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, Housing/Homelessness
  • Fellowship class year 2018
  • Program Design Your Own Fellowship

The Project

Margaret enforced 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. A large part 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 addressed this gap in enforcement by creating Atlanta Legal Aid’s first dedicated fair housing enforcement practice in the rental market. She provided direct legal representation to individuals who 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

During the two-year Fellowship period, Margaret:

  • Provided full representation to over 25 clients on fair housing issues and/or repair-related housing issues
  • Won summary judgment in a federal fair housing lawsuit, where the court found that the local housing authority had engaged in disability discrimination by failing to accommodate the client’s disabilities
  • Won a motion for preliminary injunction in a federal fair housing lawsuit, which resulted in the housing authority increasing the client’s voucher amount based on disability needs so that she and her family could secure accessible housing and avoid homelessness
  • Defended a blind client in an eviction lawsuit, by raising counterclaims based on failure to repair and failure to reasonably accommodate, resulting in the judge dismissing the eviction and awarding the client $32,600 (including punitive damages) and Atlanta Legal Aid over $4,800 in attorney’s fees
  • 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 an accessible apartment in a subsidized senior complex for a client who uses a wheelchair, negotiating and settling a potential fair housing case on the denial of her reasonable accommodation request
  • Conducted 11 Know Your Rights and fair housing trainings, reaching over 230 attendees, as well as seven trainings for nearly 400 case workers and social workers on how to flag and address fair housing issues

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

Media

Berkeley Law Places Most Equal Justice Works Fellows for Second Straight Year

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