Dec. 2, 2014 – Karla Garcia has taken her newfound interest in consumer law to the airwaves this fall with two appearances on Telemundo on behalf of low-income residents in disputes with their landlords.
A third-year student at the University of Houston Law Center, Garcia began working in the Consumer Law Clinic in August.
The television station contacted the clinic’s director, Clinical Associate Professor Richard McElvaney, about the two landlord/tenant disputes and he assigned both to Garcia, a Spanish speaker originally from Los Angeles who was raised in McAllen in the Rio Grande Valley. She contacted those involved, researched the law, and was interviewed on the nightly news.
“The first case consisted of a tenant being mugged and beaten in the parking lot of her apartment complex,” Garcia explained. “The legal issue was whether she had a right to demand the apartment complex have security.
“Generally, apartment complexes are not required to provide security. The landlord has the responsibility to provide the tenant with window latches, doorknob locks, keyless bolting devices, and a peep hole on exterior doors.”
Garcia helped resolve the dispute, and ease the victim’s fears, by negotiating a reserved parking spot for the tenant right in front of her apartment. Garcia and her fellow student lawyers also suggested prospective tenants inspect the area they plan to move into in the daytime and nighttime before renting and provided several websites where tenants can check arrests for criminal activity in a geographical area.
“The second case involved a landlord who imposed new rules prohibiting children from playing on the streets of a mobile home park,” Garcia said. “It is illegal for a landlord to claim that the peace and quiet of the tenants requires that children not play outside.
“Simply put, children are allowed to play outside and make reasonable noise while doing so. If a family is punished for their children acting like normal kids, this is illegal discrimination.” An agreement with the landlord is still pending, she said.
A third case referred by Telemundo concerned a landlord’s requirement that prospective tenants provide a valid driver’s license, which some applicants do not have and cannot obtain because of their immigration status.
“I believed the apartment complex’s requirement was discriminatory and prohibited by the Fair Housing Act,” Garcia said. “I drafted a legal argument discussing discrimination based on national origin that successfully resulted in the landlord changing the identification requirement policy to require only basic ID.
“I never hesitate to assign cases to her, as she is always well prepared and grasps technical legal concepts rapidly,” McElvaney said. “Her concern for her work coupled with outstanding professionalism, integrity, and legal knowledge will serve her well in the practice of law.”
Garcia has been involved in other public service recently, serving as a legal intern at Lone Star Legal Aid, volunteering with a shelter for victims of domestic violence, and participating in Law Center community outreach efforts.
“I have really enjoyed working in the Consumer Law Clinic and would like to practice consumer law upon graduating,” said Garcia who obtained her undergraduate and master’s degrees in accounting from The University of Texas-Pan American. This coming semester she will serve as McElvaney’s research assistant.”