Photo of Margaret Burgess

Margaret Burgess

  • Hosted by Atlanta Legal Aid Society
  • Sponsored by Cox Enterprises, Eversheds Sutherland (US) LLP
  • Service location Atlanta, Georgia
  • Law school University of California, Berkeley, School of Law
  • Issue area Civil Rights/Civil Liberties
  • Fellowship class year 2018
  • Program Design Your Own Fellowship

The Project

Margaret is enforcing the fair housing rights of low-income individuals in metro Atlanta through legal representation, with a particular focus on individuals with disabilities and those with a criminal record.

Low-income renters increasingly struggle to find or retain decent housing in metro Atlanta. At the root of the problem is the lack of fair housing enforcement, as most low-income renters in this area are persons of color and/or persons with disabilities who often cannot access housing or lose their housing for reasons linked to discrimination. Margaret is working to address this gap in enforcement by creating Atlanta Legal Aid’s first dedicated fair housing rental enforcement practice. She provides direct legal representation to individuals who have suffered the most prevalent forms of discrimination observed in this market: refusing to accommodate or rent to persons with disabilities, and excluding applicants with any sort of criminal history, resulting in racial discrimination.

Fellowship Plans

In the past year, Margaret has:

  • Provided full representation to 12 clients on fair housing issues and legal advice and referrals to an additional 36 people
  • Prevented two disabled clients from losing their subsidized housing by settling two separate eviction lawsuits where the landlords had failed to accommodate their disabilities
  • Helped secure a handicap-accessible apartment for a client who uses a wheelchair, by negotiating and settling a potential fair housing case regarding the denial of her reasonable accommodation request
  • Delivered six fair housing Know Your Rights presentations to affected individuals in the community, and five fair housing presentations to case workers at sister organizations so they could better address these issues for their low-income clients

Next Steps

In the next year, Margaret plans to:

  • Litigate five more fair housing cases, either by filing affirmative cases or by filing counterclaims in eviction defense cases
  • Set up three large-scale community education events for low-income tenants on fair housing issues, landlord/tenant rights and responsibilities, and how to avoid pitfalls when applying for and renting housing
  • Coordinate with local sister organizations to develop a landlord recruitment campaign, which will incentivize and reward landlords that make efforts to house individuals with criminal history and/or mental health disabilities


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