A few months ago, we received a call from Vecinos de Buford Highway, (community organization member of LCF Georgia) about a family that was at risk of becoming homeless.
The family in question, had children, American citizens and had been illegally evicted from their apartment along Buford Highway.
The story was clearly one of retaliation. This family had been dutifully paying rent yet requesting, along many other tenants, repairs in the apartments.
Management was not responsive and after weeks and weeks of complaints, the tenants decided to share their complaints with a media outlet.
A few days later, they were served with an eviction arguing the family had failed to pay for rent.
We reached out to a number of organizations but all of those agencies were unable to help due to federal restrictions in funding or geographic restrictions. When it seemed a resolution was not possible, Michael Eshman, an attorney that describes himself as “half-gringo, half-colombiano” and fully fluent in Spanish offered to help.
This is a Q&A with Michael.
LCF Georgia: Can you tell us about your background?
Eshman: My mom is from Bucaramanga, Colombia and dad is from Solon Springs, Wisconsin. I was raised in the States (Virginia, Illinois, and Georgia), but we traveled to Colombia often and my mom spoke Spanish to us in the home.
LCF Georgia: What do you think are some key moments in your life that influenced the work you do today?
Eshman: One of my uncles in Colombia was a lawyer, and he was a big reason why I became a lawyer. I admired him a lot, but I had no idea what it really meant to be a lawyer in the United States until after law school. My current practice came about largely because I had the opportunity to represent a Mexican family and their young son who was injured by medical malpractice several years ago. It was a terrible situation, and the family was in so much pain. I took great pride in doing what I could to help that family through the legal system, which can be traumatizing in its own way, especially for Latinos and other people of color. Now, I use my experience litigating a lot of different kinds of cases to focus on helping people, especially Latinos, who are injured by the negligence of others. I handle car accidents, construction accidents, medical malpractice, and other serious injury cases.
LCF Georgia: What motivates you?
Eshman: I like to prove that Latinos/Latinas aren’t worth less and shouldn’t be marginalized by their own lawyers, by our government, by the system, by businesses, or by insurance companies.
LCF Georgia: Tell us about your experience helping this family along Buford Highway.
Eshman: Whenever I’ve been in magistrate court for a case like this, I’m always blown away by the number of people who face eviction alone, without a lawyer, and often times with little understanding of what is happening or why. This case was unique for me because this client had actually paid their rent on time, and the landlord was attempting to evict them for alleged rule violations that appeared to be a thinly-veiled attempt to get rid of tenants who were paying a lower rent. Fortunately, we were able to reach an agreement that allowed the tenant to leave without eviction and to save some money.
LCF Georgia: Michael, what is your vision of Atlanta and Georgia in the next 10 years?
Eshman: Atlanta and Georgia will continue growing, and we’ll have opportunities to address pressing issues in education, transportation, affordable housing, income inequality, and a general fear and distrust of the “other” in a world that is increasingly connected electronically but disconnected personally. I hope we’ll take the opportunity to build an Atlanta and Georgia that is better and constantly striving to be better for all of its residents.
The outcome of the case was positive. Thanks to Michael, a resolution was reached. The family moved out without eviction and the landlord agreed to provide a month of free rent, saving the family $1,100. Additionally, the landlord agreed to provide a neutral recommendation as the family applied to a new apartment complex.
Michael greatest satisfaction in this case, was to be able to provide some stability and peace to the family. He has also made sure the parents in this family now know their rights as tenants and are helping educate others in the area on what to do in this circumstances.
We are grateful to Michael and to the attorneys like him, that have been supporting our families with pro-bono representation and legal advice.