Sally is a 57-year old woman with severe mobility issues due to multiple back surgeries, as well as a long history of anxiety and depression. She lives on a monthly fixed income and receives SSDI. Sally lives alone with her two cats and has no family support.
Bill met Sally years ago and helped her during the course of his employment. Bill saw that Sally was going through tough times and gained her trust over the years. Then, one day Bill told her that he was selling the house she had been calling home since 2005. He told Sally she had to move within six weeks before the settlement date. If she was still there on the day of settlement Bill threatened that he would throw Sally “out into the street.” In addition to the constraints Sally’s physical disabilities posed to her effort to relocate quickly, she was financially unable to move because she had no money. For decades Sally’s SSDI benefit was being deposited into Bill’s private checking account, even though he was not her Representative Payee. Sally called the LCD intake line.
Staff Attorney Niki Ludt’s first task was dealing with the most pressing issue was making sure Sally had access to her disability check. With Sally’s approval, Niki contacted the Social Security Administration to have Sally’s check redirected into an account in her name. Once that was accomplished the next immediate issue was addressing Sally’s need for new housing.
While collecting more of the facts and reviewing the recorder of deeds database, Niki discovered that Sally once owned the property she was living in, but at one point, ownership had been transferred to Bill and his wife. Sally informed Niki she bought the house in 2005 but two years later Bill told her she needed to refinance. Bill claimed Sally’s credit history was not solid, and that she would not be approved for a new mortgage. Bill refused Sally’s request that he co-sign a mortgage with her, but offered to buy her house. Sally gave Bill power of attorney to handle the transaction. Without Sally’s knowledge, Bill used his power of attorney to obtain a new mortgage in both their names, keeping Sally financially obligated on the house. He then used it to transfer the property out of Sally’s name and into his and his wife’s names. Bill gave Sally no money for the transfer of her house. After learning the details of the transaction, Niki believed that the transfer was fraudulent. Additionally, Sally’s disability benefit was used to pay the monthly mortgage, but she no longer had ownership of the property.
Niki knew legal action had to be taken to clear the title to the property and to prevent Bill from selling the property and keeping the equity for himself. However, before action could take place, Bill filed an eviction complaint in municipal court claiming there was an oral lease. Niki entered her appearance in the eviction proceeding. The evening before the hearing, Niki, along with other LCD Staff Attorneys, Brendan Corbalis and Evan Barker, worked together to quickly draft a Quiet Title complaint to protect Sally’s right to the property. Managing Attorney Esther Miller filed the Quiet Title action the next day, as well as a Lis Pendens with the Recorder of Deeds. These filings stopped any potential sale of the property. In advance of the upcoming eviction hearing, both Niki and opposing counsel agreed to a continuance of the landlord-tenant action until the Quiet Title matter was resolved.
LCD moved swiftly to recruit pro bono attorney Rick Vanderslice to proceed with the Quiet Title Action. Rick met with Sally about pursuing the Quiet Title matter. She was not opposed to selling her house because of the ongoing cost to maintain the property. In addition, she had the opportunity to move into new subsidized senior housing in the same neighborhood.
Rick successfully negotiated a settlement with opposing counsel resulting in the sale of the house with the majority of the proceeds going to Sally. The proceeds from the sale allow Sally to purchase much needed new furniture and other household items for her new home. Bill’s eviction complaint has since been withdrawn.
During her representation, Sally informed Esther that her food stamps (SNAP benefits) were greatly reduced and she did not know why. Sally tried to investigate the issue on her own, but only met roadblocks. Due to her medical conditions, she had great difficulty traveling to the County Assistance Office. Esther quickly made a call to the administrator at the County Assistance Office and had the problem resolved. Sally’s SNAP benefits were corrected and the additional amount she had not received were added to her account.
Additionally, Niki helped Sally to execute a new will. Her previous will had left Bill as the sole beneficiary of her estate. Sally is expected to move into her new senior housing within the month and is no longer the victim of financial exploitation.
The success of Sally’s case speaks to the dedication of LCD’s staff attorneys as well as the volunteer attorneys who give freely of their time and skills to help those in need.