Legal Aid and the Housing Crisis: A Summer Intern's Perspective

Corey Kniss

Corey Kniss

My name is Corey Kniss and I recently completed my first year of schooling at UC Hastings College of the Law. My goal is to become a public interest lawyer. I decided to work with the housing team at Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County this summer because of the crucial assistance they provide to tenants.
 
I believe that housing is a fundamental right. Without a home it is nearly impossible to find a job. Without a home, privacy is a dream. Without a home, your ability to plan and prepare for the week ahead of you, to say nothing of long-term planning, is gone. Keeping those on the brink of eviction in their homes is all the more important, then, because the loss of one’s home could mean years of homelessness ahead.   
 
As a student, my experience here has been invaluable. I’ve become knowledgeable on tenant’s rights at the state level. This includes requirements about the notice given to tenants for rental increases, standards of habitable housing, protection from retaliation, freedom from discrimination, and more. These laws are incredibly important in defending tenants against eviction. I have been able to use these legal standards to assist tenants who have put up with illegal behavior by their landlord for years, only to later face eviction from their homes, defend their rights.
 
In addition to the knowledge I have gained about the relevant areas of law, I have been able to learn a great deal about the functioning of local governments. The research projects I’ve done on the issue of rent control has broadened my appreciation for the ability of local government to affect our economic situations. I am proud to be working with an organization that is so invested in maintaining affordable housing in San Mateo County. The involvement of Legal Aid in these efforts is a tremendous asset to the tenants and activists who risk their own livelihoods as a result of their efforts.
 
At Legal Aid I have learned so much in just over a month of experience. Practicing law in this setting requires a balance of skills which I have observed in each attorney and staff member. There is, of course, the legal expertise for which our clients seek our services (this is the research, writing, understanding of technical language, and employ of strategies, etc.). But there is also a more personal element of the job here at Legal Aid. Our clients are real people, not corporations or entities. Your work has stakes that may very well determine someone’s ability to maintain, and continue to build upon, their life’s accomplishments. Not every client is nice (although the vast majority are). Not every client is from a background that you are familiar with, and communication isn’t always effortless. But they all need our knowledge, assistance, attention, and respect. That each client who sees us receives this treatment is what ultimately makes Legal Aid a fulfilling place to work.