Homeless No More

Posted on May 5, 2017

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Mr. Calvin Davis is a disabled veteran who was living in a homeless shelter when he first came to South Carolina Legal Services (SCLS). Mr. Davis is a tall slender African American male.  He walks with a cane. He speaks calmly no matter how stressful the situation is, and has the manners of a true southern gentleman.

Mr. Davis lived with his mother for most of his life — approximately 35 years. His mother had been very sick in the last few years of her life, and Mr. Davis dutifully cared for her physical needs. His brother handled her financial affairs. After his mother passed away, Mr. Davis’s brother continued to handle his mother’s financial affairs, and opened her estate with the probate court. Mr. Davis has four living siblings.

It wasn’t long after his mother’s passing that Mr. Davis realized something was very wrong. His brother began renting rooms to tenants in their mother’s modest three bedroom home, where Mr. Davis continued to live. One day, Mr. Davis’s brother came to him and told him to leave the home. Mr. Davis refused.  His brother then filed an eviction action in the Magistrate’s Court. At the eviction hearing, his brother produced a deed of distribution showing that he had “clear title” to their mother’s home. Since their mother did not have a Will, her estate, including the home, should have been divided equally between her children. However, his brother produced four Private Family Agreements, purportedly signed by Mr. Davis and all his siblings, agreeing to give his brother clear title to the home. Mr. Davis explained to the judge that he did not sign any such Agreement. The Magistrate agreed that the signatures appeared suspicious, but held that they were legal documents and he had no choice but to evict Mr. Davis.

Now evicted from his life-long home, Mr. Davis had nowhere to go. He lived on a fixed income. None of his other siblings live in-state. He felt as if the world were against him and he had nowhere to turn. As a result, Mr. Davis found accommodations at Christ Central, a local homeless shelter. Eventually, he was referred to SCLS by the Veterans Affairs.

Now evicted from his life-long home, Mr. Davis had nowhere to go.

When I first met with Mr. Davis and reviewed his documents, it was immediately clear to me that the Private Family Agreements that gave his brother clear title to the home were all forged. No expert was needed — every document was clearly signed by the same person. There was already a hearing scheduled in Probate Court in the matter of Mr. Davis’s mother’s estate, and I agreed to represent him to try and protect his interests.

At our hearing before the Probate Court, the brother’s conduct underscored his distrustfulness.  He continued to avoid answering the court’s questions, and was caught making false statements. It was further discovered at the hearing that the brother had stopped making the mortgage payments on the home, despite collecting rent from the new tenants. The brother was ultimately held in contempt and spent the night in jail for his conduct during the hearing  As a result, the judge quickly and easily agreed that the brother had forged all the Private Family Agreements, and appointed Mr. Davis as the Personal Representative of the estate.

The judge also allowed Mr. Davis to move back into the home, and required the tenants currently living in the home to sign a lease agreement and pay their monthly rent to Mr. Davis. I drafted lease agreements for each tenant to sign, which they refused to do. I sent them all letters informing them that they must either sign the lease or they had 30 days to move. All the tenants moved from the home rather than sign the lease.

Once all the tenants moved from the home, there were outstanding utility bills that were all in the brother’s name. Out of spite, he shut off the utilities and refused to pay the final bills. I called around to a number of non-profits looking for utility assistance. The fine people at the Salvation Army were so moved by Mr. Davis’s story that they agreed to pay the hundreds of dollars to bring the utilities current and get them turned back on.

Although Mr. Davis was now back in his home, without unwanted renters, and all utilities were connected and current, the mortgage on the house was seriously delinquent and in serious danger of foreclosure. I distinctly remember the judge saying to me, “Ms. Rainville, maybe this house can’t be saved.”

I distinctly remember the judge saying to me, “Ms. Rainville, maybe this house can’t be saved.”

However, I thought that Mr. Davis was an excellent candidate for the SC HELP program. The SC HELP program helps responsible homeowners who are behind or struggling to pay their mortgages due to no fault of their own. Typically, this is a result of loss of a job, loss of a spouse, or catastrophic medical expenses. SC HELP can provide up to $36,000.00 to prevent foreclosure.

Mr. Davis needed clear title to the home to be eligible for the SC HELP program. Thankfully, all Mr. Davis’s siblings were in agreement with him living in the home.  They agreed to sign over their interest, so long as he executed a Will to prevent another probate headache in the future. I drafted and executed a Will for Mr. Davis, and secured legitimate Private Family Agreements from all his siblings, except for the one brother who created this whole mess. I brought a second action in the probate court to get that brother’s share of the home put back into the general estate. I argued that he should not inherit anything from the estate because of his bad actions. The judge agreed, and Mr. Davis ended up with clear title to the home.

I then helped Mr. Davis gather all the paperwork he needed to apply for the SC HELP program. I also wrote a letter on his behalf, explaining in detail the hell that Mr. Davis had been put through by his brother. Mr. Davis was approved for $36,000.00 in mortgage assistance. A portion was applied to the past due balance, and the remaining amount was applied to the principal.  Mr. Davis’s monthly payment amount were reduced to an amount he could afford on his fixed income.

To make matters worse, during this whole process Columbia had a historic rainfall. During this rainfall, Mr. Davis’s roof began to leak significantly. He applied for FEMA assistance, but his claim was denied. I had heard about a nonprofit program called Homeworks that does home repairs. I helped Mr. Davis fill out the application and sent it off for him. Thankfully, he was approved for the program, and has now received a new roof. The program will also be doing some improvements and renovations on the inside of his home in the next few months.

Mr. Davis doesn’t know what would have become of him without the help of SCLS. He is enjoying being a homeowner and is looking forward to many more years in his home thanks to the holistic representation of SCLS.

jennifer
Jennifer Rainville

Lead Attorney Education Discipline Law
South Carolina Legal Services

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