Mariana’s* young daughter, now in first grade, used to wake her up all the time to tell her “Mama, I can’t sleep, Mama, I can’t sleep.”
The problem? Bed bugs. They had come into Mariana’s apartment from another unit, biting her daughter and her toddler son and causing them to lose sleep night after night. And that wasn’t the only problem with the family’s apartment in Northwest DC near the border with Silver Spring. For many months they had also endured the mice that ran through their unit and infested the entire building. And their bathroom wall was constantly wet, caused by a leak from an upstairs neighbor’s pipes.
Even worse, lately there was a pervasive smell of gas in the kitchen. There had always been problems with the stove, but now it seemed to be getting worse.
Mariana says she had just about given up. Her calls and visits to the building’s property management office didn’t prompt anyone to fix the problems. She had never met the owner; the staff managing the small building was constantly changing. She says she was increasingly worried about her kids who were covered by new bites every morning, but felt like she had run out of options.
Then one day in March, Mariana had a visit at home from Mary’s Center, one of Children’s Law’s Center’s medical partners. The health center had sent someone to talk about physical therapy for Mariana’s son, who wasn’t walking even though he was almost two years old.
When the health worker heard about the many problems that were putting the children’s health in danger – and smelled gas in the kitchen – she called Children’s Law Center.
That’s when Mariana (pictured above left) met Anne Cunningham (pictured above right), one of our senior attorneys who works closely with Mary’s Center. “Anne was so nice!” Mariana says with a smile, “and so attentive to all of the problems.”
Anne immediately called Washington Gas, which disconnected the leaky stove that same day. Her second call was to the building’s management office.
Often, all it takes is a lawyer to get involved and a landlord will spring into action to fix dangerous housing conditions. Unfortunately for Mariana and her kids, this case was more complicated.
Once Anne got involved, the property manager did at long last inspect the unit and hired an exterminator to come and take care of the bed bugs. But the other promised fixes were slow – including the need to replace the non-working stove that had been disconnected by the gas company. As a result, Mariana could no longer cook and had to buy take-out food to feed her family, an expense she could barely afford on her meager income.
The property managers made repeated promises to fix the problems but never followed through. But Anne didn’t give up. The owner apparently lived in a foreign country but she was able to track down the U.S. corporation that legally owned the building and filed a housing complaint in court.
Because the owner had dragged his feet for months, Anne also filed a complaint in small claims court asking that Mariana be reimbursed for furniture that had to be thrown out when the bed bug infestation had spiraled out of control. In addition, she asked for money to compensate Mariana for the cost of buying restaurant food because of the lack of a working stove.
Anne and Mariana won both cases. At long last, the owner replaced the stove, fixed the plumbing leak and patched up the holes that the mice were using to get into Mariana’s unit. He also paid Mariana over $3,000 in damages, which Mariana is using to buy new furniture.
"Now I know things can change. I didn't used to think that. But I saw a big change with Anne's help," Mariana says. “It’s much better now. My daughter feels so much better now and my children don’t have any more bites,” she says.
Mariana and her kids are at long last safe in their apartment and on the road to better health. They are now true believers that you should never give up no matter how difficult the problem seems – all thanks to their “nice lawyer Anne” from Children’s Law Center.
*We work hard to protect the confidentiality of our clients and have changed Mariana's name for this reason. All other details are true.