Juanita Lake loses ally in fight against negligent landlord as Cleveland Tenants Organization closes
Article originally sourced from Cleveland.com
"CLEVELAND, Ohio - Yvonne Lake snatches her mother's phone, pulls up the texting app and struggles to figure out how to compose a message.
The 7-year-old is trying to take matters into her own tiny hands by contacting the landlord, who is not responding to complaints from her mother about the malfunctioning furnace.
"She said, 'Mommy, we just need to move," her mom, Juanita, later tells a reporter. "I don't like this house and he's stressing you out Mommy'."
While Yvonne's texting is not successful -- she only manages to type out some random letters -- she is correct about her mother being under great stress.
On the best of days, life can be a struggle for this mother-daughter duo. Juanita has mental-health issues and is raising her daughter alone on $1,000 a month of disability benefits. This winter, problems with their house in the Union-Miles neighborhood have added to the burden.
There is the bed-bug infestation, a hot-water heater that is slow to produce warm water and a furnace that fails nearly every night. Juanita is treating the bed bugs on her own. Her texts and calls to the landlord about the other problems have not been addressed.
And then, last week, Juanita was dealt another disheartening blow. The Cleveland Tenants Organization, which she considered her best hope of getting help, ceased operations after 40 years of advocacy on behalf of tenants.
"It's not just me, there are tenants all over this city who need help with these landlords," Juanita says. "The Cleveland Tenants Organization, in my point of view, was a big support system."
Juanita says she had contacted the organization earlier this year to seek advice about the furnace. A helpful agency worker advised filing a formal complaint demanding that the landlord fix the furnace, and mailed her a form letter to use.
When she called back last week to seek more advice about her water bill, she says, she got the voicemail message that the agency is no longer in operation.
"I just feel like this is a huge loss to the community," she says. "I feel like we're left out here to burn, [unable] to find the information that we are entitled to know."