Keeping a Roof Over Our Heads

(Marangelis Uben)

By Jose Perez

It was early in the morning, about 9 o’clock. I could feel the sun’s rays warming my skin. My father and I were on our way to a place we went too frequently: housing court.

Being two months behind on rent, we were ordered to come to court on July 31 because our landlord wanted his money. Luckily, we were prepared to pay the money that was owed. As we entered the building, we had to remove anything metal from our pockets, place it into a bin and walk through a metal detector. There were loads of people already there before us. We made our way to the fifth floor where our case hearing would be.

Upon arrival, my father and I searched for his name on the list of everyone being sued. There were 50 people in total. Forty-seven of them were being sued for not paying their rent on time. Once we found my father’s name and the number which corresponded to it, we made our way to a side of the wall to wait because our hearing wasn’t until 9:30 AM. As we waited, I observed the people who were there. Several were sweating profusely, but I was unsure if it was because of the heat outside or utter anxiety. No one was smiling. No one was laughing. No one seemed content. I could feel the sense of worry.

The lawyers present were the only ones conversing and chuckling. Were they unaware of the situations people were in? My father was curious about who would be representing our landlord in court today. I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen my landlord in court. We came across a lawyer who represented the owner of our building the last time we were sent to court. My father and I approached her with hopes of finding answers. “Are you here for Jose Perez?” my father asked in his broken English. I could see the look of disgust on the lawyer’s face as she continued walking without saying a word. My father and I exchanged glances. It turns out she wasn’t there to represent our landlord.

When 9:30 arrived, a white court officer with short brown hair announced the commencement of court hearings. He stated several rules about volume and cellphone usage in the courtroom. Once his short speech ended, the crowd of people made their way into the courtroom silently. They sat on wooden benches which were aligned in rows. The benches faced the front of the courtroom where the judge would take her seat. The words “In God We Trust” were emblazoned above the judge’s seat. I wondered who that “We” meant.

We were the first ones called to settle our case. We didn’t even speak to the judge. It was only the interpreter, my father, the landlord’s lawyer, and me. My father proceeded to explain to the interpreter the many repairs that are needed in our apartment, but the interpreter and the landlord’s lawyer first wanted to discuss the money. We presented the money orders for a total of $2280.86 and the burden was lifted off our shoulders.

The landlord’s lawyer, a large man in a blue t-shirt and jeans, continued to propose dates where repairs would take place. My experience at housing court was lighthearted compared to what other people may have been facing that day. Some people may have been demanded to pay several months of rent over the span of just 3o days. Some people may have been given a deadline to pack up and leave. My dad tells me this is how the housing court looks Monday through Friday: filled with people trying to keep a roof over their heads.

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