In February 2021, I negotiated a settlement with a payment plan. Even though the landlord had agreed to the settlement, he decided not to renew their lease the next month. Any landlord is seemingly within their rights to choose to lease their property to whomever they want, but in our case, we argued that by choosing to reach a settlement to pay back past due rent, the landlord was both acting in bad faith by choosing to evict my clients and was violating the anti-retaliation provisions of the Chicago Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance. After completing fact discovery, we went to trial in February 2022. After cross-examination of their witnesses, my client’s landlord decided to settle. The landlord reinstated my clients’ lease for one year and reduced their rent—we could not have asked for a better outcome. I helped my clients access Chicago’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program, and all their back due rent during COVID will be paid for. They will finally get a fresh start.
What would you tell other attorneys who are considering volunteering to help with eviction sealing?
I would say that with the eviction sealing clinics, it’s a great way even for a transactional attorney to do a small amount of work but to see a big return. However, if you want to get involved in complex litigation, working with LCBH can give you that opportunity too. LCBH’s cases can require an attorney to engage in full litigation practice, including discovery, motion practice and trial. You get the full gamut. At LCBH, both long and short-term opportunities exist.